Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve


Only 200 years ago, the stretch of shoreline comprising Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in southeastern Alaska lay dormant deep beneath the icy weight of a 4,000-foot-thick, 10-mile-wide glacier that reached 100 miles to the St. Elias mountain range. As the ice began to retreat during the 1790s, revealing mountain peaks and miles of soil and sand, vegetation was able to reassert itself fairly quickly to form the mature spruce and hemlock rainforests that appear today. The glacier had traveled 48 miles up the bay by 1879, when naturalist John Muir explored the area. The glacier has now retreated a total of about 65 miles.Glacial retreat has given rise to the formation of new ecosystems in Glacier Bay National Park. Shoreline that has been deglaciated for a long period of time supports alder and willow, while moss, dwarf fireweed, and mountain avens are sprouting up in more newly exposed areas. As vegetation increases, wolves, mountain goats, bears, and moose follow. On and off shore, salmon, seals, porpoises, bald eagles, and whales form the links of a delicately balanced food chain. The waters of upper Glacier Bay and its finger-like inlets are a wonderland of floating, natural ice sculptures that can somersault and change shape at any given moment. About 12 tidewater glaciers continue to be active in the park: the western glaciers are advancing, while the eastern glaciers are retreating. Active glaciers send icefalls crashing into the water from as high as 200 feet, creating a spectacular show that can only be safely viewed from a distance of at least one-quarter mile.What to see and do: Because there are no roads to Glacier Bay National Park from outside the area, it is only accessible by air or water; visitors arrive by cruise ship, tour boat, or kayak.By one means or another, most visitors make their first landfall in the park at Bartlett Cove, where the visitors center is located. Here, Glacier Bay Lodge (907-264-4600) offers the park's only overnight accommodations; amenities include a restaurant with a menu emphasizing regional cuisine. If you prefer roughing it, Bartlett Cove also has a campground with warming huts and food caches. A variety of tours and programs can be scheduled here as well.Bartlett Cove offers the only maintained trails in Glacier Bay Park. The mile-long Forest Loop Trail traverses beach and rainforest environments with boardwalks and benches at Blackwater Pond. Allow about one hour round-trip. The Bartlett River Trail begins about a half mile from the lodge, leads through rain forest, and into a meadow which overlooks the Bartlett River estuary. The trail is four miles round-trip, and along the way you might catch glimpses of local wildlife such as red squirrels and black bears. The more solitary Bartlett Lake Trail, which branches off the Bartlett River Trail, is an eight-mile all-day hike. Other hiking opportunities include the Beach Trail, south of the docks, which continues for many miles and offers terrific tidepool observation at low tide.If kayaking is your travel method of choice, plan to stay at least one week to explore inlets and take hikes over remnant glaciers and shoreline. One side bay in particular, Muir Inlet, attracts fewer cruise ships because its glaciers are less active and is therefore ideal for leisurely exploration in smaller craft.The Beardslee Islands, north of Bartlett Cove where the Glacier Bay National Park headquarters is located, also offer a quiet network of inlets that tend to be free from commercial travel. Kayaking is subject to a variety of natural hazards, not the least of which are icefalls. Before your trip, be sure to consult a local ranger station for a report on the latest conditions.Backcountry camping requires the use of bear-resistant food containers along any of the park's inlets except for Johns Hopkins, whose terrain is too steep. For the best sites, try Muircontainers. All camping requires a permit and a 30-minute orientation program.


3100 National Park Road
Bartlett Cove
Juneau, AK 99801


58.45370700, -135.89171000
Visit Website
(907) 697-2230

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