Glacier Bay National Park is located in Alaska on the Pacific coast near Gustavus. Our quest for our summer family vacation was to visit the remaining eight national parks to accomplish 59 before 18. All of them were in Alaska (our 50th state to visit). The journey to the final frontier began with 24 hours of traveling by commercial airplanes (Charlotte to Chicago… with a ten hour layover, Chicago to Seattle… with a six hour layover, Seattle to Juneau… with a brief stop without changing planes, and Juneau to Gustavus).
We left Charlotte late Friday afternoon, August 18th, slept in a cheap hotel in Chicago that night, and ate a late breakfast the next morning at the famous Pikes Place in downtown Seattle. When we arrived on the ground Saturday afternoon it was a major victory for us as a family. It meant that we have been to all of the 50 United States of America. Because we were staying at the Glacier Bay lodge within the park, on Bartlett Cove, a shuttle bus was at the airport awaiting to take us to our lodge.
The weather was unseasonably warm, but cool and perfect for us. After we checked into our two separate rooms, we changed cloths and went hiking. The boys were very excited to have their own beds and a private room. Although the rooms were adjacent to each other, the teenagers felt like adults. Alisa felt cold before she changed into her long-johns. We started our adventure on the Forest Trail. It was a leisurely stroll through a lush forest which grows atop a glacial moraine. Blackwater Pond was a beautiful and calm place for a family photograph. Winston discovered some super soft moss that felt like a sponge bed.
The trail ended at the water along Bartlett Cove. We immediately saw a sea otter in the water. We walked the shoreline on rocks to Halibut point. Once we got their we witnessed our first sighting of a whale. An amazing Humpback whale was swimming about a hundred yards away from us. The skies were cloudy and the Alaskan summertime temperature felt like Autumn to us. We were not only fortunate to see this magnificent mammal, but the bugs were not bothering us because of the strong winds. Whale watching was tremendously exciting. We spent at least an hour just gazing at the water looking for the whale to emerge from the sea and take a deep breath.
We walked back into the woods and found a great spot for our picnic dinner. It was the typical stuff we usually pack during our exploration of the wilderness. We bought a lot of protein packed foods from a grocery store in North Carolina and brought it with us. The Sardines, Wheat Thins, Beef Jerky, and other sustenance helps us save money and maximize our time in these precious parks. After we ate, we walked back to our lodge, packed for the next day and went to sleep during the bright daylight. Sunset was around 11:00 pm and the sunrise was about 4:30 am.
Waking up Sunday morning at 5:30 am was full of excitement. It was time to take a ride 65 miles on a boat tour of Glacier Bay. The weather was extremely cloudy, misty and became rainy at times. We started at Bartlett Cove and traveled along the Sitakaday Narrows as we passed the Beardslee Islands. We were lucky that the ferry boat tour provided a free continental breakfast with plenty of drinks. Even though the weather was damp we took advantage of the opportunity to stand outside and look at the beauty of the park.
It wasn’t long before Luke saw a Bald Eagle and some mountain goats. Then the boat stopped at the South and North Marble Islands where we saw Puffins and many large Steller sea lions. As we continued along the bay clouds got thicker and the water became more turquoise in color. Winston spotted a Grizzly bear marching along the shore. It kept moving at a quick pace probably in a search of food. Next we saw the Reid Glacier and soon after that we saw the Lamplugh Glacier.
The overcast weather provided a wonderful blue color to the ice of the glaciers. The further we got into the bay the colder it had become. We started to see several icebergs floating in the frigid waters as we approached Jaw Point and entered into the John Hopkins Inlet. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is comprised of over 3.3 million acres full of mountains, trees, wildlife, glaciers, and waterways. It is also part of a 25 million acre world heritage site and one of the world’s largest protected areas.
Up to this point we have been treated to a small portion of this majestic place. Now as we got closer and closer to the John Hopkins Glacier the scenery changed to a mystical landscape. Ice-blue glaciers like the Hoonah and Gilman were awe inspiring. We passed an iceberg where a bald eagle was resting upon it. Then we began to travel very slow as hundreds of small icebergs filled the inlet. A dirty colored, silt filled and fast flowing waterfall drained into the pristine waters right next to where the boat stopped. We were only about a hundred yards away from the Gilman and John Hopkins Glacier. Dozens of seals were sitting on icebergs.
A slight sound of thunder happened just before a piece of the John Hopkins Glacier fell into the water. It was the sound of calving, which is the technical term for when a chunk of glacier falls into the water. It was spectacular to see. This particular spot is truly one of the best wilderness places in America.
The boat ride provided us with a delicious soup and sandwich lunch. We drank hot cocoa and began to relax a little on our way back to our lodge. However, soon the excitement continued with a thrilling site of a Killer Whale. Witnessing wildlife deep in the backcountry of the wilderness was a fantastic experience.
Once returning from our voyage the boys stamped their 52nd official national park cancellation at the visitor center. Next, Alisa was sworn in as a junior ranger and we ate a simple hamburger dinner at the lodge restaurant. Finally, we ended the day reflecting upon our exploration of Glacier Bay and went to sleep.
Monday morning we awoke at 6:00 am to clear blue skies. Bill quickly got out of bed, went outside and jogged to where he could see the distant snow capped mountains. Everyone took a shower, packed their gear and we started to hike the Bartlett River Trail. Immediately we saw a Bald Eagle. This was our last day and we wanted to have another adventure. We explored a dense spruce hemlock rain forest.
The four mile long trail ran through the forest and ended near the mouth of the river. We enjoyed a morning breakfast at the Bartlett river in solitude as another Bald Eagle was perched high above on a tree limb. Alisa wanted to go knee high in the frigid cold river. Within about 30 seconds of being in the Alaskan water she could not feel her feet. After drying off her feet and putting her boots on we hiked back to our lodge.
We checked out and had a couple of hours left before the shuttle bus would take us to the airport. Therefore, we walked to Halibut Point. The weather was perfect and we watched a few amazing Humpback whales. We felt very satisfied that we explored one out of the eight parks on our 2014 summer family vacation. Now, we are on our way to the next American national park.