Back in Alaska to explore Glacier Bay’s extraordinary world of ice, snow capped mountains, emerald green rainforest and beautiful thriving wildlife! These 3.3 million acres are the highlight of Alaska’s Inside Passage and part of a 25 million acre World Heritage Site – one of the world’s largest internationally protected areas! It’s also a Biosphere Reserve!
This time last year my adventurous girlfriend and I visited Denali, Wrangell St. Elias and the Kenai Fjords National Parks within Alaska! We were instantly hooked but of the 8 National Parks in Alaska only those 3 can be accessed by roadway. The next easiest park to get to is Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Most visit by cruise ship but some arrive by plane or by ferry via the Alaska Marine Highway. We chose to fly into Juneau and take the Alaska Marine Highway which actually starts all the way down in Bellingham, Washington.
It was a gloomy Sunday morning when we arrived so we ran some errands (bear spray, meal prep and lots of beef jerky) and enjoyed the town. It seemed like every time we looked up we saw a bald eagle!
A must stop in Juneau is Alaskan Brewing Co. It’s commonly found in Seattle but there are some great beers you can only find there. My favorite was the Big Mountain IPA. The next must stop is Mendenhall Glacier! This 13 mile long sheet of ice begins at the Juneau Icefield and terminates at Mendenhall Lake only 12 miles from downtown. It’s a part of the 16.7 million acre Tongass National Forest, the largest National Forest in the US! Start your trip at the Visitor Center before taking one of their many sweet hikes.
You can explore the valley, Nugget Falls, the glacier itself or climb above it. We chose the latter but first set up our campsite at the Mendenhall Campground.
We’d be taking the West Glacier Trail that starts close by. Boots were a must as there were quite a few steep and rocky sections. Outside of the trail the entire forest floor was covered in vibrant green moss.
We’d be working our way up high above the glacier.
The last half mile was a slippery scramble which was even more demanding going down. At the highest point before beginning an ascent of Mt. McGinnis we were provided with a stunning view over the massive ocean of ice.
The view back south wasn’t too shabby either!
This was a great spot for a break while we witnessed exactly what Alaska does best! The highlight of our way down was running into a porcupine with some long quills.
The rest of the night we relaxed at camp before being sung to sleep by birds and raindrops.
We were up bright and early with an otter that was splashing in the pond behind us.
Our ferry, the LeConte, took off at 7am from the Juneau Ferry Terminal. We’d cruise through the Icy Strait along the Alaska Marine Highway for 4hr 30min to the town of Gustavus pronounced Goose Davis or as we like to say Moose Davis.
Along the way we saw a harbor porpoise, a minke whale and a few bald eagles who greeted us upon our arrival in Gustavus!
Note that if you want to take the ferry to Gustavus and back it only runs on Mondays and Wednesdays and cost $96/person. Once in Gustavus you’ll need to catch a ride 10 miles to Bartlett Cove where the Glacier Bay Visitor Center and Lodge is. If you’re camping I’d suggest scheduling a ride with TLC Taxi. We were picked up by the Glacier Bay Lodge shuttle because we decided to stay our first night in lodge.
We had a boat tour setup for Tuesday and a kayak trip Wednesday. On our first day we learned a lot about the park and got a permit to camp the 2nd night. Once we were all squared away for the days ahead we took a lovely walk along the shore and continued our tradition of playing catch in every Alaskan National Park!
We had a lot of fun exploring at low tide!
We stayed out until sunset when everything slowly became calm.
The sleep in the lodge was great but we were up early for our 8 hour 130 mile boat tour of Glacier Bay! This was certainly the highlight of the trip! The park showed us an incredible amount of beautiful wildlife and a few of the 1000+ glaciers that stem from the epic Fairweather Mountain Range. On the boat was an awesome crew who were constantly on the lookout for wildlife and Park Ranger Patrick who shared a wealth of knowledge with us! They also fed us clam chowder. Does it get any better than that?
We started our trip on the Sitakaday Narrows where all the water from the Icy Strait funnels into the bay. The nutrient rich water brings out a lot of wildlife but we only saw a few sea otters.
Our first stop was at South Marble Island to witness hundreds of seabirds and stellar sea lions take a rest. Some of the faces on the sea lions suggest they were not resting.
That picture almost reminds me of a Michelangelo painting. Below are those same sea lions with their young, seagulls and two bald eagles at the peak of the island.
That was the perfect spot for sunbathing.
And there were tufted puffins!
Next we dropped off some backcountry kayakers near the entrance of the East Arm. That would certainly be a great way to see the park! With a view down the Muir Inlet we could see our first glacier of the day, Riggs a tidewater glacier!
