Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Experience the Creation of Geological History
State of Alaska/ Brian Adams
RaftingA must-see when in Alaska: glaciers! There are a handful of expeditions offered by different tour companies throughout Alaska, including a one-day rafting trip down the Matanuska River that lets riders disembark for a half-day or full-day trek on the Matanuska Glacier. 960 1280
White-water rafters get their kicks on the Hulahula River, from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has information on camping, rafting and backpacking tours. 960 1280
Northern LightsAlaska's northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, are spectacular to view in the colder months of winter, although they’re still visible — and beautiful — in spring. Grab the camping gear, pitch a tent and experience aurora borealis outside the city limits, away from artificial light. 960 1280
Hot SpringsLocated outside Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs has been a must-see destination for more than 100 years because of its "healing" mineral-water hot springs. Another crowd favorite on the property is the Aurora Ice Bar at the Aurora Ice Museum, where visitors can stay in one of four rooms made of ice! 960 1280
Riverboat DiscoveryGet an authentic taste of Alaska with Riverboat Discovery, a three-hour tour on and off a traditional steamboat that travels down the "backwoods" of Alaska. Stops along the way include a Chena Indian village walking tour, a bush pilot demonstration and storytelling about the important role that bush pilots play in Alaska, along with a visit to a four-time Iditarod champion's home and kennels. Tours are offered May through September. 960 1280
Tanana Valley RailroadCraving a bit of that old gold rush history? Visit Fairbanks, for a two-hour tour of the El Dorado Gold Mine. Get a brief history about the mine on board the Tanana Valley Railroad stream train as it winds its way through the country’s valley and hills. When it reaches the mine, you’ll have an opportunity to pan for gold. 960 1280
Tony Knowles Coastal TrailTake in the beautiful views of Anchorage, AK, along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The trail is roughly 11 miles long. Start in the city of Anchorage, at West Second Avenue, near the railroad station, and head south until the trail ends at Kincaid Park. It’s open year-round. 960 1280
Fishermen's TourThanks to the hit TV show "Deadliest Catch," the fishermen of the Bering Sea are practically celebrities. For three hours, get a small taste of what life is like on the Bering Sea — minus the danger. See king crabs up-close, spot whales and more. From Anchorage, fly four hours south to Ketchikan, or choose the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour as your next Alaskan cruise excursion. 960 1280
Brown BearsVisit Katmai National Park and Preserve, located in King Salmon, to see one of the highest concentrations of brown bears in North America. There are a handful of bear-viewing tour companies, including Natural Habit Adventures, that offer service to Katmai, which is accessible by plane or boat. 960 1280
Take a CruiseTake a cruise through Alaska's Inside Passage region, reaching as far south as Ketchikan and heading north past Sitka and Juneau. Then, before reaching the quaint town of Skagway, you can visit Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and see the immense Mendenhall Glacier nearby. 960 1280
12 Things To Do in Alaska 12 Photos
Alaska Unleashed 16 Photos
Denali National ParkTake a scenic road trip through Denali National Park. Denali is home to a variety of animals, including grizzly bears, caribou, snowshoe hares, wolverines, tundra swans and Arctic warblers. The National Park and Reserve is located in the center of Alaska and includes Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. And in case you didn’t know, it is also the site of the longest glacier -- the Kalhiltna glacier. 960 1280
Brown BearsAlaska’s brown bear resembles its close relative the black bear, but it is usually larger and has longer, straighter claws. Mature males weigh between 500 and 900 pounds. So stir clear of these furry beasts. If you’re into nature watching from afar, head to McNeil River Falls -- it’s the perfect place to spot the largest concentration of brown bears hunting for salmon swimming upstream. 960 1280
Gray WolvesAlaska is home one the largest remaining population of gray wolves in the U.S. Wolves in the state’s southeast region are usually darker and smaller than those in the northern region. Gray wolves live on the Alaska’s mainland, but they also can be found on Unimak Island and on most major islands in the southeast. 960 1280
PorcupinesPorcupines are one of the largest rodents in North America. The highlighted quills detach easily and the barbs make them difficult to remove once lodged in an attacker. These prickly creatures contain an antibiotic in their skin just in case they get stuck with their own quills. Porcupines fall out of trees fairly often because they are tempted by the tender buds and twigs at the ends of tree branches. 960 1280
Bald EagleThe national bird of the U.S. is no stranger to Alaska. In fact, Haines, Alaska, is host to an annual Alaska Bold Eagle Festival, where up to 4,000 eagles can be found in the preserve feeding on a late run of salmon in November. The bald eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird -- up to 4 meters deep, 2.5 meters wide and 1 metric ton in weight. 960 1280
