Glacier Bay National Park
By Radu Marculescu
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is located south of the St. Elias Mountain Range in the Panhandle of the State of Alaska. It is situated 65 miles northwest of Juneau, and covers over 3.3 million acres of land. The park is internationally famous for its snow-capped Fairweather Range rising to over 15,000 feet, its coastal beaches with protected coves, steep fjords, magnificent tidewater glaciers, coastal and estuarine waters, rivers, streams and lakes.
Glacier Bay National Park contains one of the recent and the most spectacularly glaciated terrains in the world. The bay's history is regarded as the most rapid glacial retreat on earth. Around 200 years ago, this area was buried under an enormous tidewater glacier, which has since dramatically retreated carving a 65-mile long Y-shaped bay that stands today as a unique marine wilderness. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve contains outstanding natural and biological features. This bright spot is home to about 420 species of plants, 220 species of birds, 40 species of land and marine mammals and over 200 species of fish, including all five species of Pacific salmon. Glacier Bay is one of the most diverse marine ecosystems on earth. The park is an area where no point of land is more than 30 miles from the coast. Glacier Bay has sixteen tidewater glaciers with twelve glaciers actively calving icebergs into the bay. It contains Mount Fairweather, the highest peak in southeast Alaska.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is one of the top tourist destinations in Alaska. Glacier Bay National Park is roadless and accessible only by boat or by plane. For independent travelers, the city of Gustavus is the "Gateway to Glacier Bay National Park." From mid-May through September, the park can by reached by cruise ships, ferry, boats and aircrafts. Passenger ferries run between Juneau and Bartlett Cove, the park headquarters. Alaskan tour boat companies provide cruises to Glacier Bay several times a week from Juneau and other southeast towns. Glacier Bay Lodge at Bartlett Cove operates daily tour boat trips during the summer months. Charter boat services in Gustavus are also available.
Glacier Bay National Park is considered by many travel writers as the crown jewel of North America ’s national parks. The park has 400,000 visitors each summer attracted by magnificent scenery and abundant wildlife. Approximately 60,000 independent visitors come to Gustavus making it their starting point for experiencing Glacier Bay.
Tourist activities at Gustavus include sea kayaking, river rafting, fishing, whale watching & wildlife viewing boat tours, flight-seeing, scenic glacier tours, glacier exploration, hiking, biking, bird watching, backpacking, mountaineering, guided walking tours and photography. Gustavus is Alaska ’s newest city! This is a tiny community with less than 500 year round residents. At its peak, in the summer season, the total resident and visitor number doubles. Gustavus is located on private land surrounded on three sides by the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and one side to the sea. It has a maritime climate and receives about 75 inches of precipitation annually. Summer temperatures range between 60 and 65 degrees F. In winter temperatures are around 35 degrees F.
The most widespread activity in the park is boating. A boat tour up the Glacier Bay follows the path of historical glacial retreat and turns back in time the plant succession from the verdant jungles of coastal rain forest at Bartlett Cove to the naked rock shores and massive tidewater glaciers at the head of the bay. The tour offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy the beauty and wildlife of Glacier Bay, including the endangered humpback whales, threatened Steller’s sea lions, orcas, harbor seals, porpoises, sea otters, black and brown bears, wolves, moose, coyote, mountain goats, bald eagles, puffins and other species of birds. Most boat tours depart from Bartlett Cove. Bartlett Cove offers a free campground, boat dock, and lodging and visitor services.
