Glacier Bay, Alaska
Glacier Bay was first noted by George Vancouver in 1794, but was not formalised as a bay until 1879. During this time, the ice had melted and shifted some 30 miles, causing a bay formation. Naturalist John Muir is credited with discovering what became Glacier Bay and he made significant moves to conserve the area.
Covering more than 3 million acres, Glacier Bay National Park has one of the largest protected areas. Part of a 25 million acre World Heritage site, Glacier Bay has complex and diverse geography, combining mountains, rainforest and coastlines with extensive ice.
Glacier Bay is the homeland of the Huna Tlingit people. The land is rich with plant life and fish, which sustained their existence. The majority of the Huna Tlingit people now reside across Icy Strait; their presence is evident in trail carvings and cultural trips take place annually.
Access to Glacier Bay is limited, with 90% of visitors arriving by cruise ships. Cruise ships do not dock in Glacier Bay National Park. As a protected area, vessel entry is managed by the National Park Service. Access is by plane or boat only. The nearest ferry dock is 9 miles from the office in Glacier Bay National Park.
The small community of Gustavus is the closest settlement to Glacier Bay, and is often referred to as the ‘Gateway to Glacier Bay’.
As the nearest port, Gustavus is a small population of less than 500 people. The town is wide-spread and many of the residents are still largely self-sufficient. There is an airstrip, with flights arriving from Juneau daily during the summer months. There are only two main roads in Gustavus and vehicle usage depends on the weather conditions for smaller, unsealed roads.
Facilities in Gustavus include:
- Accommodation (BnB, guest house and inn style)
- Cafés and restaurants
- General stores (gas station, galleries and souvenirs)
- Medical clinic.
How to Get Around
Glacier Bay is not accessible by road and getting to the National Park is achieved by air or ship. Once you have reached Glacier Bay, transport is by car, taxi, bicycle or on foot. Car and bike rental is available in Gustavus.
As the park is surrounded by water, many visitors choose to kayak or raft during their time here. The hire of non-motorised water crafts is available in Gustavus; permits may be required depending on the route. Glacier Bay is tidal; therefore, it is best to review the tide information before planning an outing.
- Currency – The local currency is the United States Dollar (USD). Coins come in 1c, 5c, 10c, 25c, 50c, and $1 coin denominations, while notes are in USD$1, USD$2, USD$5, USD$10, USD$20, USD$50, and USD$100 denominations. Cash is preferable in smaller communities. Gustavus has limited ATM facilities, so it is advisable to withdraw cash prior to exploring the area.
- Time Zone – Glacier Bay observes Alaska Standard Time (AKST), which is UTC/GMT -9 hours. Daylight Saving Time begins in March and runs until November.
- Weather – The ocean heavily influences the weather in Glacier Bay, resulting in cool summers with frequent rain. Summer temperatures vary from 10 to 15 degrees Celsius and the rainfall in the National Park averages 70 inches (1778 mm) per year. In the mountainous regions, rainfall gives way to snow and the temperatures can be much lower.
- Glacier Bay National Park – The National Park is home to a wide variety of wildlife and marine animals, including Humpback and Orca whales, brown and black bears, moose and hundreds of different birds. Surrounded by tidal glaciers as well as snow-capped mountains, the National Park is a wonder to be experienced. Some of the mountains in the area stretch more than 2 miles high and make a stunning backdrop. The peak tourist season is from late May to early September. While the park is open throughout the year, visitor services are limited.
- Muir Inlet – Named after John Muir, this inlet reflects his conservation vision. The majority of the area prohibits access by motorised water craft, so it is a kayak enthusiast’s paradise. While kayaking past tidewater glaciers, expect to see bears, moose and other animals.
- Glacier Bay Nature Preserve – The Nature Preserve is managed differently to the National Park. The preserve allows for commercial fishing, hunting, trapping and camping. There is also 60 miles of trails for ATV enthusiasts to explore.
- Bartlett Cove – Bartlett Cove is the most developed area of Glacier Bay. From here, visitors can stop by the Visitor Information Centre and view the exhibits, have a guided tour with park rangers or camp. Take the Forest Loop Trail just past the dock in Bartlett Cove to explore the area on your own, or in a group.