Hiking at Bartlett Cove
There are three short hiking trails through the rainforest of Sitka spruce and western hemlock at Bartlett Cove. Each weaves through the cool, damp quiet created by these huge trees and the moss on the forest floor. Some wet spots are often crossed by boardwalks with railings. A map is included in the Fairweather visitor guide.
The Forest Loop is an easy trail about 1 mile long, beginning at the lodge and passing through the woods and past some park buildings to the cove's pebble beach. The Bartlett River Trail is a 4-mile round-trip leading to the Bartlett River Estuary, a good bird-watching spot, especially during migrations. The Bartlett Lake Trail branches off the Bartlett River Trail after about .25 mile for a 3.8-mile one-way forest hike to the lake.
Bartlett Cove is nowhere near the park's highlights. Most independent travelers take a day boat to see the vast majority of Glacier Bay. The boat is operated by a park concessionaire called Glacier Bay Lodge and Tours, a joint venture of ARAMARK and Huna Totem, with offices at 241 N. C St., Anchorage, AK 99501 (tel. 888/229-8687 or 907/264-4600; fax 907/258-3668; www.visitglacierbay.com), or, locally, in the summer only, at P.O. Box 179, Gustavus, AK 99826 (tel. 907/697-4000; fax 907/697-4001). The boat leaves from the dock in Bartlett Cove at 7:30am and returns at 3:30pm, sailing to the fjords' very head and the Grand Pacific Glacier. There's a snack bar, and a simple lunch is provided. Bring binoculars, good rain gear, and layers of warm clothing. The fare is $185 for adults, half price for children 3 to 12, lunch included.
Chartering a Boat
Local family operators based in Gustavus take visitors up the bay in comfort, with the spontaneity and intimacy of boating with friends. If you have a group, you can have a boat and guide to yourself. Mike Nigro, a former backcountry ranger and longtime resident, takes groups of four to six for $435 per person per day, two-person minimum, on a 42-foot yacht, the Kahsteen. His Gustavus Marine Charters can be reached at tel. 907/697-2233 or www.gustavusmarinecharters.com.
Kayaking in the Park
You won't forget seeing a breaching humpback whale from a sea kayak, sitting just inches off the water. It happens around here. When we breathlessly told our innkeepers about the experience, they smiled politely. They hear the same descriptions all the time. Inexperienced paddlers should choose a guided trip. Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks, based in Gustavus (tel. 907/697-2257; www.glacierbayseakayaks.com), offers half-day and all-day paddles in Bartlett Cove good for beginners. Although the trips go nowhere near the glaciers, the paddlers stand a good chance of seeing whales, sometimes quite close up. Any fit person can enjoy it. A half-day costs $95, full day $150, including a lunch. The same folks rent kayaks for day trips in the cove. These self-guided outings begin with a briefing, and novices are welcome. The cost is $40 half-day, $50 full day. Experienced kayakers ready for an overnight in the wilderness up the bay can rent equipment, too, and get dropped near the glaciers for $231 round-trip. Before starting off on an overnight, you also will have to attend a Park Service briefing and get a backcountry permit from the headquarters. The company operates May 1 to September 15.
Alaska Discovery (tel. 800/586-1911; www.alaskadiscovery.com) offers 5-day guided expeditions in Glacier Bay. Although we wouldn't recommend this to someone who hasn't tried kayaking before (what if you hate it?), those who do will find this the most intimate and authentic way to experience this wilderness. A 5-day trip, with 4 days of kayaking, 3 days of camping, and 1 day at an inn, costs around $2,095 from Gustavus. An 8-day trip is $3,250.
One spectacular way to get into the park is by flightseeing. Gustavus-based Air Excursions (tel. 907/697-2375; www.airexcursions.com) offers air tours in float or wheeled planes. Other operators fly scenic excursions from various nearby towns, including Haines and Skagway. You'll see the incredible rivers of ice that flow down into the bay, and you may even see wildlife. What you give up is the sense of scale from ground level.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.