Photo above: Huna Tribal house on the shores of Glacier Bay. Right: One glacier valley at Glacier Bay. Photos courtesy National Park Service. Huna Tribal, NPS/K. Boomer.
Glacier Bay National Park
It's a whole bunch of water and ice, but not the sit back at the restaurant order a beverage kind. For millions of acres along the Glacier Bay inlets, the glacier ice creates cliffs that tower above you if you're riding the tour boat or on your own vessel. For those who want to visit Glacier Bay in a more pedestrian manner, the Bartlett Cove area, the only developed spot at Glacier Bay, provides trails, a visitor center, and lodge.
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Just to be clear, this is a wild place that's hard to get to, with no roads from Juneau, and only one road in from Gustavus ten miles away. And you have to get to Gustavus by boat or plane. But once you make the travel plans and get here, the majesty of nature's bounty will take your breath away, not to mention you might even get to see a whale. Oh, and it's likely gonna be rainy, so be prepared.
Photo above: Two humpback whales at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Courtesy National Park Service.
Glacier Bay Then
It's a tale of the Huna Tlingit and an advancing glacier. It's thought that the Huna made their homes in the Bartlett Cove area for centuries, but were forced to leave in the early 1700's when a glacier pushed toward their tribal ground and wiped the area clean. Other areas in and around the park had been habitated for thousands of years. In Groundhog Bay, up to nine thousand years ago. On Baranof Island, three thousand years. In Dundas Bay, eight hundred years ago. The area has been the scene of gigantic shifts in topography over the decades. When Josephy Whidbey discovered Icy Strait on the southern end of Glacier Bay in 1794, it was completely choked with ice. When John Muir visited in 1879, the ice had retreated forty-eight miles up the bay. Tsunamis caused by earthquakes have shown evidence of having occurred in the park as well, experts think one may have been one thousand six hundred feet in height.
Efforts to protect the Glacier Bay region culminated in President Calvin Coolidge naming it a National Monument on February 25, 1925. They had been proceeding toward that status since Muir's writings through the 1916 visit of William Skinner Cooper, an ecologist, who eventually proposed a national monument be considered for the site in 1922. It would become a national park and preserve on December 2, 1980.
Glacier Bay Now
Today, there's all those glaciers and a very tall peak, Mount Fairweather, at 15,300 feet high. How many glaciers? There are fifteen tidewater glaciers in the park, although some, such as Muir, have been declassified due to its receding.
The Bartlett Cove area, ten miles from Gustavus, is the only developed location in the park with a Visitor Center, the Huna Tribal House, the Glacier Park Lodge, hiking trails, boat docks, and a campground. There are guided hikes by rangers, as well as boat tours by the Glacier Bay Lodge and other private operators.
Photo above: Muir Glacier, 1902, Cosmos Picture Company. Courtesy Libary of Congress.
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Glacier Bay National Park
Things You Should Not Miss
1. From the Bartlett Cove Visitor Center, take advantage of the summer season ranger guided tours and talks. These are free and take you to some of the most interesting spots that don't require a boat or tell you about them. The Glacier Bay Visitor Center also has films, exhibits, and visitor orientation.
2. Visit the Huna Tribal House. It's open in the summer (afternoons) from Monday to Saturday with cultural interpretors.
3. Take the boat tour. It's eight hours long with park ranger onboard and will take you around the waters and glaciers of Glacier National Park. The tour is run by a concessionaire and it does cost a lot of money. If you have that amount of cash or credit, it may be an option you'd enjoy. Lunch and beverage are provided.
4. Take a hike. Several trails spread out from the Bartlett Cove area ranging from one to eight miles.
Photo above: Seal hunters on Glacier Bay, 1899, Edward S. Curtis. Courtesy Library of Congress.