Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Water and ice are prominent features of Glacier Bay National Park. Photo copyright QT Luong, www.terragalleria.com/parks, used with permission.

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Though a harbor for the country's greatest collection of tidewater glaciers, Glacier Bay National Park is more than just ice and water.

The park's 3.3 million acres offer the adventuresome opportunities to trek through temperate rain forests, climb snow- and ice-covered mountains, paddle hundreds of miles, and experience the ruggedness of a landscape that John Muir described as "a magnificent picture of nature's power and industry..."

This landscape has passed through at least four major glacial periods. The last one, known as the Little Ice Age, began about 4,000 years and has been ebbing since the mid-1700s. The handiwork of those snaking rivers of ice are steep, towering mountains, slender fjords that reach depths of 1,400 feet, and a landscape that ranges from bare rock to thick, temperate rain forests moving in decline into muskeg.

And, of course, there are glaciers that will fill your camera's viewfinder. Seven of the park's glaciers run right down to the water, and you can pause before some of them to watch bergs calve off or search for harbor seals resting on ice flows.

Through this landscape you can travel by cruise ship, small tour boat, kayak or canoe, or overland with pack on your back. It can be demanding -- humpback and killer whales frequent the main bay and its fingers of inlets, brown and black bears roam its forests and beaches, self-reliance is foremost -- but the rewards are many for those up to the task.

From thunderous calving of tidewater glaciers and roaring sea lions to colorfully beaked puffins, emerald forests weighted with dangling mosses and meadows bursting with strawberries in summer, the park carries surprises around most corners.

Unless you're traveling by cruise ship, your adventure to Glacier Bay likely starts at Gustavus, a small town with a frontier feel that adds to the experience. Just nine miles from town lies Bartlett Cove and park headquarters and the Glacier Bay Lodge.

Traveler's Choice For: paddling, birdwatching, fishing, photography, geology

Park History: Glacier Bay Park and Preserve

Long before Europeans reached this part of the world it was inhabited by Tlingit Indians, who had fishing camps set up on the shores of various inlets.

Lodging in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Lodging inside the park is quite simple -- you have one option, the Glacier Bay Lodge. Set in the forest overlooking Bartlett Cove, this small clutch of buildings offers simple, yet comfortable, accommodations. Its arrival in 1966 spurred tourism to the national park, as it gave visitors a place to stay.

Camping in Glacier Bay Park and Preserve

There is just one "front country" campground in Glacier Bay, and it's located near the main dock and reached via a trail running about a quarter-mile to the south.

Hiking in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

There's lots of acreage for hiking in Glacier Bay National Park, but just four marked trails, and they're all located near Bartlett Cove.

Wildlife In Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Though the park's name focuses on glaciers, there is abundant marinelife, waterfowl, shorebirds and land-rooted wildlife to keep your eyes glued to your binoculars.

Birding in the National Parks: Where Are The Kittlitz's Murrelets Going?

Squawking, chirping, and peeping fills the air but mist obscures the birds as we slowly paddle under a gentle rain through bergs cast off by the Marjorie Glacier. The ice drifts by in various sizes and shapes, some whimsical, others stable roosts for seabirds taking a break from the sky.

Discriminating Explorer: Visiting Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve By Mothership

As our kayaks bob on the currents of Fingers Bay, a multi-fingered bight in Glacier Bay, we listen for the tell-tale streaming whoosh of a humpback whale's spout. We had seen the wispy spray moments earlier as we neared the mouth of the small bay and watched as the whale circled, its occasional spouting marking its progress.

Discriminating Explorer: Dining Your Way Across Glacier Bay National Park And Preserve

Shiny silver on the outside, the cauldron's contents were a delicious contrast of bright orange.

Birding In The National Parks: Puffins, Murrelets And More In Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

I wasn't really sure what to expect from Glacier Bay National Park, outside of glaciers, of course. But it didn't take long to realize this Alaskan park is a birder's paradise. From the "poor man's puffin" to dwindling numbers of Kittlitz's murrelets, I was rewriting my birding success.

And not in days, but in minutes.

By The Numbers: Glacier Bay Park and Preserve

Though its name inspires thoughts of massive rivers of ice, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is much, much more than glaciers. With its borders you'll find some of the country's tallest mountains, tangles of temperate rain forest that harbor brown and black bears, and rich waters that attract both birds and whales.


Glacier Bay National Park's Glaciers, A Primer

Curious about Glacier Bay's glaciers? The following paper was written for the National Park Service by Dr. Daniel E. Lawson of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 2004. It provides a good primer on the park's tidewater and terrestrial glaciers.

Traveler's Checklist For Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Half again as large as Yellowstone National Park, Glacier Bay can be a conundrum for visitors. If you arrive via cruise ship, how can you possibly get a good taste of this 3.3-million acre landscape of ice, ocean, and forest? And if you reach Glacier Bay via a flight into Gustavus, what's your best approach for exploring this expansive park?

Resources For Visiting Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

This is where you can find websites, helpful phone numbers, friends groups and cooperating associations, and, sometimes, books related to the park.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve News

Huna Tlingit Gain OK To Harvest Glaucous-Winged Gull Eggs At Glacier Bay National Park

A law authorizing the Huna Tlingit to harvest glaucous-winged gull eggs in their traditional homeland of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska has been signed by President Obama.

National Park Service Reissues Glacier Bay Park Lodging Concession Prospectus With Incentives

The National Park Service recently issued a modified concession prospectus for Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.

Key Concessions Contracts Up At Yosemite National Park, Along Blue Ridge Parkway

The coming months could tell whether Xanterra Parks & Resorts and Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts are both still in an acquisition mode, or will look to stand pat, as concessions opportunities are weighed in Yosemite National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve Images