Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Parkis located in southeast Alaska. It encompasses 3.3 million acres of mountains, glaciers, rainforest, coastline, and fjords. It’s part of one of the world’s largest international protected areas, and offers solitude and a wildness not found in many places.
Glacier Bay’s weather is influenced by the ocean currents. Surprisingly, this means mild winters (in Alaska!) and cool, wet summers. During the summer, highs are usually between 50-60°F, and in the winter it’s unusual for temperatures to dip into the single digits. Winter nighttime lows often range from 25-40° F. Bartlett Cover gets about 70 inches of rain a year, so pack for some wet weather! April, May, and June are the driest months of the year, and September and October are usually the wettest.
While those weather conditions are at sea level, if you travel up to the mountains you’re going to face more severe weather with much colder temperatures and snow. Be sure to bring plenty of layers and moisture-wicking clothing to keep you dry.
Travel to and around Glacier Bay National Park is more limited than many national parks, and towns are few and far between. However, the small hamlet of Gustavus is just outside the park, and towns like Haines, Skagway, and Juneau are a short plane or ferry ride away. You may want to set aside time to explore each of them on your trip.
If you’re looking for things to do inside the park, Glacier Bay has scheduled events as well. Most of the events take place during the summer months, but you can find the full calendar here. There are also plenty of activities you can do on your own, including hiking, fishing, kayaking, and flightseeing (exploring the park by small plane).
Where To Stay
While there are no places to camp that accommodate RVs in Glacier Bay National Park, there are some in the surrounding areas. You can camp in Juneau and take the ferry to Gustavus to get to Glacier Bay. Or camp in Skagway or Haines and get there via bush plane, or by heading back to Juneau and taking the ferry across. There is one designated walk-in campground in the park, and numerous places to camp in the backcountry. Since a lot of activities in Alaska are seasonal, be sure the campground you choose is open when you want to travel, and make reservations if you can.
Hit the Trails
Because of the vast size and wilderness of the forests and other plants around Glacier Bay, the number of actual marked trails is limited. There are a few trails within the park, and one or two in Gustavus. Many people choose to walk along the shoreline, which is open and allows awe-inspiring views of mountains and sea, along with a chance to see a variety of wildlife.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can attempt to hike through the foliage that grows over most of the inland areas, but the dense growth can be tedious to bushwhack and you’ll definitely want a compass! If you do clear the suffocating greenery, eventually you’ll end up in thinner, old growth forests with spongy mosses, sparkling streams, and a variety of old and young growth trees that make the work worth the effort.
Trails in Glacier Bay National Park
Distance: 1 mile round trip
Terrain: An easy walk along the shore in front of Glacier Bay Lodge. Along with beautiful views of Bartlett Cove, see a traditional Tlingit canoe, an intact whale skeleton, and experience Tlingit culture at the Huna Tribal House.
Distance: 1 mile round trip
Terrain: A loop trail that wanders through temperate rainforest and the beach area of Bartlett Cove. The surface alternates between dirt, gravel, and boardwalk. There are two benches and viewing platforms along the path to allow you to better view the spruce and hemlock forest. Park rangers also offer guided tours along the trail every afternoon.
Distance: 4 miles round trip
Terrain: Hike along an intertidal lagoon and through a spruce and hemlock forest before ending at the Bartlett River estuary. Look for wildlife, including moose, bear, river otter, and coyotes near the beach. Water birds also use the intertidal area during migrations and molting, and salmon run up the river in late summer, attracting harbor seals to the area.
Distance: 8 miles round trip
Terrain: Begin on the Bartlett River Trail, then branch off and climb the moraine. This trail is less maintained and requires more care to not lose the route. Wind over and around mossy boulders and trees to Bartlett Lake and listen for the sound of loons from the shore.
Bartlett Cove to Point Gustavus
Distance: 12 miles round trip
Terrain: The flat shoreline south of the Bartlett Cove docks allows walkers to stroll for miles. A hike to Point Gustavus and back can be done in a day. Low tide allows a peak at intertidal life and is a great place to see land, shore, and seabirds. You may see humpback whales, sea otters, bald eagles, and more, and wildflowers sprinkle the beach meadows.
Trails near Glacier Bay National Park
Distance: 2.5 miles round trip
Terrain: Enter the Nature Conservancy’s Gustavus Forelands Preserve and see the effects of the ice retreating from Glacier Bay. The trail begins in an 80-year old spruce forest and leads hikers through progressively younger environments to a beach meadow strewn with wildflowers. Look for wildlife including moose, black bear, wolf, coyotes, and porcupines. You’ll also pass mudflats that beckon migrating sandhill cranes, golden plovers, dunlin, and spotted sandpipers.
What to Do
Unlike many national parks, Glacier Bay National Park is unusually challenging to explore by car. Fortunately, there are several unique ways to see the sights of Glacier Bay, along with the surrounding towns and landscapes! At the end of the day, browse Alaskan art at a gallery, or sample the local seafood in town.
Location: Bartlett Cove
Type: Local seafood
Fireweed Gallery, Tea & Coffeehouse
Some of Alaska’s most famous artists live or have lived in Gustavus, and much of the art for sale here is created or inspired by them. Browse local and Alaskan art, jewelry, clothing, books, gifts, and more. You can also grab a cup of locally roasted coffee from the coffee bar while you shop.
If you’re doing some sport fishing in Alaska, Pep’s Packing will pack and freeze - or even smoke - it for you so you can bring it back home. Along with their packing services, they also sell their own wild Alaska King Salmon, alder smoked halibut, and more! In addition, there is a small gift shop where Pep sells halibut ear bone earrings and other gifts.
