Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska: Ultimate Planning Guide

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In southeast Alaska, you will find one of the most remote and stunning places in the United States, Glacier Bay National Park. Roughly the same size as the state of Connecticut, this national park spans 3 million acres of unspoiled wilderness.

While Glacier Bay National Park was once completely covered in ice, over the last 255 years the ice has receded, uncovering a breathtaking landscape.

With a vast variety of wildlife, towering mountains, glaciers, and enchanting forested islands, there are many adventures of a lifetime awaiting you in this beautiful and untouched part of the world.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Alaska (Travel Guide)


Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska: Ultimate Planning Guide

Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska from UnCruise ship

Experience Glacier Bay By Boat

Welcome to dreamland for cruise lovers where you can experience the famous “inside passage” of Alaska while exploring Glacier Bay National Park by boat. It is an amazing experience through the best of Alaska.

Marvel in Alaska’s beauty while enjoying the taste of luxury on one of the many extravagant cruise lines, or jump aboard a small boat for more of a private adventure.

No matter what size boat you are on you will be able to hear the sound of whales blowing as you enjoy the magnificent water and mountain landscape.

Be on the look-out for curious harbor seals that suddenly pop up only feet away from the boat. The ships travel into the heart of the Fairweather Mountains for a trip into the ice ages. Watch for icebergs and calving glaciers while the boat makes it away around the passage.

You never know what wildlife you will see: brown bears, mountain goats, sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, bald eagles and a large number of seabirds will be on your viewing list.

Alternatively, you can be land-based in the park and head out by boat during the day. You can find ½ day tours and full-day tours that depart from Glacier Bay Lodge in Bartlett Cove. Boats are limited in Glacier Bay National park and are required to have a permit to enter.

Vessel use in Glacier Bay is regulated by the National Park Service to protect the park’s wildlife and other resources. This is just one of the many great steps that are in place to make sure this Alaskan gem lasts for many generations to come.

What To Expect:

  • You will receive a copy of the park map.
  • Cruise ships typically spend a full day (9-10 hours) in Glacier Bay including a stop at the major Tidewater Glacier.
  • National Park Service park ranges board the ships to provide a narrative about important aspects of the visit.
  • No cruise ships do not dock anywhere in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • The Wildlife can be close up but they also can be far away. Expect wales to be a ways away.

David Stock hiking in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska

Experience Glacier Bay By Hiking

One of the top things to do in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is to explore this amazing park in Alaska by hiking. I know what you are thinking, Glacier Bay is all about the marine-based wilderness and its glaciers but only a few tourists experience the park by foot each year.

There is a wide variety of hiking options that allow you to explore the shores and rain forest. Hiking trails are limited due to the vast size and wilderness surroundings.

Most hikers in these parts don’t call it hiking but instead bushwhacking. The foliage in Glacier Bay is seriously dense and very tedious to walk through.

What To Expect:

kayaking in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska

Kayaking in Glacier Bay National Park

Kayaking is a popular way to experience the breathtaking beauty and wilderness of Glacier Bay National Park and was a huge highlight on our trip to Alaska.

Life does not get better than this. Enjoy nothing but nature, with just the sounds of the cool Alaskan water hitting the edge of the kayak and your paddle hitting the water.

We have kayaked in various locations around the world and this is still one of the best kayaking locations we have experienced. The waters of Johns Hopkins inlet make a perfect reflection of the Alaskan landscape as your kayak cuts through it.

It is no wonder why this is on our top things to do in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve Alaska list and you need to add it to your Alaska bucket list.

Kayak trips start from Bartlett Cove or the daily tour boat can transport kayakers via the camper drop-off service. We were lucky and our cruise offered this as an option to explore Glacier Bay.

Make your reservations well in advance as this is a top thing to do in Glacier Bay National Park and this adventure fills up quickly.

There are three companies authorized to provide guided kayak service in Glacier Bay: Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks, Alaska Mountain Guides and Alaska Discovery.

