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Glacier Bay National Park: 7 Reasons to Visit This Awesome National Park

Glacier Bay National Park is one of America’s best-known national parks despite being extremely remote.

This popularity can be attributed to Glacier Bay’s incredible wildlife and breathtaking scenery.

Unlike other popular national parks, no roads lead into or out of Glacier Bay National Park, making it a unique and often challenging place to visit.

Visitors flock to Glacier Bay National Park to see the gorgeous tidewater glaciers that call this national park home.

Many people who visit Glacier Bay do so by cruise ships, which is exactly how we visited.

If you also want to visit on a cruise ship, research, as only a few cruise ships can enter this national park!

As our Princess Cruise to Alaska entered Glacier Bay, I found myself mesmerized by the gorgeous turquoise waters, snow-capped mountain peaks, and glorious wildlife.

Peering over the side of our balcony, we saw a pod of otters floating by and instantly knew we were in a special place.

Granted, we knew we would only see a portion of Glacier Bay National Park from our cruise ship, but it made us fall in love with this majestic national park.

Let us introduce you to Glacier Bay National Park and show why you should add this fabulous park to your couple’s bucket list!

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Reasons to Visit Glacier Bay National Park

See the Glaciers

Seeing the park’s glaciers is one of the main reasons I insisted Glacier Bay National Park be on our Alaska cruise itinerary.

These beautiful ice creations are incredible to see in person, especially when you learn how they form!

Park Rangers boarded our Princess Cruise ship as we entered Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, teaching us so much about the park, especially the glaciers.

Glaciers form when snow remains in the same area year after year.

Over time, this snow accumulates so much that it becomes compacted into ice, and friction causes groundwater to form between the ice and the bedrock below.

When the glacier gets too large, gravity takes over, and the formation slides down the mountain. Once this happens, it is considered a glacier!

We saw two of the park’s tidewater glaciers during our cruise to Glacier Bay National Park.

Tidewater glaciers are formed when a glacier makes its way down the mountain to the sea. Once it meets the sea, it is considered a tidewater glacier.

Because the sea water is warmer than the glacier, calving often occurs. Calving is when large pieces of the glacier break off into the sea.

Aboard the Royal Princess, our captain skillfully guided our ship through the channel to the tidewater glaciers.

Once at the tidewater glaciers, the captain spent about an hour slowly rotating the boat 360 degrees to ensure that all sides of the boat had several opportunities to see the glaciers.

Luckily, the Margerie Glacier calved during our visit.

There was a loud rumbling sound when the Margerie Glacier started to calve.

This sound could be heard before you could see the ice breaking.

It sounded like the Margerie Glacier was shooting a gun!

Almost immediately after the sound, a large piece of ice broke off from the glacier and fell into the water below.

It was a magnificent sound and sight and something I will never forget!

It gets cold outside on this day, so don’t forget to check out our Packing List for Alaska Cruise to ensure that you are prepared.

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Check Out the Icebergs

Another item on my bucket list was to see an iceberg. If you’re like me and are interested in this, Glacier Bay National Park has you covered.

As our cruise ship approached the glaciers, we noticed more icebergs.

These icebergs are pieces of the glacier that have broken off and are now floating in the sea.

It made my day to see a harbor seal floating on a glacier!

View Amazing Wildlife

The abundant wildlife found at Glacier Bay National Park is another reason many visitors add Glacier Bay to their itinerary.

According to the National Park Service website, “Marine waters make up nearly one-fifth of the park, and no point of land is more than 30 miles from the coast.”

This means you will likely see some awesome wildlife that calls this national park home.

For this reason, I highly recommend taking a good pair of binoculars with you!

Here are the animals we saw in Glacier Bay:

Humpback Whales

We first sighted humpback whales upon entering Glacier Bay.

A pair of whales were breaching the water and putting on quite a show for the cruise ship!

As the day progressed, we continued to see signs of them.

The easiest way to spot a whale is to keep your eyes on the move.

Look near the boat and across the horizon for the water spray they release when they surface.

Of course, once you see the spray, continue to watch the area so that you can see the whales break the surface and ultimately put their fluke in the air as they dive back down to the bottom of the ocean.

Bald Eagles

If seeing a bald eagle in their natural environment is on your bucket list, then Alaska is the place to go.

