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Glacier Bay, a 3.3 million-acre expanse that was originally buried under a mile wide wall of ice just 200 years ago. The Glacier Bay proper opens to the north off Icy Strait. The bay stretches out for more than 60 miles. Glacier Bay was hidden under an ice sheet when the earliest Europeans stopped briefly to chart the adjacent waters in the late 18th century. In 1879 the writer and American naturalist, John Muir found the glaciers had receded more than 30 miles. This made him the first to note the glacial movement. This began the documentation of one of the most rapid glacial retreats ever recorded. History and subsequent investigation have established that Glacier Bay had been ice-free before, and it was home to the Huna people. These people had inhabited it between periodic glacial advances for thousands of years. Since the latest reopening, the glaciers have continued to withdraw. The land and waters being unlocked have evolved a diverse array of flora and fauna. This has offered unparalleled opportunity for scientific study, which led to the move to protect Glacier Bay and its environs as a National Monument in 1925.
Large amounts of cruise ships cruise the Inside Passage and spend the day cruising this 65-mile long bay. When the ships arrive, a National Park Service ranger will board the ship and provide a running commentary of the treeless mountains, icy fjords, hidden inlets and glacial landscapes. The ranger will also point out the animals that call Glacier Bay home, such as killer and gray whales, sea otters, porpoises, moose, coyotes, wolves and bears. Cruise pasengers will become familiar with what is visible in the sea and on the land.
In 1980 the National Park and Preserve expanded to its current boundaries. Visitors will find the steep, sculpted peaks and the rock-strewn valleys unbelievable. There has been glacial activity with marked advances that have occurred since before the Wisconsin ice age. High montane ice fields, expansive river and stream systems and 12 tidewater glaciers influence the environment of Glacier Bay. The sheltered waters of Glacier Bay flow with the region’s large tides, while the ocean waves pound the beaches of the wild and very remote Gulf coast. Between the bay and the coast, are the snow-clad peaks of the Fairweather Range. The mountains that surround Glacier Bay descend into foothills. They quickly turn green as the ice age retreats. Glacier Bay once covered by sheets of glacial ice, is now a great bay revealed. Constantly changing, as the glaciers continue to recede, the bay will continue to enlarge.
One fifth of the park is made up of marine waters. There are more than 200 species of fish that swim in the Park waters. All 5 species of Pacific salmon are part of that number. Dungeness, king and Tanner crab as well as clams, scallops and shrimp have been harvested by the region’s human occupants for many centuries. Mussels, seastars, urchins, sea cucumbers and sea anemones can be found as well. Several cetacean and pinniped species extensively feed in Glacier Bay. This includes the endangered humpback whale and the Steller sea lion. Visitors will see many harbor seals that breed and nurture their pups on the floating ice within the Johns Hopkins Inlet and among the reefs of the Beardslee Islands. Minke whales, killer whales, and Dall’s porpoises feed in the Park’s productive close to the shore waters. Sea otters colonize in the bay as well as the Park's waters in the Icy Strait and Cross Sound.
It has been recorded that approximately 220 bird are within the park. Many seabirds nest on the cliffs and along the rocky shores within the bay. They can also be found on the park’s outer coast. Molting or migrating geese and sea ducks find refuge in the quiet arms of the bay. Bald eagles nest along much of the bay's shoreline.
The park has a large population of land mammals, inlcuding the mountain goat and the brown bear. Recently the coyote, moose and wolf have been spotted within the park. Black bears stay withint the forested portions of the lower bay.
Most visitors to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve spend a day in Glacier Bay on large cruise ships as part of a longer cruise originating at a major west coast city. The spectacular scenery and wildlife of Glacier Bay make it a highlight of any Alaska cruise.
What to Expect
Cruise ships typically spend a full day (9-10 hours) in Glacier Bay including a stop at a major tidewater glacier. National Park Service park rangers board to provide a narrative about important aspects of the visit, give a presentation about the park, and answer passengers' questions. Cruise ships do not dock anywhere in Glacier Bay National Park.
Lofty mountain peaks, ice-sculptured fjords, an abundance of marine wildlife and, most of all, massive tidewater glaciers, have made Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve one of Alaska's most spectacular settings and a must-stop for every cruise ship sailing north through Southeast Alaska.
