Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Follow in our steps:
Welcome to Part II of our Alaskan adventure. In part I we traveled to Denali National Park as Ambassadors for the Nation’s Vacation. If you have the time, we recommend doing the same! It’s the perfect way to experience Alaska.
To get to Glacier Bay from Denali, you’ll hop on a plane in Anchorage and then go to Juneau. From there, you’ll hop on another plane that will drop you off in Gustavus. It’s only a 15 minute flight!
Oh and just as an FYI, Juneau is pronounced Joo-No and Gustavus is pronounced Gus-TAV-us. I write this here because I hate being the person who says the town names wrong.
Once you touch down in Gustavus, if you’re staying at Glacier Bay Lodge, grab your bags from the baggage claim line which is about 6 feet long and then look for the tan bus. There will also be an employee holding a sign to help you locate the bus. But the parking lot is very small so it should be no problem.
The bus ride to the lodge is only about twenty minutes long. We didn’t have our van on this trip and honestly, we we didn’t even miss it. If you stay with Glacier Bay Lodge and Tours, you won’t need to rent a car. They’ve got you covered.
The Glacier Bay Visitor Center
The Glacier Bay Visitor Center is located on the second floor of Glacier Bay Lodge and is open whenever the lodge is open. There is a ranger on duty to answer any questions you might have from 11:00am to 8:00pm Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Phone Number (907) 697-2661
Visitor Information Station
This is different than the Visitor Center. It’s located near the public-use dock. Hours vary depending on the season. In May the station is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm. In the summer months (June to August) the center is open from 7:00am to 7:00pm. The month of September the station is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
This is where campers and boaters should go for orientation. There are also rest rooms, picnic tables with a canopy over top, potable water, trash and recycling bins available here. In addition, there are books and maps available.
Phone Number (907) 697-2627
Best Things to Do in Glacier Bay
Just like the Tundra Wilderness Tour in Denali is one of the premier things to do at that park, the Glacier Bay Boat Tour is on the tops of almost everyone’s list at this park. The boat we took, St. Yakov, was actually a stand in for the regular boat, which is a high-speed catamaran with comfortable seating, large windows for indoor viewing of wildlife and glaciers and plenty of deck room for those of you who, like us, need to move our legs.
We spent most of our time on the top deck where we could get the best view for photographs and wildlife sightings. The top deck also has a semi-enclosed cabin for guests to sit and warm up. The bottom part of the boat was a bit warmer since it was fully enclosed. It’s also where Ranger Kelly hung out most of the time, where you could purchase beer, wine, snacks and also access the marine heads (that’s bathroom for all you land-lubbers.) The bathrooms were clean, had running water and didn’t induce the gag reflex. We give them two thumbs up and drank plenty of coffee to keep us warm since we weren’t afraid of having to go to the bathroom.
The tour was incredible from the moment we left the dock. We saw puffins, sea lions, seals, mountain goats, a wolf, a couple of bears and of course, the stars of the show, the glaciers. At the halfway point, you’ll be able to spend some time (about 30 minutes) photographing the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers. They are stunning, magnificent and hard to understand scale-wise save for the massive cruise ship that happened to help bring things into a relatable proportion. Fact: the glaciers are about 245 feet tall and extend another 100 feet beneath the water.
Go Whale Watching with Taz Whale Watching Cross Sound Express
Most people will go on the Glacier Bay Boat Tour (above) but we also HIGHLY recommend going on the Whale Watching Tour as well. If you’re wondering how in the world will you fit that in, we get it. It doesn’t seem like there’s enough time to be able to do two boat tours. But, the lodge has the procedure dialed in. If you are interested in going on the whale watching tour, check with the front desk. They helped us arrange a tour with the Taz Whale Watching Cross Sound Express on the day we were to fly out. They dropped us off at the boat, picked us up when it was over AND they had our luggage meet us at the airport. Because of their help with logistics we were able to make the most of our time there. As for the whales, we saw several. They are an incredible sight to see: breathtaking, inspiring, impressive … It’s hard to do the experience justice. The closest I can get is that it was like being in a National Geographic movie except it was real life.
Don’t let drizzle or fog deter you from getting out and kayaking. Both were in play the morning we decided to take the sea kayaks out for an adventure in Bartlett Cove and yet we still had a fun time. The lodge will provide pants and boots to keep you dry, a skirt for the kayak and of course the kayak, paddles, a map of the area and PFD’s to get you out on the water. Pro Tip #1: Bring your own rain jacket or shell, preferably one with a hood. Also, when you return from your adventure, don’t forget to use the phone by the ranger station to let someone know you’ve returned. Otherwise, they’ll send out a search party! Pro Tip #2: Take a kayaking trip with a guide if you’re not so sure about your ability to navigate or you just want to learn as much as you can from a local.
Take a Hike!
There are a couple of trails in the area. We ran and hiked the Forest Trail both days we were there. It’s an easy, 1 mile trail with two lookouts that give you a view of the water The trail passes through a gorgeous lush forest complete with boardwalks and even a pond left behind by a glacier long ago (look for the erratic granite boulder in the pond!) If you go beyond the pond, this trail will lead you to the campground.
There’s also a beach trail which will lead you to the campsite and also gives you great views of the water.
Lastly, a hike worth doing is the short path called the Tlingit Trail. This trail is only about a half a mile long and will take you to the Huna Tribal House.