We saw numerous bald eagles during our time in Glacier Bay.

I spotted a bald eagle perched high atop a mountain, and we saw several eagles flying through the sky.

Mountain Goats

Glacier Bay is also home to mountain goats.

Watch the rocky outcroppings near the water’s edge as your boat navigates Glacier Bay, and you might spot a mountain goat.

I was actually looking at the eagle perched on the hillside of Gloomy Knob when I noticed a large white mammal next to it.

It was a mountain goat!

Sea Otters

otter in Glacier Bay National Park

We saw so many otters during our visit to Glacier Bay.

At first glance, they looked like debris floating on the water, but after grabbing my binoculars for a closer look, I realized it was a pod of sea otters.

These little guys are so cute and seem to be floating along without a care.

Several of them had babies on their chests as they floated along on their backs; this made seeing them even more spectacular.

Brown Bears

Princess Cruise Alaska-Glacier Bay National Park grizzly bear

The park ranger advised us to keep our eyes peeled on the shoreline if we wanted to see bears.

After doing this all day, I had almost lost hope as we had yet to see a bear.

After leaving one of the glaciers, I was scanning the rocky cliffside and noticed a large brown blob that looked very different from the cliffside’s grey rocks.

I grabbed my binoculars again and saw it….a brown bear!

I was so excited. I pointed it out to Marty, who got a nice picture thanks to his fancy camera and far-reaching lens.

After that, we were suddenly stars of the cruise ship. Everyone wanted to see the picture of the bear that we captured.

Harbor Seals

seal on an iceberg in Glacier Bay National Park

While we didn’t see any sea lions during our visit to Glacier Bay, we did see harbor seals.

These cute little fellows are so fun to watch, and I absolutely loved that Marty captured a great picture of one floating on an iceberg!

According to the National Park Service, this World Heritage Site is also home to moose, thousands of bird species, porcupines, red squirrels, harbor porpoises, black bears, and more!

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Be Surrounded by Incredible Scenery

The scenery you will experience while visiting Glacier Bay is absolutely breathtaking.

When you enter the park, you are surrounded by spectacular mountains accented by the gorgeous turquoise water where the Alaska coastline meets the Pacific Ocean.

Seeing the snow-capped mountains next to the sea is truly incredible and an experience I will never forget.

In addition to the mountains, the area is home to forest land with beautiful spruce trees, striking to view from the comfort of your cruise ship.

You might even spot a brown or black bear while enjoying the scenery if you’re lucky.

Go Hiking

For those of you who wish to explore the park on land, there are numerous hiking trails in Glacier Bay.

Just be sure you are properly equipped to tackle the trails, always be respectful, and keep your distance from wildlife.

Take a Kayaking Trip

Many people make a kayaking trip on a Glacier Bay day tour to get up close and personal with the glaciers.

Several companies offer kayaking tours and kayak rentals.

Please note that you must obtain a backcountry permit and attend an orientation at the VIS at Bartlett Cove before kayaking in Glacier Bay.

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Do Some Camping

If you aren’t visiting Glacier Bay on a cruise ship, you can go camping inside the park.

While the park does not charge a camping fee, it does require campers to obtain a backcountry permit.

Campers must also participate in a camper orientation at the Visitor Information Station in the Bartlett Cove area to access the walk-in campground, Bartlett Cove Campground.

Where is Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve?

Princess Cruise Alaska-Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park is located in Alaska’s Inside Passage, west of Juneau.

Not to be confused with Glacier National Park, which is in Montana!

While both are great, they are in completely different regions geographically.

What is Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve?

Glacier Bay National Park is a 3.3 million-acre national park comprising glaciers, waterways, forests, and mountains.

The park is part of Alaska’s 25 million-acre World Heritage Site, so you know you are in a special place!

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How Do You Get to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve?

You aren’t going to do an epic road trip to visit this national park.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is only accessible by ship or plane.

Touring Glacier Bay National Park by ship allows you to cruise the 65-mile-long waterway to the incredible glaciers of the park.

Arriving by plane means you can spend more time in the park thanks to the local lodging options like Glacier Bay Lodge in Bartlett Cove.

