Glacier Bay

National Park

Glacier Bay isn't a place you can just drop by. It is not accessible by road. You can reach the nearby town of Gustavus by ferry from Juneau (Gustavus and Juneau also are not accessible by road) or by air from Haines or Juneau. A high percentage of people who see it do so from cruise ships, or from some type of packaged tour. The remote location of the park and the monopolies held by tour companies make this a difficult stop for an independent traveler who doesn't like to be herded through.

That doesn't mean it isn't a very special place, just that the facts of its location and economics make a trip there less appealing than it might otherwise be. Ship's notes from the 18th century observe that the whole area now covered by the park was choked with glaciers. Recession of the glaciers has occurred slowly but surely over the intervening years. The area where most people enter the park at Bartlett Cove now has been ice-free for over 200 years and is heavily forested. As one travels further into the park the trees get younger and younger. Near the large glaciers deep in the park, the land is completely barren, very recently emerged from the ice.

Most people will see the park from a tour company boat. A better way would be from a kayak, which is what I plan to do next time I visit. Wildlife abounds, including black and grizzly bears, coastal birdlife, and bald eagles. Even the typical canned tour will give one a chance to see all of the above.

The centerpiece of the development at Bartlett Cove is the Glacier Bay Lodge. Most visitors are shuttled in, put up for the night, taken on a 1-day boat tour, and shuttled out again. There are alternatives, though. Innkeepers near the town of Gustavus, a few miles away from Bartlett Cove, can put together a package considerably more appealing than the large tour companies have. Check around if you make the trip on your own. Most of the options are expensive, but so are the canned tours. The Park Service also has a pleasant, very little-used campground at Bartlett Cove. I suspect the high cost of just getting to Glacier Bay limits the number of low-budget visitors, hence the scarcity of campers. The incessant Southeast Alaska rain probably plays a part as well.


Visit the official site.

Favorite hikes: Because of the regimented nature of most visits to Glacier Bay, I doubt that one percent of the visitors to Glacier Bay go on a hike, although a nice trail goes along the Bartlett River. I saw black bears and bald eagles on a short outing, while encountering few other visitors.

Favorite place to stay: Glacier Bay Country Inn.
While in the area visit: Many packaged tours in the area include a whale-watching trip off Point Adolphus. This is a fabulous trip and should not be missed. I've been on a lot of whale-watching excursions but this is far and away the best.

Any comments are appreciated. Send me an e-mail!

All photography and text by Bill Dummitt (all rights reserved)
Website designed by JULI
See credits for this site.