Glacier Bay is a park encompassing a long fjord with two arms, eastern and western. Until about 200 years ago the entire area was one big glacier, but things have changed since then, the ice rapidly retreated and exposed a deep bay with steep mountains on both sides. The main attractions are of course the glaciers that hang from every angle, the high summits on both ends of the bay, and the marine animals – mainly whales – that spend the summer here.
In terms of tourism, Glacier Bay is somewhat of an impossible combination: on one hand hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through here every summer; on the other hand, almost all of them come to Alaska on board huge cruise ships, and the park itself is completely wild and undeveloped. All the park-related services are concentrated in a tiny town called Gustavus, at the mouth of the bay. Beyond this point there are no walking trails, no organized camping sites, no roads and no parking lots. Just nature.
Experience Glacier Bay
There are several ways to experience Glacier Bay. One is on board a cruise ship. This means you come in with the ship in the morning and leave a few hours later. The ship docks in front of a glacier for pictures, and then it’s on to the next stop.
The other option is to arrive independently to Gustavus, and take a one-day cruise in the park. This kind of cruise is much smaller (about 100 people), and will allow you to see the environment at eye level and not from ten stories up. The cruise is operated by the local Glacier Bay Lodge, about ten miles from Gustavus, in a place called Bartlett Cove. The cruise leaves the Lodge at the early hours of the morning and ends in the afternoon. Besides the ships’ height differences, traveling independently will also allow you to see Gustavus, which despite its tininess is cute and very friendly.
A long kayaking trip
Another way to see the park is a bit more extreme. hiking is out of the question, as the park’s topography is impossible, but if you’re into it Glacier Bay is the perfect place for a long kayaking trip. Kayaks are quiet, stable and easily-operated vessels, and shoreline kayaking allows you to see the views, the land animal and even the marine animals if you’re lucky. You can only imagine what it’s like to row your kayak and have an up-close encounter with whales. Besides, thanks to the closed bay the water in the park are usually very peaceful – ideal kayaking conditions.
- Whale watching at Point Adolphus
- Dinner at Gustavus Inn
- Bartlett Cove
- Flights from Juneau to Gustavus
A rocky beach about 20 minutes by boat from Gustavus, is one of best whale-watching spots in Alaska. There’s a big concentration of whales here, and as it is outside the park, the ships that sail here can come close to the whales because the limitations imposed within the park do not apply here. In addition, the big cruises don’t come here, only a handful of companies operate in the area and most chances are you’ll be relatively alone. Adventure seekers are encouraged to tour the area by kayak.