Near Tlingit Point we saw our first brown bear family! Spring had just begun so most young were only about two weeks old and so dang cute!
The weather was constantly changing with extreme speed. Giant peaks were playing peek-a-boo with us.
We were only able to catch a glimpse of Mount Fairweather the highest peak in the range at 15,325ft.
After drooling over those peaks we saw a group of sea otters playing in the Tidal Inlet.
And then a big ole Brown Bear!
Around the corner was Gloomy Knob, home of the mountain goats my spirit animal. Sweet nannies were caring for their babies.
Past Gloomy Knob was the 2nd glacier of the day, Rendu!
Back near the shore we saw two brown bear cubs with their mother.
We were already blown away by our wildlife sightings and then a humpback whale breached! Wow was that cool!
Right before entering the Tarr Inlet we saw a small chunk of the Lamplugh tidewater glacier and all of the mighty Mount Cooper. Well most of it.
At the very end of the West Arm lies the Grand Pacific tidewater glacier. Only 250 years ago it carved the entire bay with ice but now it’s “only” two miles wide stretching over 25 miles into British Columbia. The cruise ship should give you some perspective to how massive it is.
Right next door was another impressive tidewater glacier that’s 1 mile wide and 21 miles long. Margerie Glacier!
Margerie is actually stable meaning when it calves icebergs into the water more ice will fill its place. Only Margerie and Johns Hopkins glaciers can hold that claim.
It’s pretty crazy witnessing a glacier calve off shards of ice that bejewel the sea with icebergs! Hearing that white thunder is pretty special too.
They picked a damn good spot to take a long stop and serve lunch! It was nothing short of magic!
We were literally blown away!
After the glorious stop we started our journey back to Bartlett Cove. We first took a glance into the Johns Hopkins Inlet. There was the Topeka Glacier.
Then as we rounded Jaw Point the magnificent advancing Johns Hopkins Glacier appeared with the 10,500ft Mount Orville looming in the background.
Next we’d again pass the brilliantly blue Lamplugh Glacier.
Next up was the Reid Glacier.
Our last glacier was a rare sight. The Casement Glacier!
It brings us so much joy to see this fascinating young ecosystem thrive! This was an all-time experience!
That night we set up camp, had some more chowder at the lodge and took a sunset stroll along the shoreline.
It was hard to fall asleep as I kept replaying the day over and over again in my head. We were still up early again but the sun rose at 4am so I guess we slept in under Alaskan standards. That morning we rented a tandem sea kayak from Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks for a half day.
It was a leisurely paddle around Bartlett Cove. We saw bald eagles, sea lions and sea otters up close.
We also saw a great blue heron looking like a model.
The weather continued to change rapidly around us.
We were able to make it back to shore by the time some real rain fell. It was just mind blowing how blue and green the water was especially where Bartlett Cove met the Sitakaday Narrows.
It was now time to head back to Juneau along the Alaska Marine Highway. Glacier Bay is a perfect example of pure wilderness and it certainly validated my dream of living in Alaska for at least a summer. As we waited to take off from the dock in Gustavus a sea lion was thrashing a fish around and just as I was taking a picture a Bald Eagle swooped in in an unsuccessful attempt to steal it! Gotta keep your eyes peeled in Alaska; you never know what you’ll see next.
On our ride into Gustavus we had almost no views but this day was completely different. There was nothing but blue skies and some of the most extraordinary peaks I’d ever seen. Every turn showcased a new stunning mountain or glacier.
Dolphins swam by as we gazed upon Eagle Glacier and the Snow Towers. So wicked and toothy!
Close to Juneau we could finally see the peaks above Mendenhall Glacier and boy were they spectacular. The Mendenhall Towers look like a climber’s paradise.
Back in town we checked into our airbnb before watching the sunset from a bar named Squires Rest. Right after sitting down someone in the bar bought a round for the house! Alaska is the best!
I would have loved to camp again but my high selling girlfriend hooked us up and the bed was nicer than ours at home. The next day was our last but we had to do get some work done. After the workday we went on a little hike along the Mendenhall River trail.
We also made a pit stop to our old campsite for a grand view of the Mendenhall Glacier.
We will definitely be back to climb Thunder Mountain and to explore the rest of the Alaskan panhandle. That afternoon we drove around downtown, had some excellent poke and made another stop for an Alaskan Brew. To cap it off we found a halibut and chips food truck that sold us the absolute best thing to touch our lips this trip.
I have a lot to see in this world but right now I’m convinced there is no place better to see pure raw beauty than in Alaska! This belief was only made stronger when we drove to the airport and saw beams of light shooting down from the sky as if God was going super saiyan! I swear there is no better way to describe it.
I’m in love with the great white north! Hopefully our little family will soon become locals!