Visit the Xunaa Shuká Hit / the Huna Tribal House
One night after dinner, we headed down to the Huna Tribal House to hear a presentation by the local Huna cultural interpreter. Her presentation was about an hour long and shared with us the meaning behind some of the artwork inside the house as well as some of the history of the Huna tribe. It was a really special hour, sitting around a fire and hearing stories that left us with a deeper appreciation for the people and the land.
Glacier Bay National Park Visitor Center
Still haven’t learned all you want to about Glacier Bay? Check out the Visitor Center. To get there, just head up the steps of the lodge. What’s that? The Visitor Center is in the lodge? Yep! It’s one of the most unique locations for a Visitor Center but true to National Park form, they’ve got a ton of information upstairs. Photographs, maps, artifacts and even a small store. There’s a ranger on staff from 11:00am to 8:00pm on days the park is open.
The lodge recently purchased mountain bikes. See the front desk to rent them and take them for a spin!
Did you know that the area around Glacier Bay is home to the largest sport fish in Alaska? We didn’t. And in case you’re still wondering, it’s the Pacific Halibut. If you’d like to get out on a boat and do some fishing, see the front desk and they’ll help set you up on a trip.
Best Place to Stay in Glacier Bay
We recommend Glacier Bay Lodge as an excellent adventure base camp. It opened in 1966 and is just plain fun to be in. There’s a huge stone fireplace with plush seating in the common area where you can find guests almost any time of day or night. (You can get WiFi in this area so this may have something to do with it.) In addition, the large windows that offer million dollar views play really nicely with the exposed carved wooden beams and make you feel cozy without claustrophobic no matter how many people are inside. The lodge has actually won several awards from the American Institute of Architects. The latest edition of The Fairweather, the park visitor guide, shared that the lodge will be undergoing some interior and exterior improvements in the next couple of years so keep your eyes peeled!
It’s got everything you need in one spot: beer, great food, a comfortable bed, incredible scenery and is literally the jumping off point for several different adventures: the glacier boat tour, kayaking, hiking, biking, etc.
The lodge is only open for a couple months out of the year. This year it opened on Friday, May 25th and closed on September 3. Be sure to check availability before booking airline tickets.
Room with a view!
We stayed in Room Number 18 and it felt like home the moment we opened the door. It was very clean and had a super comfortable king sized bed in it with a large picture window that offered a beautiful view of the water. There’s also a table and two chairs in the room for those of you that love a place to journal, read or drink coffee.
It was the perfect place for a morning run or walk since you’re literally steps from the trail nearest to the beach. It’s also one of the rooms closest to the Xunaa Shuká Hit / Huna Tribal House.
There were large black and white photos in the room of the national park. One black and white photo of the glaciers has been seared in our memory. It was the perfect visual to create some excitement for our upcoming boat tour!
Oh and for those of you who are worried about being cold at night, rest assured that the heat worked well, the hot water was HOT and the blankets are thick and warm.
Best Things to Eat in Glacier Bay
Eating in the Fairweather Dining Room in Glacier Bay Lodge was a treat. The first night, after a very long day of travel, we arrived hungry and thirsty and the lodge delivered an exceptional meal which took the edge off. We started with draft beer from the Alaskan Brewing Company, the Alaskan White and the Freeride APA and then dove into dinner, the halibut pesto gnocchi and the halibut with lemon thyme sauce and roasted fingerling potatoes. Be sure to safe room for dessert. We ‘discovered’ the Lodge’s hot chocolate chip cookie with ice cream and just about lost our minds. It was so good we ordered it both nights we were there.
There are two breakfast options to choose from in the Lodge. The first is a traditional breakfast where your choices range from buttermilk pancakes, a cage free egg omelet to biscuits with country sausage and gravy. Of, if you’re like us, you can opt for the buffet and load up on scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, cereal, potatoes, fresh fruit, cold cereal and pastries. Our favorite part was the pancakes. We both went back for seconds each morning.
Top Tips for Visiting Glacier Bay
Pack layers and pack rain gear! If you come prepared, the weather won’t be an issue, you’ll still be able to get out and do all of the adventures that you want to do.
Be prepared for a lack of a cell phone signal everywhere except within the lodge itself.
Bring a camera, there are going to be a ton of things that you will want to remember long after your visit has ended.
Make a reservation for dinner! The lodge is a popular place to dine so to ward off the hangry vibes, get on the list. We made a reservation each night and were sat promptly on time.
If you want to go whale watching before you fly out, talk to the lodge. They’ll drop your bags off at the airport and allow you to meet them there once your tour is over. We did just that and were able to make every minute in Glacier Bay count.
Feel free to leave your heavy binoculars at home. There are plenty on board the boat for you to borrow.
Glacier Bay Recap
This is the kind of place that you will be thinking about long after the visit is over. It’s been that way for us anyway. Out of all of our travels, this is easily one of the most impressive places we’ve been. The landscape is just so raw and untouched and the wilderness feels truly wild. On the boat tour we literally didn’t see a single home, road or telephone pole for hours. We actually saw a brown bear catch a salmon! We also saw a black bear, sea lions, sea otters, tufted puffins, mountain goats and horned puffins. Someone on the boat saw a humpback whale but we missed that…we did however, see the wolf and bald eagle.
Have you ever been to Glacier Bay? If so, we’d love to hear what you thought. Please leave a comment below!
Next up: Olympic National Park!