A short 13-minute flight from Juneau is Gustavus, the gateway to Alaska’s world-renowned Glacier Bay National Park.
It’s probably the shortest flight I’ve ever taken. I mean, I didn’t even have a chance to take my belt off and use the bathroom. I wish all flights were this short and easy.
Alternatively, you can take a very comfortable, smooth 6 hour ferry ride (via the Alaska Marine Highway). The vessel offers an on board restaurant, mini cinema and breathtaking views.
Glacier Bay National Park is a 3.3 million acre park in southeast Alaska. That makes it the largest UNESCO protected biosphere in the world. The actual Glacier Bay body of water covers an area of 1,375 square miles (3,560 km2), and accounts for 27% of the park area.
While a cruise ship will provide a glimpse of Glacier Bay, it can’t afford much more than that since the National Park Service only allows 2 cruise ships, 3 tour boats, 6 charter vessels, and 25 private vessels per day to visit.
Tip: We spent a few nights at the Glacier Bay Lodge - the perfect way to be surrounded by nature and the only accommodation located within Glacier Bay. The simple yet charming cabin atmosphere completes the wilderness experience.
2 Must-Do Activities
1. We spent a full day on the waters of Glacier Bay with an all-day boat tour. Wildlife galore from whales to sea lions to puffins to bears. Add to that amazing views of the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers, two towering masses of ice and snow rising 245 feet above the ocean and stretching another 100 feet beneath the waterline. We waited patiently in the motionless Arctic air for the glacier calving (breaking off). And we were lucky enough to spot “corking”, where ice breaks off beneath the waterline and shoots to the surface like a rocket. I loved the hearty warm chowder served on board for morning tea and the fresh subway-style sandwiches and cookies served for lunch. You won’t go hungry on this tour.
2. If you want to get even closer to the wilderness then try a Glacier Bay guided kayak tour. We borrowed an entire outfit to stay warm and dry, and then hopped right into the Bay in a sea kayak. Our friendly guide was extremely knowledgeable and pointed out wildlife on the shore, sea otters in the water and local plant life.
Show Me The Photos!
There’s only so many words that I can use to describe Glacier Bay, so I’ll let these 27 photos do the talking. Enjoy!
Water in the bay gets close to freezing temperatures.
Sea Lions basking near Strawberry Island in Glacier Bay.
Birds nesting on a steep island cliff.
A thick layer of fog descending on South Marble Island.
Any time is a good time for a snooze.
Fog enshrouds the coastline as we travelled up Glacier Bay.
Our all-day boat tour included complimentary binocular rental, essential for spotting wildlife along the coast or in the water.
Mountain goat and her baby.
Can you spot the brown bear foraging near the coast?
As we got closer to the major glaciers, the icebergs grew in size.
The enormous size of Margerie Glacier dwarfs even the largest cruise ships.
Freshly calved ice from a glacier, bobbing inconspicuously in the water.
Our patience was rewarded. Glacier calving occurs when the slow-moving river of ice pushes into the bay, and segments of ice break off, releasing a thunderous cracking sound. The scale gets lost from this distance, but some of these ice chunks are larger than a car.
Travelling through Glacier Bay is a photographer’s dream. Related: see what photography gear we use.
Gotta love Alaska!
One of the crew pulled an iceberg out of the water for the guests to touch. Because of the low temperature at which it freezes and enormous pressure created by the glacial flow, this ice is much stronger and clearer than regular ice you’ll find in your freezer.
Mia completed her Junior Ranger booklet in order to add another prestigious badge to her growing collection.
Love seats with a view. At Glacier Bay Lodge.
Lobby entry at Glacier Bay Lodge.
Life’s short. Eat dessert first. Especially when dessert is chocolate bunt cake.
The skeleton of “Snow”, the largest humpback whale on exhibition in the United States. Unfortunately, her life was cut short in 2001 when she was struck by a cruise ship in Glacier Bay. 161 bones weighing 3,729 pounds took over 1000 hours to clean and prepare. And in 2014 this exhibit was opened.
Ready to go sea kayaking?
Setting off in Bartlett Cove to explore Glacier Bay via sea kayak.
Calm waters and almost no wind, made for a perfect day on the water. We spotted harbor porpoises and sea otters.
Becoming one with Glacier Bay.