What To Expect:

  • All kayakers and campers are required to attend a camper orientation
  • Tides shift by 20 to 25 feet and are powerful and potentially dangerous
  • You will be able to get close to Icebergs and wildlife
  • Stay clear of all icebergs, they are larger below the water than above the water and they will roll or flip your kayak
  • This adventure is for all types of adventures and all ages however it does require a bit of paddling
  • You will see lots of wildlife including brown bears, mountain goats, sea otters, sea lions, harbor seal, bald eagles and a large number of seabirds
  • Enjoy the solitude in the middle of the great Alaskan wilderness

River Rafting in Alaska

River Rafting

Jump in a raft and take on the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers from Canada to Dry Bay in Glacier Bay National Preserve during your visit.

This world-class rafting adventure will take you on a wild ride. Slicing through one of the word’s highest coastal mountain ranges, you will find it hard to focus on the rapids because your eyes will not want to look away from the picture-perfect landscape.

With crisp Alaskan mountain water hitting you in the face you will quickly wake up and your heart will start to pound. This is one of the best-kept secrets of Glacier Bay National Park and you’ll find very few people out on the river with you.

What To Expect:

  • Epic sights in the middle of nowhere Alaska
  • Animals everywhere
  • Two-person minimum and 5 person maximum
  • One day or more of rain due to the length of the trip
  • Wear proper wet gear, just in case you get wet
  • Leave jewelry at home, I’ve lost two rings rafting
  • Float among massive icebergs
  • Experienced Guides

Glacier in Alaska

Observing Glaciers

A visit to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve would not be complete without stepping foot on one of the 11 glaciers. Walk among the ice-age as you take in the sights and sounds on a Glacier.

Although, don’t do this without an experienced guide. Glaciers are very dangerous and ever-changing, meaning you can’t rely on them to be solid. You do not want to risk falling through and becoming trapped on a glacier. 

What To Expect:

  • It’s wet, damp and cold
  • Dress warmly even in summer
  • Dress in layers!
  • Stunning blue colors

Bush planes in Alaska

Flightseeing

You can capture the many amazing views of Glacier Bay National Park from the ground but if you can, you have a chance to see even more amazing views from the sky.

So jump into one of the many available airplanes or helicopters that will give you a birds-eye view of Glacier Bay. Flightseeing from nearby communities gives an amazing aerial perspective of the park.

There are 4 different flightseeing options that will give you an unforgettable experience over the mountain peaks, rivers and glaciers of Glacier Bay National Park. You will come away with a new perspective of the constantly changing Alaska landscape that only a few tourists get to see.

What To Expect:

  • All flights are weather permitted
  • Flights last from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on the route
  • Each route will give you a different view of Glacier Bay National Park
  • Be careful in choosing a low price over quality for any flight in Alaska

American Eagle flying in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska

Bird Watching

One of the top things to do in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is to wildlife view. People come from all around the world to bird-watch in Glacier Bay National Park and there is no wonder why.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is home to 281 different bird species. Its abundant bird-life is due to low numbers of land predators and ample food resources.

Each bird species has distinct seasonal patterns. The best time to do bird-watching in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is from May To Mid-September.

Seabird colonies hatch young by late June and are largely vacated by September. Glacier Bay National Park has fifteen recommended birding locations.

What To Expect: It is wildlife viewing, you may see many but you may also see little

Humpback Whale Fluke

Whale Watching

Another popular thing to do in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve Alaska is to go on a whale watching tour. This is just one of the many reasons why people come from all around the world to see Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

There is a ton of wildlife, however, a few stars always steal the show and the whales are one of those stars. Alaska is filled with great wildlife adventures but whale watching in Glacier Bay National Parks is an absolutely exhilarating experience.

You never know what wildlife will show up. The ever-popular Humpbacks, Greys, Minkes, Orcas along with other fascinating marine animals are commonly seen in the southeast Alaskan waters of Glacier Bay and the surrounding Icy Straits.

What To Expect:

  • It is wildlife viewing. (You may see lots or none.)
  • Only a few dozen Humpback whales stay around all year.
  • From June – September is the best time to view whales in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • Tours last from 3.5 hours to full-day tours.
  • Group sizes are 8-24 passengers. (We have had the best luck on small group tours.)

