7 Incredible Days at Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park is a place with jaw-dropping sights and unforgettable experiences. Imagine icy blue waters, massive glaciers, and wildlife that will have you reaching for your camera every few seconds. 

We’re about to walk you through 7 incredible things you can do in this park. Whether you’re up for cruising, hiking, or just soaking in the beauty, Glacier Bay will leave you speechless. Let’s start exploring and uncover the beauty that awaits you in this natural wonderland of Alaska National Parks!

Ecosystems of Glacier Bay NP

As you journey through Glacier Bay National Park, you’ll come across various environments that are like distinct neighborhoods for plants and animals. Walking through the forests, you’ll notice tall trees forming shady covers and sunlight filtering through leaves, creating a magical interaction of light. These forests are home to animals such as squirrels, birds, bears, moose, and bald eagles. More about that later.

As you ascend to higher areas, you’ll enter the alpine zone. There, you’ll find wide open spaces with wildflowers scattered across the landscape. This is where animals like marmots and pikas like to roam about. The panoramic views from this height are spectacular, with mountains surrounding you and maybe even a glacier in sight.

The park also features stunning rivers, lakes, and the icy waters of the bay itself. You’ll see otters playing in the waves and might catch sight of a seal peeking above the water’s surface. Marine life, like whales and dolphins, thrive in these waters.

Each part of the park offers its own unique atmosphere, from the chilly glaciers to the cozy forests and the vast alpine spaces. It’s as if you’re stepping into multiple chapters of a nature story. As you explore these diverse environments, you get to uncover the secrets of each one.

Best Time of Year to Visit

The ideal time to visit Glacier Bay National Park is during the warmer months, generally from May to September. This is when the weather is more comfortable and much of the park’s popular activities are doable. 

As you explore the park during these months, you’ll have the chance to see wildlife, hike the trails, and cruise the waters to witness the stunning glaciers. 

The days are longer, giving you more time to soak in the beauty of the park. Keep in mind that even in summer, temperatures can vary, so it’s a good idea to pack layers to stay comfortable. 

Whether you’re a fan of outdoor adventures or simply want to view the park’s breathtaking scenery, the summer months offer the best opportunity to do just that.

Day 1: Get to Know the Park

glacier bay national park visitor center and lodge
The outside of the Glacier Bay Lodge and Visitor Center. NPS photo

When you arrive there, make sure to swing by the visitor center. It’s your go-to spot for all things park-related. Here, you’ll find information about the park, handy maps to help you navigate, and get a general sense of what to expect. It’s a good starting point to plan your adventure.

The park also offers ranger-led orientation talks. These talks are like your personal tour guide to the park’s story. The rangers are experts who know all about the park’s history, how the land was shaped, and the animals that call it home. Interacting with the rangers can really give you a deep appreciation of the park, and more broadly, the National Park Service, who does such an amazing job preserving these public lands or us.

So, if you’re curious about how the massive glaciers formed or want to know the best spots for spotting wildlife, these talks are a goldmine of knowledge.

Day 2: Glacier Bay Cruise

a tour boat cruising past a glacier at glacier bay national park
A tour boat cruises through the icy waters inside Glacier Bay National Park. NPS photo

When you secure a spot on a guided glacier cruise (make sure to book ahead), you’re in for an unbelievable journey. Picture this: You’re on a boat that takes you right up alongside massive glaciers. You can practically feel the chill in the air as you look up at the icy giants towering above you.

Keep an eye out for something amazing called calving events. This is when chunks of ice break off from the glaciers and tumble into the bay with a splash. It’s an impressive sight that’ll leave you in awe. I was in Glacier Bay a few years ago and can tell you it’s one of the most special experiences I’ve ever had. The sheer force of some of the chunks of ice that fall into the bay and the sound it makes leaves you breathless.

But that’s not all. As you sail through the waters, you’ll spot all sorts of wildlife around you. You can often see whales gliding through the waves, sea lions basking in the sun, and playful otters diving in and out of the water. You’ll also spot a large variety of bird species here as well.

One of the coolest parts of the cruise is the naturalist guides. These guides are nature experts who know the ins and outs of the park. They’ll share interesting info about the area’s ecology and the processes that shaped these glaciers. 

