Glacier Bay National Park is the location of an incredible feat of natural engineering and a prime area of scientific study. Its uniqueness is due to the fact that over only a short period of 200 years, what was once a complete sheet of glacial ice, retreated – uncovering the dormant land and waters beneath. Now home to over 50 named glaciers, including tidewater and alpine, Glacier Bay Park is an unforgettable destination for your Alaska holidays.
With a 65 mile (104 km) fjord system crisscrossing the park, Glacier Bay is only accessible by water. The best way to watch the glaciers ‘calving’ new icebergs into freezing pools below or even to hop on land to encounter the varied flora and fauna of the region is through a boat or cruise in Alaska.
Unmissable Glacier Bay Sights
Glacier Bay’s tidewater glaciers
The seven tidewater glaciers in Glacier Bay will be the stars of the show on any holiday trip in Alaska. Although tidewater glaciers are not unique to the northern hemisphere, glaciers that flow out of the mountains and into the sea are particularly spectacular when ‘calving’.
One of the most impressive to be seen on holiday in Alaska is the Johns Hopkins Glacier. While ships are permitted to enter the Johns Hopkins Inlet in which it is located, the ice breaks off or ‘calves’ from the glacier with such force that boats are required to stay at a safe distance of around two miles (3.3 km) away. This glacier forms part of the standard cruise ship route that visits Glacier Bay National Park and is surrounded by an impressive series of peaks which tower at 6,520 ft. (1,900m) above the sea level of the fjord.
The Grand Pacific Glacier is another common stop on an Alaskan holiday cruise in Glacier Bay National Park. This 25 mile (40 km) tidewater glacier is actually spread across two countries. Located on the very northwest of the region, it plunges into the sea on the US side at Reid Inlet and crosses the border into British Columbia, Canada at the Grand Pacific Pass. This once enormous stretch of ice used to cover the entire bay, and was even joined with the Margerie Glacier in the 1990s, but is now rapidly retreating back up towards the mountains.
Cruise ships often head past Russell Island into the Reid Inlet to watch both the Grand Pacific Glacier and the neighboring Margerie Glacier. A stable glacier, Margerie Glacier extends for a distance of 21 miles (34km) from its terminus at Tarr Inlet. Around a mile (1.6 km) in width, it stands at 350 ft. (110m) above the level of the water at its snout. The freshwater that emerges from the terminus attracts seabirds here and humpback whales are also seen nearby.
The wildlife from on board a cruise or by foot
Cruise ship and smaller boat passengers spending their vacation in Alaska and Glacier Bay National Park are always rewarded for patiently scanning the waters. Orcas, humpback whales, sea lions, sea otters, porpoises and harbor seals make an appearance in the glacial-blue waters of the fjords that constitute Glacier Bay. Further into the temperate rainforest that dominates the southern part of the national park, animals such as brown bears, Sitka black-tailed deer and mountain goats roam the land.
For more adventurous Alaska holidays, hiking and camping are possible within the park around the Bartlett Cove region. Cruise ships and other boats can be organized to drop hikers off at this point, where they can stretch their legs and admire their surroundings thanks to various walkable forest trails.
Planning your Alaska holidays in Glacier Bay
Cruise ships, private vessels and tour boats are the most common ways of spending part of your Alaska holidays in the unmissable Glacier Bay National Park. Most follow a similar route that visits many of the impressive tidewater glaciers and includes a park ranger boarding the ship. Their role is to provide information about the region’s unique importance to scientific study, as well as how conservation efforts are being undertaken to protect its pristine ecosystems.