Glacier Bay–the Most Beautiful Place

Glacier Bay-the Most Beautiful Place

The Most Beautiful Place on !

Glacier Bay Close-up
Glacier Bay Close-up

If Disneyland is the “happiest place on earth,,” then many people would also say that Glacier Bay is the “most beautiful place on earth”–or at least it is in the World’s Top Ten!  If you check most travelers’ “bucket list,” Glacier Bay will always be there somewhere!  It is truly a MUST SEE up close and personal.

Why “this” Bay?

Glacier Bay Aerial View
Glacier Bay Aerial View

Why is this rather remote spot in our great big world so often visited, and how did it become so famous?  I’ve visited dozens of times as an Alaskan naturalist, and peoples’ responses are always the same.  The Bay is awe-inspiriting; it is historic; it is mystical; it is spiritual; it is magical; it is beyond word.  But, how did it become so well-known.

Personally, I believe that the name itself–Glacier Bay–is part of its charm.  It sounds so romantic and glamorous.  Actually, there are other places in Alaska such as College Fjord and Hubbard Glacier that rival the beauty of Glacier Bay, but no Alaskan glacial area attracts more attention than Glacier Bay.

John Muir and the Bay’s History

John Muir at Glacier Bay
John Muir at Glacier Bay

Undoubtedly one of the reasons for the popularity of this particular Bay is the historic visits of the famed naturalist, Mr. John Muir.  Both Captain in 1778 and Captain George Vancouver in 1794 noticed a “tongue of ice” extending into Icy Strait at the entrance to what we now call Glacier Bay.

John Muir’s 1879 visit to Alaska was the catalyst that brought Glacier Bay world wide attention.    At that time, the ice had retreated approximately 4 miles and created an inlet which today we call Glacier Bay.  As a naturalist, Muir was intrigued, and began to explore the Bay.   Muir led six more expeditions to Alaska; the rest–as they say–is history.  To reach Marjorie and Grand Pacific Glaciers (the present terminus of the Bay) you must sail approximately 80 miles from the mouth of the inlet at Icy Strait.

What Glaciers Will You See in This Bay?

Entering present day Glacier Bay, you sail into a virtual icy wilderness of limitless beauty that will leave you speechless and stay with you for the rest of your days!  On a typical cruise ship visit to the Bay you will see several glaciers, but the high point of any glacier visit is witnessing a “calving.”

When the salt water of the sea meets the ice of the glacier, ultimately a section will break away and calve.  Basically, the glacier is giving birth to an ice birth.    Just like lightning and thunder, if you’re fortunate you will see the ice calve away, followed by the unmistakable sound of “white thunder.”   Below are pictures of the main glaciers you will see on a Glacier Bay cruise.

Glaciers in the Bay

Reid Glacier
Reid Glacier

As you sail into the Bay you will see the glaciers in this order:  Reid Glacier, Lamplugh, Marjorie Glacier, and Grand Pacific Glacier.  The only glacier that you may not see is Johns Hopkins; ships are only allowed to enter that part of the bay in early  spring or late summer.  BUT…if you are lucky enough to see Johns Hopkins Glaciers, you will be enthralled!

Lumplugh Glacier
Lamplugh Glacier
Johns Hopkins Glacier
Johns Hopkins Glacier
Marjorie Glacier
Marjorie Glacier from a cruise ship.
Grand Pacific
Grand Pacific Glacier -the bay’s terminus

What else will you see in This Famous Bay?

Humpbacks at Glacier Bay
Humpbacks in Glacier Bay
Sea Lions at Indian Rock
Sea Lions at Indian Rock in Glacier Bay

The entire Bay is a nature lover’s delight.  If you crave purity and fresh air–this is definitely the place for you.  Within the waters of the Bay are hundreds of varieties of fish.  It is also common to see humpback whales either entering or leaving the bay.  Indian Rock rookery can be seen on the south side of the Bay near its entrance.  There you may see scores of sea lions.  And, of course, the Bay is filled with a plethora wild flowers in the summer time.

How do I get to Glacier Bay National Park?

Glacier Bay Cruise ship
Glacier Bay Cruise ship
Glacier Bay Small cruiser
Glacier Bay Small cruiser

Annually, thousands of people from around the world visit this Bay on a large cruise ship.   This is a wonderful way to see the park.  There are smaller ships that also cruise the Bay as well.  These boats advertise that they get up closer and more personal–and they do.  They are more expensive than the large cruise ships, but their size and flexibility allows them to stop for animal viewings and spend more time at the face of the glaciers, etc.

Glacier Bay day boat
Glacier Bay day trip boat

Many adventurers choose to spend more time in the park in order to camp, kayak or visit areas where cruise ships can’t go.  Glacier Bay Nat’l Park Lodge and other hotels are located in nearby Gustavus, a tiny community that is only open to tourists from April – Sept.  Alaska Airlines flies directly into Gustavus.  There, you can choose a hotel for a lengthier stay or take a day boat trip into the park.

