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Glacier Bay National Park
Location/Size: Northwest of Gustavus, which is 45 miles northwest of Juneau. National park3,225,284 acres (99 percent federal land); national preserve57,884 acres (95 percent federal); designated wilderness2,770,000 acres.
Main Activities: Glacier viewing, tours, kayaking, off-trail coastal and open-country hiking, wilderness exploration.
Gateway Towns/Getting There: Gustavus/scheduled air service from Juneau, Haines; charter and tour-package boat service from Juneau. Park access by charter boat or tour, floatplane or boat drop-off, or kayak from Gustavus and Bartlett Cove.
Facilities, Camping, Lodging: Visitor center, Glacier Lodge, and free campground at Bartlett Cove. Primitive camping only in backcountry.
Headquarters and Information: Headquarters, P.O Box 140, Gustavus, AK 99826, 697-2230, www.nps.gov/glba; visitor center above Glacier Bay Lodge at Bartlett Cove.
Superlatives usually accompany any discussion of Glacier Bay. Two hundred years ago, when Englishman George Vancouver explored the region, only a small indentation existed at what is now a deep inlet. Since then, Vancouvers "solid mountains of ice rising perpendicularly from the waters edge" have retreated almost 60 miles inland. The nearest tidewater glacier is 40 miles from the park center.
Several factors influence the retreat of the glaciers in Glacier Bay and throughout the state. Global warming may be a part of it, but changes in cloud cover, snowfall, and ocean currents can have a tremendous impact. Alaskas coastal glaciers thrive primarily because of high precipitation rather than low temperatures. It should be noted as well that both Johns Hopkins Glacier and the Grand Pacific Glacier began growing again after the 1920s (though others continue to retreat).
The fantastic retreat of Glacier Bays glaciers actually offers the observant traveler a visible history of plant succession. Near the bay mouth, land has been exposed for 200 years, allowing soil to establish and host a succession of plants all the way up to mature stands of western hemlock and Sitka spruce. Traveling inward, exposure time decreases until you near the margins of the existing glaciers and find plant communities in their infancy. The actual picture is somewhat complex but, with a little research, is easily observed.
The great majority of the 350,000 annual park visitors arrive on one of the many cruise ships permitted to enter the bay each summer. Almost all ships take the same route, cruising up the West Arm to the ice, then cruising out again. Non-cruisers commonly arrive in Gustavus by air, staying in town or shuttling to Bartlett Cove to camp or stay at Glacier Bay Lodge, the only park hotel. Smaller tour boats operate from both Gustavus and Bartlett Cove to shuttle visitors to the glaciers.
Both kayaking and hiking are great activities to pursue in the park, though access to drop-off and pick-up points can be expensive. Kayakers can enjoy solitude in the several bays and inlets that are designated wilderness. Most are accessed via the East Arm. Part-time wilderness status is designated for other areas (call for schedule). Hikers can follow good routes along the beaches, across meadows, along low ridges, and on the barren areas of recent deglaciation. Permits, detailed information, and a complete list of tour and shuttle providers are available through the park headquarters and visitor center (see the appendix for recommended providers).
Bartlett Cove is the park center, offering a campground, Glacier Bay Lodge, visitor center, boat dock, information station, and headquarters building. It also has two short trails: Bartlett River Trail (2 miles) and Forest Loop Trail (1.5 miles).
The Bartlett Lake Trail (4.5 miles) passes through temperate rain forest from the Gustavus Road trailhead near the headquarters to Bartlett Lake. RT79 hrs.
Location/Climate: 50 miles northwest of Juneau. 26°F63°F.
Population: 328 (4 percent native).
Travel Attractions: Gateway to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, tours, rentals.
Getting There: Scheduled air service and water-taxi service from Juneau and Haines.
Information: Gustavus Visitors Association, P.O. Box 167, Gustavus, AK 99826, 697-2285.
Not much of a town at all, Gustavus homes and businesses are scattered on about 40 square miles of private land along the roads between the airport and Bartlett Cove. Virtually all travelers to Gustavus come because it is the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park. Several good food and lodging options are found near town. Most lodging operators are also involved in the tour, outfitting, and rental business. Consider booking short visits and tours directly through one of them.
Where to Stay and Eat in Gustavus
Glacier Bay Country Inn, 697-2288, $195 per person (single), $161 per person (double), $410 for Glacier Bay Tour, whale-watching, and meals. A beautiful, full-service inn.
Gustavus Inn At Glacier Bay, 697-2254. $135 per person. Meals, shuttles, bikes, and fishing poles included. Lovely inn in large, restored 1928 home.
A Puffins Bed-and-Breakfast Lodge, 697-2260, $90 (private bath). Five nice cabins, three with bath. Free shuttle to transport. Package deals with tours offered.
TRI Bed-and-Breakfast, 697-2425, $90 and up (breakfast, bikes included). Cabins with ensuite bath, packages offered, kayak rentals, tours.
Tatshenshini and Alsek River Running
Some of the best paddling in the north can be enjoyed on the Alsek River and its major tributary, the Tatshenshini River. The Tatshenshini parallels the Haines Highway in the Yukon before swinging south at Dalton Post. Many put-in at Dalton Post for a week-long (or more), 140-mile trip to Dry Bay on the Alaskan coast. An early Class III-IV canyon run gives way to Class II waters through Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park in British Columbia.
Haines Junction is the put-in for the Alsek and the 172-mile trip to Dry Bay. The river flows for many miles through Yukons Kluane National Park. About halfway down is the unrunnable Turnback Canyon where a glacier pinches the channel too close for comfort. There is no walking portage so guided trips use a helicopter shuttle to close the gap. Independent paddlers must make similar arrangements.
Below the confluence of the rivers, the route crosses into the spectacular western tip of Glacier Bay National Park and on to the take-out at Dry Bay. A highlight is a close encounter with Alsek Glacier where it calves bergs into the lake below. A permit is required for the Glacier Bay segment and Dry Bay arrivals, and since Dry Bay is about the only place to link up with your charter air shuttle, youll want to get a permit. Getting a permit is easy enough, though youll probably need to be flexible about the dates. Apply well in advance if you arent working through a guide company. Call the 24-hour information line for up-to-date permit-availability info, 784-3370. Contact the park services Yakutat District Office to speak with human experts, 784-3295. Several outfitters and guide companies support trips on the Tatshen-shini and Alsek (see the Appendix). Dry Bay has limited lodging.