Glacier Bay National Park is one of the country’s most glorious treasures. Unless you are looking for a warm and sunny day on the beach this national park has something for everyone. Located in Southeast Alaska, Glacier Bay offers hiking, kayaking, cruises, camping, fishing, birdwatching and glimpses of some of our country’s most incredible scenery.
One of the most popular ways to see Glacier Bay is in a kayak or in a ship that can bring you into some of the bays and harbors that make this national park so unique. Glacier Bay National Park has 16 glaciers that reach tidal waters (known as tidewater glaciers) and 12 of these actively calve (drop chunks of ice) into the water. Listening to the hiss, the pop, and the crashing roar of a calving glacier is unlike anything else. It is profoundly inspiring and looking out over the water at the icebergs, bergy bits and growlers is an experience difficult to replicate. Glacier Bay is home to so many glaciers because it is home to some very tall mountain ranges including the Fairweather Range of the Saint Elias Mountains which includes Mount Fairweather. At 15,320 feet most of the mountain lies within Glacier Bay National Park but the summit rises in British Columbia, Canada.
It is not just the mountains that draw people to Glacier Bay. Whale watching is also very popular. This national park is home to Humpback Whales, Gray Whales, Minke Whales and Orca Whales. And if the whale sightings are not as numerous as you had hoped for there are seals, sea otters, and porpoises to command your attention. Fishing expeditions are also popular because of the wide variety of fish species available including Halibut, Trout, Salmon, Dolly Varden and more.
If you prefer to be closer to land, there are hiking trails, a campground, a very clean and beautiful beach and an incredibly diverse mammal population and bird population. Some of the animals you might see include brown bear, moose, sheep, porcupines, coyotes, mink and beaver. Some of the birds you might spot include eagles, oyster catchers, puffins and cormorants.
The southern portion of the park is a temperate rainforest. Gustavus, Alaska is known as the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park because it provides most of the lodging and eating establishments available closest to the Park and it is in the temperate rainforest. Be prepared for the rain with weatherproof gear and boots. It is also pretty cool during the summer. Temperatures range between 50 and 70 degrees fahrenheit during the day and between 40 and 50 degrees fahrenheit at night. It must also be noted that this part of Alaska is home to some of the largest mosquitos found anywhere. If you plan to spend much time hiking in the forest do bring some insect repellent. Gustavus is also known for the wild strawberries that grow near the beach. Even when the skies are cloudy and there is a light rain falling picking fresh strawberries while looking out at the ocean is hard to beat.
Getting to Glacier Bay National Park takes some time but is fairly easy. There is only one lodge, The Glacier Bay Lodge, which is within the National Park limits. The rest of the accommodations are in or near Gustavus. Alaska Airlines runs a daily flight into Gustavus from early June through early September and most lodging facilities provide transportation for you from the Gustavus airport to their place. Gustavus is small, friendly, and filled with natives eager to share their best tips about how to get the most out of your time in Glacier Bay.
Visiting Glacier Bay National Park is truly worth the time and money it will take you to get there. The air is pure, the water is clean and the scenery is magnificent. It is a uniquely glorious and diverse part of our country.