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your visit to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve:
- Obtain written information about Glacier Bay National Park before planning your trip at Glacier Bay National Park P. O. Box 140, Gustavus, AK 99826-0140, phone: 907-697-2230 or fax: 907-697-2654. There is no fee to enter the park. Before entering the park, attend a required orientation tour at the Visitor Information Station and learn to be safe during your entire stay in the park
- Plan to stay one week or more in the park. Be prepared for rainy days and cold. May and June are the driest months of the visitor season. The best months for visiting the park are May to September
- Purchase transportation and lodging in advance
- Make Bartlett Cove/Gustavus the starting point of our vacation in the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Contact Gustavus Visitors Association at 907-697-2854 or http://www.gustavusak.com
- Use a luxurious cruise ship to visit the park or be a non-cruiser independent traveler to get more affordable prices for each segment of your trip or activity
- Get to Gustavus if you depart from Juneau or Seattle, WA . From Juneau to Bartlett Cove, Glacier Bay you can use a ferry service that utilizes a high-speed catamaran. The 149-passenger capacity catamaran, called Fairweather Express II, departs from Juneau 's Auke Bay. The catamaran belongs to Glacier Bay Lodge & Tours and it is stationed at Bartlett Cove. Fairweather Express II provides cargo services at affordable prices for guests and locals who have various transport needs from Juneau to Glacier Bay. On Thursday and Saturday evenings, it makes a Whale Watch and Dinner Tour to Point Adolphus, Alaska ’s most active feeding area for many species of whales, located across from the entrance to Glacier Bay. Another passenger ferry service is the Glacier Bay Express. For a ride, call at 899-289-0081 or 907-789-0081. It has daily departures, except Wednesday, from Juneau 's Auke Bay. The ride includes a stay in the whale-watching areas near Gustavus. New for the 2008 season is the Spirit of Glacier Bay owned by Cruise West. It provides three and four night Glacier Bay Highlights cruises including two days in Glacier Bay. Cruises are roundtrip from Juneau
- Stay at Glacier Bay Lodge located in the park or Glacier Bay Country Inn, located four miles of Gustavus. For reservation, visit Glacier Bay Lodge website at http://www.visitglacierbay.com or Glacier Bay Country Inn website at http://www.glacierbayalaska.com
- At affordable prices, Aimee's Guesthouse provides spacious rentals for short or long term stays in Gustavus. Call Aimee at 907-697-2330 or visit the website at http://www.gustavus.com/guesthouse/
- "Room only” service is available at very affordable prices at Whalesong Lodge. Contact: Whalesong Lodge P. O. Box 389 Gustavus, AK99826 or call 800-628-0912
- From Bartlett Cove several smaller boat tour companies offer Glacier Bay trip packages. The 72-foot Baranof Wind high-speed catamaran is the only daily scheduled tour to the glaciers. A National Park Service Ranger joins the catamaran to provide information on the park and its wildlife. The catamaran departs Bartlett Cove in the park each morning, sails up Glacier Bay toward the head of the West Arm, provides lunch served on-board, and returns to Bartlett Cove in the afternoon. For visitors who wish to be dropped off in the park, the Baranof Wind drops boaters at either Sebree Island or Mt. Wright in the East Arm or at Rendu Inlet or Blue Mouse Cove in the West Arm
- Several businesses around Gustavus offer charter boat packages that combine kayaking, backcountry camping, overnight boat tours and other activities into a multi-day adventure trip. Custom trips are tailored to a range of ability levels. Contact the National Park Service or the Gustavus Visitor’s Association for details on all charter boat tours available in Glacier Bay
- Cruise by Reid and Lamplugh Glaciers to the spectacular John Hopkins or at the head of Glacier Bay where the Tarr Inlet is home to the active Grand Pacific and Margerie Glaciers. Enter the Johns Hopkins Inlet, home to nine glaciers. Look up to the 15,300 feet mighty Mount Fairweather. Cruise the northeastern side of Glacier Bay where the most famous and active Muir Glacier calves its blue ice into the sea. See Alaska Mountain goats, brown and black bears, moose, coyote, wolverines, harbor seals, Steller's sea lions, murres, and both the tufted and horned puffin
- See and hear the acrobatic humpback whales in their preferred environment at Icy Strait, near the town of Hoonah, using their "bubble nets" feeding techniques. For this trip call Alaska Discovery at 800-586-1911 or the “TAZ” serving Gustavus at 888-698-2726
- See glaciers and wildlife in a kayak at inches above the bay’s water. Rent a kayak or book a guided group kayak trip. For more information visit Gustavus website at http://gustavus.com/activities/kayaking.html or call Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks at 907-697-2257. On the East Arm of Glacier Bay, calm-blue waters of Muir Inlet are ideal for kayakers looking for solitude
- Go halibut and salmon fishing in the waters of the Icy Strait and Cross Sound. Take an all day boat trip or a half day trip with all equipment included. Call Black Rock Charters at 907- 697- 2786
- Glacier Bay Park is a huge primitive wilderness and heavily regulated. In order to protect the humpback whale habitat, regulations limit the number of boats entering Glacier Bay. Permits are required for boaters between June 1 and August 31. To avoid fines, get the required permits for many of the park’s activities in advance. Get a fishing license. For information call National Park Service at 907-697-2268.
After an unforgettable week head for home with your everlasting memories of this incredible beautiful park which truly is the ultimate adventure among Alaska ’s vacation destinations.
Top Alaska Vacation Destinations