The 3.3 million acre park is indeed an icy wilderness. When Captain George Vancouver sailed through the ice-choked waters of Icy Strait in 1794, Glacier Bay was little more than a dent in a mountain of ice. In 1879 John Muir made his legendary discovery of Glacier Bay and found that the end of the bay had retreated 20 miles from Icy Strait. 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 icebergs into the sea. Two of them, Johns Hopkins and Margerie Glaciers, are advancing.
Encircling the park to the west is the Fairweather Range, the highest coastal mountains in the world at 15,000 feet. As marine waters make up nearly one-fifth of the park, Glacier Bay is rich with marine life, including the endangered humpback whale, orcas, threatened Stellar sea lion, 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 the black. Moose, wolves, Sitka blacktail deer, mountain goats and bald eagle also thrive in the park.
More than 90 percent of the park's visitors arrive on cruise ships which swing through the vast bay but never stop. The rest pass through either the village of Gustavus or the park headquarters of Bartlett Cove for a variety of adventures. 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. The park's 10 miles of maintained trails is limited to Bartlett Cove but Glacier Bay offers an excellent opportunity for people who have experience on the water but not necessarily as kayakers. 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.
Did You Know?
Water originating in Glacier National Park—much of it from snowmelt—can be considered the headwater of the continent. Water that runs down Triple Divide Peak flows in three directions, eventually winding up in the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay.
Prepare for the weather
Southeast Alaska has a maritime climate. Moist air from the Pacific Ocean graces the shores of Glacier Bay with over 80 inches of rain a year. In an average year, Southeast Alaska receives about 4 sunny days per month. All this precipitation keeps this coastline moist, builds glaciers in the mountains, and moderates the temperature. Be sure to bring rain gear. The average temperature is around 55º F (13º C). The moisture and cool temperatures may make it seem colder than you expect. While you may be one of the lucky few who see the sun, bring plenty of warm layers. You will want to be outside as much as possible to take in the sights of Glacier Bay, be prepared so you can be comfortable.
Most visitors to Glacier Bay see the park from large cruise ships with thousands of passengers. These visitors do not go ashore in the park; instead National Park Service naturalists board the ship to share their knowledge about the park and its wildlife during a day-long cruise in the bay. Glacier Bay National Park is open year-round. The park Visitor Center is open from mid-May to mid-September. Services in winter are extremely limited.

Here visitors will find plenty of abundant wildlife, glaciers and beautiful scenery. There is only road in the park and it runs 10 miles between Bartlett Cove and Gustavus. There are seven miles of trails that wind along the beaches and through the rainforest in the Bartlett Cove area. The distance between Bartlett Cove and the tidewater glaciers is approximately 65 miles.
For those arriving at Bartlett Cove or Gustavus and desiring to travel into the park, Glacier Bay is best seen by boat. The distance to the tidewater glaciers is 50-60 miles. The Glacier Bay Lodge park concession runs a daily tour boat beginning in late May through mid-September. The journey takes about eight hours round trip. A National Park Service ranger-naturalist is on board to point out the bay's natural features and wildlife and to answer questions. For reservations and information, click on the Glacier Bay Lodge/Day Boat link above.
There are few trails in the park, and most campers journey through the bay by kayak, either on their own or as part of a guided trip. Kayaks may be rented, and a kayak drop-off vessel operates daily during the summer months.
Limited hiking opportunities are available from Bartlett Cove, either along the beach or on one of the approximately seven miles of trails that wind through the rain forest. Click on the "Hiking" link on the Activities page for more information and a map showing trail locations.
In addition to traveling by tour boat or kayak, other options include seeing Glacier Bay by locally chartered vessel or viewing the park from a flight seeing aircraft. Click on the Visitor Services Directory link above for a listing of companies that provide those services.
Pleasure boats are welcome. A free permit is required, and there is a limit on the number of vessels allowed in the park at one time. For complete boater information, click on the "Boating" link on the Activities page.
The Tatsenshini/Alsek Rivers begin in Canada, run through the northern edge of the park, and empty into the Gulf of Alaska at Dry Bay in Glacier Bay National Preserve. Commercially guided trips are available, and a permit is required for private trips.
Wildlife Viewing:
Sailing through Glacier Bay today, you travel along shorelines and among islands that were completely covered by ice just over 200 years ago.

