Destination Discovery: Glacier Bay, National Park and Preserve, Southeast Alaska

by Janis on August 11, 2010

See and hear glaciers in Glacier Bay, Alaska

Neither pictures nor video adequately convey the raw beauty and sounds of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in southeastern Alaska.  Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 5,130 square mile park includes calving tidewater glaciers, snow-capped mountain ranges and deep fjords. 

In 1925 the area around Glacier Bay became a US National Monument, and was changed to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve on Dec. 2, 1980.  Click here to view a map from the National Park Service.

Glaciers cover 27 percent of the park. 

Glacier Bay National Park contains more than 50 named glaciers, most of which originate between 8000 to 15,000 feet above sea level.  Glaciers that flow down to the sea are known as  “tidewater” glaciers.  As water undermines some ice fronts on tidewater glaciers, giant blocks of ice break loose and crash into the water, known as “calving”.  Glacier Bay has seven active tidewater glaciers that calve icebergs into the sea.

Margerie Glacier  

In general, the Glacier Bay’s  tidewater and terrestrial glaciers have been receding over the past several decades. Margerie Glacier is one of the exceptions.  Rising 250 feet above the sea, Margerie Glacier is 21 miles long and a mile wide.  When ice calves from the face, it creaks, groans and showers like a waterfall into the water below.

Access is Limited to Glacier Bay 

No roads lead to the Glacier Bay National Park.  It is reached by air or sea.

Most visitors arrive at the park via cruise ship or tour boat. The only road is 10 miles from the town of Gustavus.  Alaska Airlines offers seasonal air service to Gustavus, including a 20 percent discount right now.

During the summer, the number of vessels in Glacier Bay is restricted to a maximum limit per day of two cruise ships, three tour boats, six charter vessels and 25 private vessels.

 Close to 423,000 cruise passengers visited Glacier Bay in 2009, the majority of the nearly 445,000 visitors.  If you are thinking about visiting by cruise ship, check the itinerary carefully. Not all Alaska cruises visit Glacier Bay.

In 2011, Holland America Line, NCL and Princess offer weekly itineraries that include Glacier Bay.

The Weather in Glacier Bay 

Southeast Alaska is located in a wet, coastal rainforest.  Summer temperatures in Glacier Bay range from 50 to 60 degrees F. Annual precipitation is 70 to 80 inches.

Visitors should anticipate and dress for cool, rainy weather.  For tips on packing for an Alaska cruise,  click here for 10 tips on what to pack

 Another Alaska post you might enjoy: 

16 Insider Tips to Anchorage  

Travelin Jones

 

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