From summit to sea, Glacier Bay offers limitless opportunities for adventure and inspiration.
Lofty mountain peaks, ice-sculpted fjords, an abundance of marine wildlife, and massive tidewater glaciers have made Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve one of Alaska's most spectacular settings. The 3.3-million-acre park is a must-stop for every cruise ship sailing through the Inside Passage.
Things to Do
More than 90 percent of the park's visitors arrive on cruise ships, which typically spend a whole day exploring the park’s stunning scenery and abundant wildlife, stopping in front of tidewater glaciers to watch for calving. While in the park, National Park Rangers board cruise ships to give presentations and answer questions. Independent travelers access the park through the village of Gustavus or the park headquarters of Bartlett Cove for a variety of adventures into the park.
Most of the activities in the park are water-focused, with the most popular being boat tours, kayaking, river rafting, fishing, glacier viewing, and whale watching. Full-day boat tours depart from Bartlett Cove and travel 130 miles through the park to view wildlife and tidewater glaciers. Kayakers are often dropped off in the well-protected arms and inlets deep in the bay where they paddle past glaciers and camp along the shoreline on their own or as part of a guided kayaking tour. The park's 10 miles of maintained hiking trails are in the Bartlett Cove area.
Bartlett Cove is the park headquarters and includes a lodge and restaurant, a campground, kayak rentals, and the tour boat dock. Also at Bartlett Cove is the seasonal Visitor Information Station for Boaters and Campers and the Glacier Bay Visitor Center. The cove lies within Glacier Bay National Park but is still 40 miles south of the nearest tidewater glacier.
About 9 miles away and connected to Bartlett Cove by road is the small town of Gustavus. The rural community has a dozen lodges, inns, and bed and breakfasts, a handful of restaurants, and outfitters and charter captains who arrange whale watching excursions, fishing trips, mountaineering expeditions, and guided kayaking tours.
As marine waters make up nearly one-fifth of the park, Glacier Bay is rich with marine life, including humpback whales, orcas, Stellar sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and porpoises. In addition to marine mammals, Glacier Bay is home to a large bear population, both brown and black, as well as the blue glacier bear, a rare color phase of black bear. Moose, wolves, Sitka blacktail deer, mountain goats, and bald eagle also thrive in the park.
Today, glaciers still cover 27 percent of the park. There are more than 50 named glaciers of which seven are active tidewater glaciers that calve off icebergs into the sea. Encircling the park to the west is the Fairweather Range, the highest coastal mountains in the world at 15,000 feet.
In 1794, a survey crew described what is now called Glacier Bay as a five-mile indent in a glacier that stretched “as far as the eye could distinguish.” In 1879, when scientist/naturalist John Muir visited the area, he found the ice had retreated more than 30 miles, creating an actual bay. The glacier has continued to recede at a rapid rate.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve was named a national monument in 1925. In 1980, the area became a national park and preserve, and 2.7 million acres received wilderness designation. In 1986, the park became a biosphere reserve, and the area was named a world heritage site in 1992.
Facilities, Camping, and Lodging
Bartlett Cove is the park headquarters and the site of a campground, a lodge, restaurant, bar, and the only maintained hiking trails in the park. At Bartlett Cove, paddlers rent kayaks, visitors board tour boats for a day cruise into the park, and 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.
The Bartlett Cove Campground is a free walk-in tent camping area, with sites available on a first-come, first serve basis. The Glacier Bay Lodge serves breakfast and dinner and offers the only hotel accommodations within the park.
Most visitors to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve arrive on cruise ships and do no disembark while visiting the area. The nearby town of Gustavus is accessible by air or passenger ferry. Alaska Airlines provides daily jet service from Seattle and Anchorage to Juneau with connections via a number of carriers to Gustavus. The Gustavus airport is 10 miles by road from park headquarters at Bartlett Cove. Several air taxi companies provide small-plane flights year-round from several southeast Alaska towns to Gustavus. A passenger ferry operates between Juneau and Gustavus/Bartlett Cove on a limited schedule.
For more information, visit the Glacier Bay National Park website.