Regardless of whether you visit the Bay on a cruise ship, in a tiny kayak, or whether you visit in early spring, fall, or a gorgeous Alaska summer, it will stay with you for the rest of your days.  Once you hear the “white thunder” of a glacial calving, you will be hooked on glaciers and their might.  A visit to “this” Bay is a must and a memory that you will take with you for your lifetime.

Glacier Bay Spring
Glacier Bay Spring
Glacier Bay Fall
Glacier Bay Fall

Skagway, Alaska – Gateway to the Klondike

Skagway, Alaska – Gateway to the Klondike

Gateway to the Klondike

Skagway and the Lynn Canal
Skagway and the Lynn Canal

Skagway, Alaska, the Gateway to the Klondike, is possibly one of the most unique little “cities” of the world.  Situated at the terminus of the Lynn Canal in Southeast Alaska, Skagway on its best day has about 750 year round residents.  Yet, Skagway’s strategic place in history attracts well over one million visitors a year–and that’s within a four month period!  The city itself is a National Park!

Why do so many come to Skagway?

Dawson City
Dawson City

Skagway and Dyea (about 10 miles from Skagway as the crow flies) were the two main gateways to the Klondike Gold Rush that occurred near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory.  Although Dyea no longer exists, Skagway thrives today as a tourist town of profound interest.  Skagway remains locked in history; mercantiles, brothels, bars, outfitters are now replaced with tourist shops, but the buildings and the wooden sidewalks remain the same.  To visit Skagway is to literally step back in history about 120 years!

Why was the Gold Rush of 1899 so significant in world History?

Chilkoot Pass
Chilkoot Pass

At the time gold was discovered in the Klondike, there was a worldwide depression.  The newspapers picked up the story and the rush was on.  The Gold Rush of 1899 was the last great gold rush in North America, and it brought literally thousands of gold-thirsty prospectors to the North.  The Klondike itself is approximately 150 miles across the border into Canada, but the best way to get there was through either Dyea and the Chilkoot Trail or Skagway and the White Pass.  Most of the prospectors arrived in Skagway or Dyea toward the end of summer; consequently, they began their treacherous and danger-filled climb across one of the passes at the beginning of the rigid Arctic winter.  Although many arrived in Dawson City, more either fled back to the water for a quick retreat or (worse yet) perished in their attempt.

What else can be seen in or near Skagway?

  • White Pass Train
    White Pass Train

    The White Pass Railroad was built at the Gateway to the Klondike: If you are a first time visitor to Skagway, this is a must.  The train is the longest narrow gauge railroad in the world.  Despite naysayers who said it could never be done, the railroad was built through the White Pass and is literally an engineering feat on par with the Panama Canal!  Unfortunately, the White Pass

    Historic White Pass Trestle

    RR was completed too late to accommodate most miners, but it was used effectively during World War II to move troops back and forth into Canada for A and 1,000s ride it to the summit each season.  It runs twice a day either directly from the cruise ship dock or from the downtown station—about a 5 minute walk from the port.

  • The National Parks operates a great Gold Rush Museum at the corner of Broadway and Main that is well-worth the visit. Within the museum you will find an excellent historic FREE film about the Klondike Goldrush made available several times each day.
  • Historic Chilkoot Barracks
    Historic Chilkoot Barracks

    Haines, Alaska is about forty-five minutes from Skagway by water taxi, and it is a great little town. The most interesting thing to see in Haines is the Chilkoot Barracks—the first military post built in Alaska.  In fact, Chilkoot Barracks was built before Alaska was even a territory.

  • If you truly enjoy adventure, return to Haines in
    Bald eagle in tree
    Bald eagle in tree

    October.  There you will witness the Haines Bald Eagle Festival.  Beneath the Chilkat River is a hot springs, so it is the last winter in the fall to freeze.  Because of this, the Chilkat River is the last river in this area where the salmon come to spawn.  The bald eagles seem to instinctively “know” this and they flock to the Chilkat River each October in astronomical numbers.  I visited the festival one year, and it is possible during this time to see DOZENS of bald eagles in one tree.

  • Skagway (Gateway to the Klondike) is a great place to fly over Glacier Bay. Skagway has a neat little airport and flights take off regularly each day during the tourist season to fly over Glacier Bay.  You can either book on your cruise ship or in Skagway.  It will cost you less to book in Skagway, so the choice is up to you.  Regardless of where you book, the flights and the vistas are the same.
  • Skagway can be a tourist trap, BUT if you wander off the main street (Broadway) only one block either direction, you will be astounded by the ambiance and charm of this unbelievably quaint little city.
  • There are great hikes in and around Skagway. I recommend three hikes:
    • Walk due east to the Gold Rush Cemetery and Reid Falls. Anyone in town can tell you the way. (You can’t miss it, and it is all level ground except the last few yards to the falls!)
    • Directly above the Princess Cruise Ship dock you can hike either to Upper Dewey or Lower Dewey Lake. Both of these are severe climbs, so take water and wear good walking shoes.
    • Possibly the most interesting “hike” in Skagway is the low-impact hike of simply walking around town.  I highly suggest getting off Broadway and walking up and down a couple more streets.  You will literally step back in time like very few places in the world.  Try it!  You’ll like it!

