Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve contains some of the world's most impressive tidewater glaciers. The bay has experienced at least four major glacial advances and four major retreats and serves as an outdoor research laboratory. Mountains rise right from its tidewater up to three vertical miles. Mount Fairweather is southeastern Alaska's highest peak. The dramatic variety of plant communities ranges from barren terrain just recovering from glacial retreat to lush temperate rain forest. The story of plant succession is nowhere more richly told than at Glacier Bay.
Glacier Bay has more than 50 named glaciers, as well as two major arms: East Arm and West Arm. Most people who come to the Park—and there can be 400,000 of them a year—come by way of a cruise ship, and most of those ships head up the West Arm, towards the Margerie Glacier. The reason? It's the most impressive glacier, which is advancing 12 to 14 feet a day and calves frequently.
You’ll often see seals hauled out on the ice chunks, here; if you’re in front of the Margerie Glacier, you’ll also be within sight of the Grand Pacific Glacier. This glacier once filled the entire bay, reaching Icy Strait in the late 1700s. Receding rapidly, its face is now covered with rocky moraine. Other well-known glaciers in the Park include Johns Hopkins, Reid, Carroll and Lamplugh glaciers.
The park and preserve harbors brown and black bears, mountain goats, moose, whales, seals, plus eagles and more than 200 other species of birds. Together with Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and the Tatshenshini-Alsek Park in British Columbia, this 24-million-acre wilderness is a World Heritage Site and the world's largest internationally protected area.
Access: By commercial cruise ship, tour boat, or aircraft or by scheduled air or boat service from Juneau and other southeastern Alaska communities. Approximate Size 3.3 million acres. For more information from the National Park Service, call 907-697-2230 or visit the Glacier Bay National Park website.
Glacier Bay Lodge
Many visitors pass through Glacier Bay National Park by cruise, but Glacier Bay Lodge is the perfect spot to stay a few days (3 is recommended) and truly discover Glacier Bay National Park. Here's a suggested itinerary:
Day 1: Arrive in Gustavus, and take the complimentary shuttle to Glacier Bay Lodge. Once you've settled in, head to the National Park Visitor Center (located on the second floor of the lodge). View the exhibits, check the schedule for evening presentations and ask for recommendations from the National Park Ranger for a nice afternoon walk. The one-mile Forest Loop Trail is popular to stretch your legs. Head back to the lodge for dinner, which you can enjoy inside or out on the deck.
Day 2: Board the lodge's catamaran to get a close-up look at the bay’s massive, tidewater glaciers, a much more intimate experience than the typical visitor gets from the deck of a large cruise ship. You may also see whales, bears, and mountain goats. This 8-hour tour is the only day tour permitted inside Glacier Bay National Park. Lunch is served on board and the trip is narrated by a National Park Ranger. You'll return to the lodge at 3:30pm, with plenty of time to enjoy another hike near the lodge before dinner.
Day 3: Day of departure. Depending on the time your flight departs, ask the lodge for recommendations of how to fill your day! The lodge can book other activities including flightseeing and sea kayaking.