Red FoxThe red fox -- native to Kodiak Island -- is also found in other areas, including the Taku and Stikin river valleys and on Douglass Island near Juneau. The sly creature is present in tundra regions, which it shares with the Artic fox. Where the two species overlap, the red fox is dominant, and known to dig white (Arctic) foxes form their dens and kill them. 960 1280
Kenai National Wildlife RefugeVisit the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, located on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. The terrain consists of wetlands (pictured), alpine areas and taiga forest. The refuge, created in 1941, was created to protect thousands of birds and several large mammals, including black bears, dall sheep, moose and caribou. It’s also a popular destination for fishing for salmon and trout. 960 1280
CaribouIn Alaska, caribou prefer treeless tundra and mountains during all seasons, but many herds spend winter in the boreal forest. Adult bulls average 350 to 400 pounds; whereas mature females average about 175 to 225 pounds. Caribou in northern and southwestern Alaska are generally smaller than caribou in the interior and in southern region of the state. 960 1280
Halibut CoveHalibut Cove, once a fishing village, is now home to several artists and businesses. The popular tourist destination has several lodges and cabins for those who enjoy communing in the wild with nature. You won’t have to worry about traffic congestion here. The only way to get around the cove is by boat. 960 1280
Wild Alaska 12 Photos
For those who have only dreamed of watching geological history being created before their very eyes, a visit to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve will make even the wildest of imaginings come true. A mere 200 years ago, this area was capped by a 4,000-foot-thick glacier, which has since retreated at an unsurpassed speed, leaving in its wake a 65-mile-long wilderness of newborn fjords and shores surrounding what has become Glacier Bay. With each passing day, the park's landscape changes, often in ways invisible to onlookers. Yet the sudden, thundering crash as chunks of calving glaciers tumble into the ocean will demonstrate to visitors the awesome, earth-shaping forces of nature that are at work before their very eyes.
Snowcapped mountains rising to 15,000 feet, deep fjords, hidden coves, 10 tidewater glaciers, lakes and beaches mark the pristine wilderness of Glacier Bay. Traveling from the inner sanctions of the bay toward its mouth, and noting the diminishing signs of life as the edge of the receding glacier approaches, will introduce visitors to a newly developing landscape. As the glacier's retreat exposed new shores, a variety of ecosystems emerged including wet tundra (muskeg), coastal western hemlock/Sitka spruce forest, alpine tundra, early postglacial meadows and thickets, and glaciers and ice fields.
Casual visitors to the park are rare. A trip to Glacier Bay involves careful planning and either the physical endurance required to meet the challenges of the wintry landscape, or the money needed to partake in one of the many sanctioned wilderness tours of the region. Once the logistics of the trip, transportation to the park and itinerary are complete, the trouble is more than worthwhile. In the realm of national parks, Glacier Bay is astonishing. The glaciers, whales and mountain ranges encountered here promise an unequaled, and often unseen, exploration of Alaskan wilderness at its finest.
The Glacier Bay region once lay entirely under a 4,000-foot-thick glacier, which developed from snowfalls during the ice age. Partially under the glacier were landmasses formed by the pressure of collisions from the North American and Pacific tectonic plates. Eventually, the glacier began to melt and retreat, leaving in its wake rounded hills, and deep, U-shaped fjords surrounded by the jagged peaks of mountains that had been taller than the glacier's depth. Much of the region's development occurred within the last 200 years, as the retreating ice exposed most of the current shorelines, valleys, fjords and estuaries.
Hikers will find themselves in a wonderland of wilderness adventures, following trails along rivers, estuaries and even glacial riverbeds. A camper drop-off service can transport kayakers and campers to various points in the backcountry region of the bay area. Sport-fishing and game-hunting opportunities in the midst of the park's wilderness will dazzle enthusiasts. Numerous wilderness adventure concessioners service guests to the park with opportunities to camp, raft, mountaineer, whale watch, fish, kayak and hike.
Where to Stay
Glacier Bay Country Inn stands out as a luxurious retreat on the outskirts of the park. The lodge features well-appointed rooms, including five guest rooms and five cabins, all with views of the property's verdant woods or grassy glen. The four-star kitchen, featured in Bon Apetit and Food and Wine, will satiate guests with Dungeness crab and halibut entrees. With fly-fishing, whale watching and kayaking at your fingertips, and a staff to guest ratio of 1-to-2, the inn exceeds even the highest standards of hospitality.
To experience the majestic heart of Glacier Bay (and if money is no object), consider Alaska Discovery which offers novice explorers a five-day kayaking, camping and hiking venture through the east arm of the bay. Dropped off near the middle of the bay by floatplane, guests then kayak, hike and camp alongside the glaciers and pristine shorelines.