Day 3: Hiking and Exploration

Glacier Bay hiking: A hiker treks their way through glacier bay national park's forested landscape
A hiker treks their way through the park’s beautifully forested landscape. NPS Photo / C. Murdoch

When it comes to hiking in Glacier Bay National Park, there’s something for everyone, no matter your fitness level or what you’re into. For a relaxed hike that gives you a close-up view of the coastal rainforest, consider the Hike to Bartlett Cove or the Forest Loop Trail.

If you’re up for more of a challenge, there are higher-elevation trails like the Bartlett River Trail. Envision walking along, with the river on one side and the forest on the other. And then there’s the more daring option – the Tlingit Trail. This one’s a bit tougher, but the feeling of accomplishment when you reach the end is totally worth it.

Day 4: Kayaking and Water Activities

Kayaking glacier bay. Kayakers make their way through the stunning channels inside Glacier Bay
Kayakers make their way through the stunning channels inside Glacier Bay.

Renting a kayak or signing up for a guided kayaking tour is one of the most extraordinary experiences in the park. As you paddle, you’ll uncover hidden coves just waiting for your discovery. 

And that’s not all – you’ll get up close (relatively speaking) to those massive glaciers that define this park. As you navigate the calm waters, you’ll find a sense of tranquility that’s hard to put into words. 

It’s important to note that there are specific regulations to follow when kayaking near glaciers in Glacier Bay. The distance you must keep is usually around 0.25 to 0.5 nautical miles. These rules help prevent potential dangers from calving ice and ensure the preservation of the area.

Having said that, joining a guided kayaking tour can be a smart move. Guides are experienced and know the best routes and safe distances to follow. They’re familiar with glacier behavior and can help you enjoy the trip without taking unnecessary risks. Plus, they can share insights about the park’s ecology, making your adventure safer, and more informative and memorable.

Day 5: Backcountry Adventure

campsite at the Bartlett Cove Campground in glacier bay national park
A lovely, well-shaded campsite at the Bartlett Cove Campground.

There are also secluded backcountry experiences. To explore these areas, you need permits. Whether you’re hiking or camping, these permits are essential to keep the park pristine.

A couple of great campsites and cabins to consider are nestled in the wilderness, like the Glacier Bay Lodge Cabins or Bartlett Cove Campground. These spots are hidden gems, where you’ll feel like you’re the only one around for miles.

What’s amazing about these backcountry adventures is the unique encounters they offer. Picture waking up at an isolated campsite, with only the sounds of nature around you. Or imagine staying in a warm cabin, surrounded by the peace of the wild. It’s also important to note the stargazing here is remarkable!

Day 6: Whale Watching and Photography

Two orca whales swim throughout the waters of Glacier Bay
Two orca whales swim throughout the waters of Glacier Bay.

Want a front-row seat to one of nature’s greatest spectacles? Hop on a whale-watching tour in Glacier Bay National Park! These tours offer an up-close look at the mesmerizing feeding habits of humpback whales. Think of being right there as these majestic creatures dive and surface, displaying their alluring behaviors.

Day 7: Cultural Exploration 

Huna Tribal House in Glacier Bay
Outside view of the Huna Tribal House. It’s a traditional Tlingit structure designed to symbolically anchor the Huna Tlingit in Glacier Bay, their ancestral homeland. NPS photo

For a full cultural experience, you will want to visit the Huna Tribal House in the Bartlett Cove area. Here, you can journey into the Tlingit culture and history. You’ll be able to witness cultural demonstrations that give you a firsthand look at traditional practices. It’s as if you’re transported back in time, seeing these customs come to life.

And then there are some traditional performances. You’ll get to witness dances and rituals that are part of the Tlingit heritage. 

There are also several cute shops to browse for authentic indigenous crafts and artworks. 

Wildlife to See & Where to Spot Them

  1. Whales: You can see humpback whales, orcas, and sometimes even gray whales in the park’s waters. The best place to see them is during a guided boat cruise in Glacier Bay itself.
  2. Sea Lions: Sea lions and harbor seals can often be spotted lounging on rocky shores and icebergs. Look for them during boat tours or along the coastlines.
  3. Otters: Playful sea otters can be seen floating on their backs in the bay’s calm waters. Kayaking tours are a great way to observe them up close.
  4. Bears: Both black bears and grizzly bears inhabit the park. Hiking trails like the Bartlett River Trail offer opportunities to spot them feeding in meadows or along riverbanks.
  5. Moose: Watch for moose while hiking through forested areas and near water sources. Trails like the Bartlett River Trail might allow you to see them.
  6. Eagles: Bald eagles are a common sight here, soaring high in the sky or perched in trees near water. You can often spot them throughout the park.
  7. Birds: Various bird species, including puffins, gulls, and other seabirds, inhabit the coastal areas and islands. The Tlingit Trail and bird-watching points provide good opportunities.
  8. Marmots and Pikas: These small mammals can be found in the alpine areas. Hikes that take you to higher elevations, like the alpine sections of trails, are great for spotting them.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it – 7 incredible days of adventures awaiting you at Glacier Bay National Park. From kayaking through pristine waters and getting up close to glaciers to witnessing humpback whales’ breathtaking feeding behaviors, every moment is a treasure. 

