Located just a few miles from park headquarters, the town of Gustavus is the jumping-off point for adventures in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and a charming little village of artists, fantastic gardens, wild strawberries, stunning views and even a small golf course.
About Glacier Bay and Gustavus
With its spectacular glaciers and abundance of marine wildlife, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve has become the crown jewel in the itinerary of many cruise-ship and independent travelers. The bay features seven tidewater glaciers that spill out of the mountains and deposit icebergs of all shapes, sizes and shades of blue into the ocean. Of the park’s more than 300,000 annual visitors, over 90 percent visit on a cruise ship and never set foot on shore, but the independent travelers who come get the bonus of visiting nearby Gustavus as well.
Things to do
Bartlett Cove is the park headquarters and the site of a campground, a large commercial lodge, restaurant and bar and the only maintained hiking trails in the park. At Bartlett Cove, paddlers rent kayaks, visitors board tour boats for a 40-mile day cruise to see the glaciers up the bay and park rangers lead guided hikes and give naturalist programs. At the foot of the main dock is the National Park Service Visitor Information Station, where you can obtain backcountry permits, seek out information or purchase a variety of books or topographic maps that cover the park.
Gustavus is nine miles by road from Bartlett Cove. Independent travelers can take a short flight from Juneau via jet or air taxi, or hop on an Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Juneau. Like many places known for natural beauty, Gustavus boasts several acclaimed sculptors, painters, potters, jewelers and woodcarvers. You can see their work at local galleries, studios and shops in town. Beachcombing, hiking on the Nagoonberry Loop trail, biking through town or playing a round at the Mount Fairweather Golf Course are popular ways to spend the day, and a number of cozy, food-focused lodges provide a luxurious place to rest your head at night.
There are a number of charter boat operators in Gustavus that offer sportfishing, whale watching and even overnight cruises deep into Glacier Bay. The best source of information on them is the Gustavus Visitors Association (907-697-2454).
Charter fishing guides based in Gustavus primarily fish Icy Strait and Cross Sound for a variety of species including all five species of Pacific salmon, rockfish, lingcod and everybody’s favorite, halibut. Such fishing trips produce great action to a backdrop of spectacular mountain scenery. Trolling, jigging and casting are popular methods when targeting salmon while jigging and drifting or anchoring with bait are the primary methods for halibut.
Glacier Bay’s famous ice floes are 40 miles up the bay from Bartlett Cove and for those not traveling by cruise ship, a day cruise is a great way to see them. Some charter operators offer daily, eight-hour tours into the West Arm to see the most active glaciers. Others offer overnight excursions into the backcountry, hauling along kayaks so you can paddle around the icebergs.
Gustavus is home to the Mount Fairweather Golf Course, a par 36, nine-hole course with great views of mountains, islands and waterways from almost every fairway. The course also features a clubhouse with light refreshments and rentals for clubs, handcarts and electric carts.
Glacier Bay offers some of the best sea kayaking in the Inside Passage, an opportunity to paddle past calving glaciers and icebergs of all shapes, sizes and shades of blue. Kayaks can be rented in Bartlett Cove and then placed on tour boats to avoid the long paddle up the bay. Guided kayak trips can also be arranged in Gustavus that range from a day trip to an eight-day adventure.
A number of charter boat operators in Gustavus offer whale watching trips, focusing on the waters around the entrance to Glacier Bay. Trips range from day trips to overnight excursions and even an opportunity to kayak with the whales.