Husky sled in Alaska

Husky Ranch and Dog Sledding

You may think winter is the only time you can go dog sledding in Alaska, well thing again. This top adventure to do in Alaska is one of the 49th states’ most memorable activities and it is something anyone can do all summer long on Alaska’s glaciers.

Your adventure starts with a mini flight-seeing tour where you will land on a glacier. Then your camp is set up, complete with dogs and sleds ready for your adventure.

Once the dogs see the helicopter they know it’s time to run! If you were not excited before you will be excited once stepping out of the helicopter on to the glacier with dogs jumping and backing, excited to get going.

Once you get going nothing really beats the wind blowing in your hair, the noise of the dogs running and the skis of the sled across the glacier.

This is a great way to experience the glacier and to access parts that are limited. This epic expedition across the glacier is a great Alaskan adventure for all ages and fitness levers.

What To Expect:

  • Temperatures may be chilly
  • Tours last 1.5 hours to full-day tours
  • Tours run all year round

Lina Stock abseiling on a glacier in Alaska

Ice Climbing

Why not explore Glacier Bay National Park by strapping on a pair of Ice climbing boots and discover real beauty up close and personal.

This top thing to do in Glacier Bay National Park starts with a short scenic flight to a remote landing strip close to the glacier where you will get geared up. This terrain is among the best in North America for ice climbing.

Mount Fairweather is covered with moderate snow and ice which can make for a challenging ice-climbing route.

What To Expect:

  • Tours last 5-6 hours
  • It will be wet and cold
  • It is challenging but suitable for families, first-time glacier walkers, and experienced climbers.

Rock Climbing

With tall mountain ranges scattered across the landscape of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve it is no wonder that climbing is a top thing to do. Mount Fairweather tops out at 15,300 ft and is among the least visited mountains in North America.

What To Expect:

  • Weather in Alaska can change very quickly.
  • Expect wet conditions
  • For most rock climbing tours the activity level is moderate to high.
  • Have bear protection
  • Pack water and snacks (Granola bars are always great.)

Sunset in Glacier Bay in Alaska

Sunsets

After a day jam-packed with great Alaskan adventures, it is best to enjoy a sunset along the shoreline in Glacier Bay National Park. You really cannot go wrong with a sunset over the Alaskan landscape.

From May through July, wildflowers cover the meadows. You may also see sea birds, bald eagles, whales otters, porcupines, bears and sea lions as they are active near dusk.

Take some time to simply enjoy this twist of pure nature bliss. A few great places to capture sunset are Halibut Point and Gustavus Beach.

What To Expect:

  • Weather in Alaska can change very quickly
  • Have bear protection
  • Pack water and snacks (Granola bars are always great.)

fishing boat in Alaska

Sport Fishing

Glacier Bay National Park is known for having some of the best fishing on earth. The feeling you get reeling in a wild trout, Pacific salmon, halibut, lingcod, rockfish or a variety of other species is unrivaled. 

Glacier Bay National Park is a sport fisherman’s dream location in Alaska. It’s Icy Straits have supported many commercial fishermen for years who make their living hauling in several species of Salmon, as well as Halibut and Dungeness crabs.

Even for the non-fishing person, it is incredible to see the fish in the streams and learn of their spawning and life cycles. There are various charter-fishing companies that will take you on an epic Alaskan fishing adventure of your dreams.

What To Expect:

  • Fishing is strictly regulated. The operator and you must obey all rules and regulations. (Fishing regulations are used as a tool to ensure good fishing exists into the future.)
  • Dress in layers.
  • Expect rain, waterproof jackets and pants are recommended.
  • Bugs can be bad at the end of May-July.

golfing

Golf the Gustavus 9 hole Golf Course

When most people think of top things to do in Glacier Bay National Park, they don’t normally think of golfing in Alaska, but the 9 hole golf course located on the flat-lands of Gustavus is changing that.

This 9 hole golf course is surreal, surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides, with several holes boarding the Icy Straits, its no wonder why it is one of the world’s most magnificent golf courses.

