The last entry in my profiles of the National Parks of Alaska is Glacier Bay. It is one of the older parks in Alaska, President Coolidge made it a National Monument in 1925, and President Carter upgraded it to full Park status in 1980. Over it’s 90 year history it’s seen countless boats bring tourists into the coves to see the massive glaciers up close. Because it is so easily accessible to cruise ships, it currently ranks the 2nd most visited park in Alaska, with just over 500,000 visitors in 2014.
It’s one of the more southern parks, located close to Juneau. Like the state’s capital, (and most of the other Alaskan Parks), there are no roads leading into the park. Unlike most of the other Alaskan parks, the majority of it’s visitors arrive via boat instead of the air. The park borders Canada, and Wrangell-St. Elias, together with the Provincial parks of Kluane and Tatshenshini-Alsek, they make up 32 million acres of protected area in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The main attraction here is Glaciers. There are 15 tidewater glaciers in the park, glaciers that terminate in the sea. Four of them are actively creating new icebergs all the time. This impressive scene is dangerous to witness due to the weight of the ice, the unpredictability of it, and the waves it causes when they fall. It’s still pretty neat, if you manage to see it. Over the 200 year history of the area there has been extensive documentation of the glaciers and their many advancements and retreats over the years.
Historically, Glacier Bay has been inhabited for at least the last 10,000. But the landscape has changed drastically since it was first visited in the late 1700s. The entire bay was once covered by a glacier. 100 years later in 1879, John Muir visited the area and wrote heavily about it. Eventually, he would get a glacier named after him, at the time it was the most active glacier in the bay, but has since retreated quite a bit and is no longer classified as tidewater.
Kayaking around the bay, as well as rafting the Alsek River are two popular attractions. At low tide, brown bears (coastal), can be seen feeding along the shores, humpback whales, and sea otters swim in the bays, while eagles soar above. Some of the quintessential Alaskan wildlife viewing is paramount in and around Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. The most popular section is Glacier Bay, with all the different coves, and inlets of the area many leading to glaciers, or to newly unearthed land freed from glacial cover in just the last 150 years. However there are over 600 miles of coastline along the outer coast of the park that are rarely visited, but these are open to the raw Pacific Ocean.