Exploring the mixed ecosystems, hiking through lush forests, and connecting with the Tlingit culture at the Huna Tribal House add layers of depth to your journey. Whether you’re seeking tranquility, excitement, or a deeper understanding of nature’s wonders, this park is sure to blow you away!

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FAQs

Can you tell me how to get to Glacier Bay National Park from Juneau? 

You can access the park from Juneau by taking a combination of flights, ferry rides, and tour boats. The primary way is to fly from Juneau to Gustavus, a nearby community, and then take a short ferry or boat ride into the park.

What is special about Glacier Bay National Park? 

The area is renowned for its stunning landscapes, which include massive glaciers, towering mountains, and diverse ecosystems. The park offers opportunities for wildlife viewing, glacier exploration, kayaking, and cultural experiences, making it a unique destination for nature enthusiasts.

What are the major events in Glacier Bay history? 

One major event in Glacier Bay’s history is the rapid retreat of glaciers during the 18th and 19th centuries. The park’s establishment in 1925 and its subsequent expansion highlight its importance as a protected natural area. Additionally, the recognition of the Tlingit cultural heritage and the establishment of the Huna Tribal House are significant milestones.

What indigenous peoples lived in Glacier Bay National Park? 

The indigenous peoples associated with Glacier Bay are the Tlingit, who have lived in the region for thousands of years. They have a deep cultural connection to the land and waters, and their history is integral to the park’s story.

How old are the glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park? 

The glaciers in Glacier Bay are estimated to be around 4,000 to 6,000 years old, with some of the ice originating from a time when a massive ice sheet covered the area during the last ice age.

Is Glacier Bay National Park worth seeing? 

Absolutely! The park offers breathtaking natural beauty, distinct wildlife, and opportunities for adventure and exploration. Whether you’re interested in glaciers, marine life, or cultural experiences, the park is definitely worth a visit.

What is the difference between Glacier National Park and Glacier Bay National Park? 

Glacier National Park is located in Montana and is known for its rugged mountains and iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road. Glacier Bay National Park is located in Alaska, and is renowned for its glaciers, marine life, and coastal rainforests.

Can you drive through Glacier Bay National Park? 

No, you can’t drive through the park. It’s primarily accessible by boat or plane, with limited road access within the park.

What do people do at Glacier Bay National Park? 

People engage in numerous activities at Glacier Bay, including kayaking, hiking, taking guided glacier cruises, attending cultural programs, wildlife watching, and exploring the park’s natural beauty.

What do tourists expect to see at Glacier Bay? 

Tourists can expect to see massive glaciers, diverse marine and terrestrial wildlife, breathtaking landscapes, coastal rainforests, and opportunities to learn about the Tlingit culture.

What are 3 things to do in Glacier Bay National Park? 

Three things to do in the park include:

  • Take a guided glacier cruise to see glaciers and wildlife.
  • Explore the coastal rainforests on hiking trails.
  • Visit the Huna Tribal House to learn about the Tlingit culture.

What animals live in Glacier Bay National Park? 

Glacier Bay is home to various animals, including humpback whales, sea lions, otters, eagles, bears, moose, and more.

Does Glacier Bay have bears? 

Yes, the park is home to black and grizzly bears.

Are there mountain lions in Glacier Bay? 

No, mountain lions (also known as cougars) are not native to the park.

Are there moose in Glacier Bay? 

Yes, moose can be found here, particularly in forested areas and near water sources.

How likely are you to see a bear in Glacier? 

The likelihood of seeing a bear here can vary based on factors such as location, time of year, and luck. Bears are present in the park, but encounters are not particularly common.

Are there wolves in Glacier Bay National Park? 

Wolves are not commonly found in the park due to their low population density.

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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