This Pro 9 hole golf course is a must for anyone who loves golfing and is visiting Alaska.

What To Expect:

  • Fairways are clean and mowed, and the greens are in great shape with a challenging landscape
  • Clubhouse with bar/restaurant and driving range.
  • May and early June, flocks of Canadian geese make the fairways their favorite place to rest.
  • Expect to see some of Alaska’s wildlife while golfing.
  • Uncrowned, most golfers will encounter very little waiting times.
  • Carts are available.
  • They are working on more holes in the Future.

Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska

Other Glacier Bay Adventures

The few activities listed below are also acceptable fun things to experience while in Glacier Bay National Park. However, it should be noted that these activities are limited due to weather or are not permitted inside the park. 

  • Mountain Biking: There are no trails in Glacier Bay National Park, there are a few trails outside the park where you can enjoy mountain biking. If you wanted to go Mountain biking I hate to disappoint you but it would be pretty much bushwalking with a bike.
  • Snowshoeing: Most visitors visit Glacier Bay National Park from May 1st – September 30th. So snowshoeing is not offered as main tours. However, in the winter months, you can go snowshoeing on select dates with a ranger. The room is limited and even though they have a date selected, it is best to make sure it is going to run.
  • Cross-country skiing: This is another popular sport to do in the winter but services in winter are extremely limited in Glacier Bay National Park. There are a few options for all abilities of levels. In the winter, cross-country skiing is offered on some weekends and you must join a ranger.
  • Massage Services: Why not after that great Alaska adventure enjoy a bit of luxury with a massage. It’s a great way to unwind from kayaking, hiking, boating and all of the other top things to do in Glacier Bay National Park activities.

Snow covered mountains in Alaska

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve FAQ

  • Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is open year-round, but services in the winter are extremely limited.
  • The Visitor Center is open daily from late May to early September. Exhibits are open 24-hours and the Information desk and Alaska Geographic bookstore are open daily from 10:30 to 8:00 P.M.
  • The visitor information station for boaters and campers in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is open from May through September.
    • May: 7 days a week from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
    • June, July & August: 7 days a week from 7:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M.
    • September: 7 days a week from 7:00 A.M to 5:00 P.M.
  • The visitor information station is located at the head of the public-use dock in Bartlett Cove. This is where you must get your permits and orientations for camping and recreational boaters in the Glacier Bay National Park. Maps and nautical charts are available here along with public restrooms, potable water, trash, and recycling containers.
  • Glacier Bay National Park is a sanctuary for Alaskan wildlife and may not be the best location to bring a pet. Pets are allowed on land in only a few select areas, and may not be left unattended. Your pet must be leashed or physically restrained at all times. It is best to leave your four-legged family member at home.

camping in Alaska

Where to Stay in Glacier Bay National Park

It is possible to stay in the park at the single lodge or one of the campgrounds. The single lodge is the Glacier Bay Lodge, offering rustic but comfortable accommodation. 

Space is limited and books up in advance, so make sure to make your plans early if you wish to stay here during your visit. 

Alternatively, Glacier Bay National Park has 2 official campgrounds. The camping spots come with access to basic services like freshwater, showers and restrooms.

There are thousands of non-designated areas to camp, all over. We do not recommend this, but it is also an option. Just don’t expect any restrooms or showers.

Things to Remember if Camping:

  • You must receive a permit. Permits are free and are required from May 1st– September 30th.
  • Permits are also required for back-country travel.
  • You must attend a 30-minute orientation.
  • Camping outside of the campground is prohibited within one mile of Bartlett Cove.
  • Permits are not required for areas outside the bay.
  • Never leave food unattended, even when shuttling gear.

One of the best things to do in Glacier Bay National Park is to do nothing at all. That’s right, enjoy the sights and sounds of pure nature. So many of us forget to do that.

When we travel we always try to find some time to just simply enjoy our surroundings without cellphones and cameras. Glacier Bay National Park is a true gem in Alaska and we hope our top things to do in Glacier Bay National Park and Persevere gives you inspirations to explore the great wilderness of Alaska.

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About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.



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