GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK
An area in a constant state of change, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve allows visitors the chance to see some of this planet’s most powerful, and creative, forces at work. Encompassing the past, present, and future, this park is a true bucket-list-worthy experience.
What is Glacier Bay?
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve of Alaska is part of a 24-million-acre World Heritage Site, which also includes Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and the Tatshenshini-Alsek Park in British Columbia. The park is made up of more than the famous glaciers — rugged, high mountain peaks; fjords, inlets, rivers, and streams; as well as forests, foothills, plains, and wet tundra compose a symphony of wilderness scenery, making it a unique lifetime experience.
When Captain George Vancouver explored this coastline in 1794, the region was covered in a single glacial sheet of ice thousands of feet thick. Since then, it has receded some 65 miles, revealing the bay and its surrounding environment. Today, the park consists of over 1,000 glaciers, covering almost 30 percent of its 3.3 million acres. Seven of the glaciers are considered active tidewater glaciers — the type that breaks off icebergs into the sea. This glacial “calving” as it is called is one of the more spectacular sights to be seen from aboard a cruise ship. As new areas become exposed (deglaciated), fresh life springs forth from land and sea now free from eons of icy embrace.
What Alaskan Wildlife Can I See?
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a vibrant ecosystem made up of a variety of terrestrial and marine species. Since nearly 20 percent of the park is composed of water, marine wildlife is in great abundance, with humpback whales, Steller sea lions, orcas, harbor seals, porpoises, otters, and a variety of fish prowling the waters. On land, a large population of both brown and black bears as well as moose, mountain goats, wolves, and Sitka black-tailed dear call the park home. And there’s a good chance you’ll catch sight of a bald eagle or two soaring overhead, in addition to the more 200 species of other birds that keep watch over Glacier Bay.
The Rangers Come to You
Since the majority of Glacier Bay’s visitors arrive by cruise ship, the park staff is well versed in how to cater to passengers’ viewing experience. Rangers come aboard the vessel bringing a mobile visitor’s center to you! During the tour of the bay, rangers will be out on the decks pointing out areas of interest and answering questions.
Tips for your Glacier Bay cruise experience:
- When you first board your cruise ship, scope out the prime viewing spots ahead of time — these are the open decks without windows between you and the scenery. The covered promenade deck has the added benefit of shelter from potential rain.
- Speaking of rain, be sure to pack rain gear for your trip. The region receives a great deal of precipitation — so the chances are you’ll need it. And dress in layers. The average temperature is 55°F (13°C), but the moist air may make it feel colder.
- Remember to bring a pair of binoculars. This is the best way to view wildlife from the deck, and will give you a better chance to take in the scenery.
- The cruise ships typically spend about one hour directly in front of a tidewater glacier. Find out ahead of time when this will be to be sure you can get a good spot to see potential calving.