There are several galleries in Gustavus that specialize in Alaskan art. At Camalou, Lou Cacioppos creates carved masks, stonework, pen & inks, and jewelry.
Outfitter Sporting Goods
Get all the gear you’ll need for whatever Alaskan adventure you’re planning! Outfitter Sporting Goods sells clothing, fishing and hunting gear, and even has paintball rentals. They also have hunting and fishing regulation booklets, and you can get your license for either of those sports here. Be sure to pick up a complimentary Southeast Alaska Tide book while you’re there.
Mark and Julie Cozzi wanted to help people become familiar with foraging and enjoying nature, and their shop reflects that! Find foraging field guides and other tools, survival items, nature gifts and jewelry, bulk teas, and books. They also have foraged wild edibles, raw honey, and other tasty goods.
Explore the rich history of the world’s first tool by investigating the 2,000 hammers on display at the Hammer Museum. The collection rotates throughout the year, so each time you visit, you’re sure to find some new hammers!
Gustavus’s only fuel station is a pre-WWII replica Mobile gas station with working 1937 Wayne 60 gas pumps...and is also home to Alaska’s only petroleum museum. The southeastern Alaska panhandle is where the Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate drilled the first Alaska oil well at the beginning of the 20th century.
Over 4,000 artifacts from Chilkat Blankets to the Eldred Rock lighthouse lense showcase the art and culture of the area. From mining company artifacts to totem poles to an in-depth look at the town’s puppet makers, there’s a lot to learn about the community here!
Learn about the diverse cultures and history of the large geographic area encompassed by the state of Alaska. With such a large area to cover, there are numerous exhibits and objects that showcase the state’s human and natural history, including Alaska Native material, historic artifacts, works of art, and natural history specimens.
The museum is located in the historic compressor building that was associated with the former Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company. The museum has one of the world’s largest air compressors and other artifacts associated with hard rock gold mining. You can also see electric locomotives and the rail cars which took men to the mine.
Wildlife Viewing in Gustavus
In an area so vast and untouched, like that around Glacier Bay, wildlife is abundant. Look for moose, whales, otters, bears, black-legged kittiwakes (they’re a bird) and so many more creatures who roam the state. Grab the wildlife viewing map here and get started!
Flightseeing Around Glacier Bay
One of the only ways to see some of Glacier Bay’s remote mountains, ice, and water is from the air. Fly past jagged peaks, snowy glaciers, breathtaking waters and wild shorelines. You can find tour operators here for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Kayakers can also be dropped off by the tour boat at designated locations for their own adventures.
Tour by Boat
There are several options to tour Glacier Bay by boat. You can take a day tour from Bartlett Cove to see the tidewater glaciers and wildlife, and to learn more about the area’s flora and fauna. You also have the option to book an overnight boat tour from Juneau as part of a longer itinerary in Southeast Alaska. Many boat tours also offer whale watching tours in season.
Mount Ripinski rises above the town of Haines, Alaska, and is home to mountain goats that hop along the alpine cliffs and peaks. You can hike the 3,000 feet up to the summit through forest, subalpine trees, and meadows to the rocky summit.
Eldred Rock Lighthouse
The oldest original Alaskan Lighthouse building was first lit in 1906 to guide ships through Alaska’s stormy waters. There are also a boathouse, tramways, and other outbuildings nearby. While there are currently no tours to Eldred Rock, some water tours get close enough to get a good view and great pictures of the lighthouse.
How to Get There
The Alaska Marine Highway ferry system provides service from Juneau to Gustavus so visitors can now travel with a personal vehicle, which was not an option for a long time. However, travel around the area is more limited than people used to driving may expect. Glacier Bay itself is mostly roadless - you can reach Bartlett Cove by driving from Gustavus, but everywhere else in the park can only be reached by foot, by boat, or by small plane. Also, parking can be very limited since the facilities at Bartlett Cove were built before vehicles were allowed. The one designated camping area is accessible only on foot.
You can fly into Juneau and take the ferry to Gustavus, or you can travel to Gustavus by a short jet or bush plane. An Alaska Airlines jet services the airport during the summer. Once you’re in town, you can travel via rental car, taxi, or on your own power.
If you are traveling with an RV, consider camping in Juneau and leaving it there when you ferry to Gustavus and drive to the park. Or you can camp in Haines or Skagway and take a bush plane, or ferry back to Juneau and then on to Glacier Bay.View RV Rentals
Entering the Park
Unlike most national parks, there is no entrance fee for Glacier Bay National Park. There are also no camping fees, although campers in the Bartlett Cove Primitive Campground are required to attend a camper orientation at the Visitor Information Station, and free backcountry permits are required for overnight campers and kayakers. If you are boating into Glacier Bay in a private vessel, a free permit is required.
A trip to Glacier Bay National Park is guaranteed to be the adventure of a lifetime! The sweeping sea and mountain views are sure to make this a trip you’ll never forget. At RVshare, we love encouraging people to spend time outdoors with their family and loved ones. RVing is one way to accomplish this - you can experience the beauty and exhilaration of nature with your family in a truly unique way. However you explore Alaska and Glacier Bay National Park - on foot, by plane, by boat, or in an RV you rent through us, we’d love to hear all about your trip! Send us pictures of your adventures at [email protected], tag us on social media, and share details about your trip and tips you want others to know for a chance to be featured on our social media channels.