Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska welcomes more than 400,000 visitors every year, even though the park cannot be accessed by car. This UNESCO World Heritage Site — a body of water and coastline crusted with huge glaciers — can only be reached by air or by sea.
Getting to Glacier Bay National Park
Luckily for those who aren’t cruising, Alaska Airlines offers daily jet service from nearby Juneau to Gustavus (about a half-hour flight) during the summertime. Year-round air taxis and charter flights provide more transportation.
Most visitors do arrive by cruise ship, as many cruise lines sail through Glacier Bay. Other options for reaching this stunningly beautiful destination include tour boats, charter boats, or private vessels. Tour vessels depart daily from Glacier Bay Lodge, but if you decide to get a private boat you must obtain a permit and reservation in order to enter.
Once you have figured out your plan of action for getting to Glacier Bay, you are ready to begin your adventure.
Exploring Glacier Bay National Park from the Lodge
Glacier Bay Lodge offers many tours, including the Glacier Bay Tour, the only day tour permitted in the park. The seven-hour excursion brings you face to face with the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers, two of the 11 tidewater glaciers. Flight-seeing is another option, with this excursion flying guests over Brady Icefield, providing photo ops for eager tourists. Other activities at the lodge include whale watching, hiking, kayaking, and fishing.
From the tidewater glaciers to snowcapped mountains, the park offers 3.3 million-acres of breathtaking views of fjords and ocean coastlines, with activities for true adrenaline junkies. For kayaking, try the Alaska Mountain Guides (800/766-3396), voted a “Tour of a Lifetime” by National Geographic Traveler. These talented guides will take you on a great adventure, the most popular being a one-day kayaking trip to Point Adolphus, a popular area with whales.
Whale watching is a big draw to the area, and many companies offer great tours. Step aboard the US Coast Guard certified, Taz (907/321-2302), for a great experience. This vessel will take you to the feeding grounds of the humpback whales, where you can see whales do acrobatics and listen to them harmonize. This three-and-a-half hour tour departs two times each day, but for larger groups they offer custom tours.
Glacier’s Visitor Center has Kids’ Programs
For those looking to get some camping in amidst the naturalistic scenery, you must do training at the Bartlett Cove Visitor Center. This free, 30-minute orientation will grant you a permit for camping, and a bear-resistant food container. Permits are free and required for May 1 through September 30. Orientation is also required for kayakers.
Families traveling with smaller children are in for a real adventure. A fun activity to keep the kids happy is the Junior Park Ranger program. If you came by boat, head to the visitors center on the second floor of Glacier Bay Lodge. Those who come by tour vessel simply find a ranger onboard and start learning! (Cruise ships to Glacier Bay often have their own onboard Junior Ranger programs). After picking up your Junior Ranger Booklet, complete the steps and present it to a ranger, then you will get your Junior Ranger Badge.
Other park ranger activities include daily walking tours through the park, and the ranger program each night in the auditorium of Glacier Bay Lodge, where they show movies.
Gustavas, Base for Exploration of Glacier Bay
If you are looking to stay in the park the only lodging option is Glacier Bay Lodge (866/761-6634), near Bartlett Cove. The best part about the lodge is waking up to the beautiful view of the Fairweather Mountain range.
As the gateway to Glacier Bay, Gustavus, Alaska (907/500-5143) is a must for all travelers. All visitors will cross the Four Corners, a 10-mile long road that leads from the airport to Bartlett Cove in the park and onto Rink Creek Road. All of the businesses in town are along these roads, and travelers are invited to stop at any one of them for a map. There is not a McDonald’s or a shopping mall in sight, but there are plenty of bed and breakfasts, like the Bear Track Inn, great for dining, and local stores to keep you well rested and prepared for your adventure.
Summer temperatures in the area fall between 50 and 60 degrees, so be sure to bring your warm clothes, and raingear, as it rains frequently in Southeast Alaska. For everything else you need to know about an independent visit, check out the NPS site, Glacier Bay National Park.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.