Cruising in Alaska – A Contrast in Beauty

Cruising in Alaska

Cruising in Alaska is one of the most beautiful and exciting experiences you will ever have.  On many levels, its breathtaking beauty, lush flora and fauna, and its varied animals can be a spiritual experience.

Alaska steamship Baraof
Alaska steamship Baranof, circa 1950s.

My first cruise in Alaska coincided with my 9th birthday, and I fell in love with Alaskan waters at that time.  My 9th birthday was many years ago, so that cruise was on the old Alaska Steamship Lines, on the Baranof! Later we cruised Aaskan waters on a Canadian Steamship liner, the Princess Louise.  Neither of these lines has been in existence for over 50 years now.

The Princess Louise
The Princess Louise

Many years later I hired on as an Alaskan cruise naturalist, and really began Cruising in Alaska.  In this capacity have now cruised in Alaska nearly 200 times.  Regardless, of the number of cruise, Alaska NEVER bores me.  In fact, in liberates me in a way that nothing else can. Continue reading Cruising in Alaska – A Contrast in Beauty

Whale Watching in Southeast Alaska

Whale Watching in Southeast Alaska

An Alaskan cruise is not complete without a whale watching adventure!  Working on the cruise ships in Alaska was one of the most rewarding times of my life, and that definitely included whale watching. Since I was privileged to narrate and speak for nearly 200 Alaskan cruises with Princess Cruise Lines, I was also able to experience at least 50 whale watching excursions.  In addition, I spotted hundreds more whales from the cruise ship bridge for enthusiastic cruise ship passengers.

Where is the best place for Whale watching?

If you are in SE Alaska, Juneau is the place.  Humpback whales come to Alaska to feed, and they feed in the icy waters of Stephens Passage 24 hours a day.  You can also do some amazing whale watching in the Kenai Peninsula in South Central Alaska or near Hubbard Glacier. In fact, though, you may see them randomly anywhere in Alaskan waters.

Why do whales come specifically to Stephens Passage?

Alaska’s humpback whales winter in Hawaii where they breed and give birth, but they DO NOT eat.  Each spring they migrate to Alaska and they are HUNGRY as they arrive.  Consequently, in Alaska they eat constantly–22-23 hours per day!

When the young are born in Hawaii, they have absolutely NO blubber and the mothers weight is also depleted.  Therefore, the mother whale must eat enough to feed her baby and replenish here own blubber.  Humpback whale blubber is 55% fat (the consistency of toothpaste or yogurt) and the babies gain 3-5 pounds per hour.

Humpback whales feed on krill and herring.  These tiny fish migrate to narrow waters, consequently, they are in this passage in abundance!  Like humans, whales are intelligent so they go where the “getting is easiest.”  Why feed in open ocean when all the food you can eat is one relatively small area?   Continue reading Whale Watching in Southeast Alaska

College Fjord in Prince William Sound

College Fjord in Princess William Sound

 College Fjord in Prince William Sound is one of the most gorgeous settings on the planet.  Of all the glaciers and fjords in Alaska, College Fjord and Hubbard Glacier are hands down my favorites.  Truly, there are NO words for either region.  As an experienced Alaska naturalist, I urge you to move both of these sites to the Top Ten of your bucket list!

The Harriman Expedition catapulted College Fjord into the news:

Even though dozens of glaciers have been in Prince William Sound for centuries, it was the 1899 privately funded Harriman Expedition that put the region on the map.  (It is

College Fjord - Prince William Sound Map
College Fjord – Prince William Sound Map

significant to note that much later in 1964, Prince William Sound made news again when it was the epicenter of the major Alaska earthquake). But notably, the Harriman one year journey was monumental on many levels.  In fact, it was the expedition’s “discovery” of College Fjord that became the most outstanding geological contribution in the 20th Century. Continue reading College Fjord in Prince William Sound

Hubbard Glacier – Nature’s Phenomenon


Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier is always a BIG surprise–just like College Fjord or Africa’s Victoria Falls.  Even though I was raised in Alaska within a day’s boat ride of Hubbard, I never heard about it until I became an adult Alaska naturalist.  But, Wow!  What a spectacular, active, overwhelming, monstrous (any more superlatives you choose) experience.

Hubbard Glacier - Hubbard Glacier
Hubbard Glacier

This dramatic glacier rests north of Juneau at the terminus of Disenchant-ment Bay and near the little village of Yakutat.  Tglinkit Indians have inhabited the area for over 800 years.  Compared to many other glaciers, Hubbard is NOT receding.  And this growth brings continual geological changes to the region.  Because of these changes, Hubbard Glacier claims several world distinctions.  Continue reading Hubbard Glacier – Nature’s Phenomenon