When Captain George Vancouver charted adjacent waters of Icy Strait in 1794, he and his crew described what we now call Glacier Bay as just a small five-mile indent in a gigantic glacier that stretched off to the horizon. That massive glacier was more than 4,000 feet thick in places, up to 20 miles wide, and extended more than 100 miles to the St. Elias mountain range. By 1879, however, naturalist John Muir discovered that the ice had retreated more than 30 miles forming an actual bay. By 1916, the Grand Pacific Glacier – the main glacier credited with carving the bay – had melted back 60 miles to the head of what is now Tarr Inlet.
What happens when nature wipes the slate clean and starts over from scratch? Today’s visitors can see the answer to that question during the course of one trip into the bay to the tidewater glaciers. Such a journey is like going back to the last ice age. The land near the mouth of the bay, long-ago released from the grip of glaciers, has had the most time to recover and is now blanketed by mature spruce and hemlock forests. As you travel toward the glaciers the vegetation gets younger and smaller, until you reach the face of the ice where nothing grows at all. The successional processes so evident here offered unparalleled opportunity for scientific observation and glaciologists, geologists, plant ecologists and other scientists came here to study this dynamic landscape. While recounting his scientific work in Glacier Bay, a plant ecologist named William Cooper so inspired his colleagues at the Ecological Society of America that they started the movement to protect the bay and its environs. In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge declared Glacier Bay a national monument.

Today Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve continues to protect these natural resources which offer a glimpse into ice ages past in the midst of a flourishing and dynamic natural environment.
Rafting the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers:
The Alsek River and its major tributary, the Tatshenshini River, are large volume, swift glacial rivers. Beginning in the interior, it is one of a small number of river systems which breach the coast range, offering boaters uncommon environmental diversity, impressive scenery, and an outstanding wilderness experience.
Most trips begin on the Tatshenshini at Shawshe (Dalton Post), the last road accessible put-in off the Haines Highway in Yukon Territory, Canada. From here it is 140 river miles to the normal take-out at Dry Bay, Alaska. A six-mile long canyon immediately below Shawshe (Dalton Post) offers continuous Class III whitewater, Class IV at high water (International Scale, Class I-VI). The remainder of the river is generally Class II with large eddies and folds at normal volumes. The Alsek River above its confluence with the Tatshenshini is Class III above Turnback Canyon. Turnback Canyon must be portaged by rafters during the summer months. Tatshenshini trips average 6 days on the water, plus additional lay-over days.
Tatshenshini-Alsek trips starting at Shawshe (Dalton Post) travel through private Champaign-Aishihik Tribal lands, Yukon Territory lands, Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in Canada and Glacier Bay National Park. Upper Alsek trips travel through Kluane National Park, and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, Canada. For travel on the upper Alsek contact Kluane National Park, Parks Canada, Haines Junction, Yukon Canada Y0B 1L0, (867) 634-2329 extension 201. For current streamflow conditions on the Alsek River, or visit for more onformation http://www.akdiscovery.com/
Bird Watching:
About 240 species of birds have been recorded in the park and preserve. The high diversity and abundance of birdlife is due to the variety and extent of favorable breeding habitats available within the park, many of which contain ample food resources and low numbers of land predators
Kayaking in Glacier Bay:
Sea kayaking is a popular way to experience the wilderness of Glacier Bay. Kayak trips can be originate from Bartlett Cove, or the daily tour boat can transport kayakers via the camper drop-off service. Making reservations for a rental kayak and the daily tour boat is recommended well in advance. If you prefer, guided day and overnight kayak trips are available. Alaska Discovery provides guided kayak trips inside Glacier Bay proper. They offer evening, full day and multi-day trips and can be reached at Alaska Discovery, 5449 Shaune Drive, Suite 4, Juneau, Alaska 99801. 1-800-586-1911.
The coastal mountains of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, topped by the 15,300 foot Mt. Fairweather, are among the least visited mountains of their elevation in North America. Mountaineering is made especially challenging by a stormy weather pattern that includes in excess of 100 inches of precipitation a year. Unpredictable storms frequently cause delays when transporting to a base camp and often forces "holding up" for multiple days or abandoned attempts. Many climbs take as long as one month to accomplish.
Many mountains in the range are unnamed and only limited information is available on most routes.
Ranger-Led Activities:
May 27 through September 11, 2005 Forest Loop Walk, join a park ranger daily at 2:30 p.m. for a 1.5-hour guided walk along the Forest Loop Trail. Meet in the lobby of the Glacier Bay Lodge. Dress for the weather and wear good walking shoes that can deal with a little mud if you encounter some along the way. Trail length: 1 mile.

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