Glacier Bay Lodge is located in the Bartlett Cove area, which is just inside the park boundary, and offers visitors lodging, a restaurant called the Fairweather Dining Room, and opportunities for daily tours, including hiking, kayaking, fishing, and a day cruise into the marine waters.

Glacier Bay Lodge is closest to the nearby town of Gustavus.

There is even a taxi service between Gustavus Airport and Glacier Bay Lodge to help transport guests to their accommodations.

Take note that these are the only hotel accommodations near the park!

When is the Best Time to Visit Glacier Bay?

According to the park’s visitor center, the summer months are when the park sees the most visitors.

The best time to visit the park is between May and September, during the summer months.

Glacier Bay National Park is a popular destination during the summer season, so the park service limits the number of cruise ships that can enter.

The park service only permits two cruise ships per day to enter. This ensures that the national park remains a great experience for all visitors.

Is There a Visitor Center?

The National Park Service runs the Glacier Bay Visitor Center on the second floor of Glacier Bay Lodge and is open May through September.

Park rangers are usually available at the Visitor Center to answer questions from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.

Check the park website for exact operating hours and other important information.

In addition to the visitor center, Glacier Bay National Park also offers a Visitor Information Station, which is also run by the park service.

The Visitor Information Station is designed to assist boaters and campers and can be found at the public-use dock in Bartlett Cove.

Visitors can obtain information, maps, and permits to assist them in Glacier Bay.

You can also pick up Glacier Bay souvenirs from the National Park Service during your visit.

Why Do Glaciers Look So Blue?

Mendenhall Glacier

If you see a glacier on a nice, overcast day, the glacier has a beautiful blue tint.

This blue color is created when light hits the compacted glacial ice.

The long wavelengths of the light, the red colors, are absorbed by the ice, while the short wavelengths of the light, the blue colors, are reflected off the ice.

How Many Glaciers Are in Glacier Bay National Park?

There are over 1,000 glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park, according to the National Park Service!

Some of the most popular glaciers are:

  • Margerie Glacier
  • John Hopkins Glacier
  • Grand Pacific Glacier
  • Muir Glacier
  • Reid Glacier
  • Lamplugh Glacier

Is Glacier Bay Worth Visiting?

Hands down, Glacier Bay National Park is definitely worth visiting.

We visited the Alaskan towns of Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan during our seven-day Alaska cruise before heading to Victoria, British Columbia.

While each of these towns was amazing, and we learned much about the history and culture of Alaska and British Columbia, I will say that Glacier Bay was our favorite part of the cruise.

Glacier Bay allowed us to experience the serenity and beauty of nature from the comfort of our ship.

Since only two cruise ships are allowed per day, it truly felt as if we had the whole park to ourselves.

Surrounded by this pristine environment’s beauty helped renew our spirits and ground our souls.

So, yes, Glacier Bay is definitely worth visiting!

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Michelle Snell-Founder That Texas Couple

About the Author

Michelle Snell is a travel writer, history buff, wine lover, and enthusiast of different cultures. Michelle enjoys bringing places to life through creative content creation and her informative writing style on her blogs, That Texas Couple and Totally Texas Travel and accompanying social media accounts.  She is happiest sipping wine in Italy or chilling on a beach with her husband, Marty.

Jenn | By Land and Sea

Sunday 8th of October 2023

Looks like you guys had a great time. Such a great area to visit!

thattexascouple

Monday 9th of October 2023

It is. We really loved it!

Lisa | Waves and Cobblestones

Sunday 8th of October 2023

We visited Glacier Bay on our Alaska cruise-- it's breathtaking! And we were lucky to see some (small) calving of the glacier.

thattexascouple

Monday 9th of October 2023

That is so great. It such a majestic place!

Kelly

Sunday 8th of October 2023

Gorgeous photos! Glacier Bay National Park looks absolutely stunning to visit. I'd love to visit to see all the wildlife and all the natural scenery. Thanks for sharing this listicle of what to see at this National Park.

thattexascouple

Monday 9th of October 2023

Thank you so much, Kelly. Everyone should see it at least once in their life. It's gorgeous!

Josy A

Saturday 7th of October 2023

Oh wow! You got sooo lucky with all that wildlife, especially seeing a bear from the ship! The sound of the ice calving must have been amaaazing too! The glaciers are just stunning eh!?

thattexascouple

Monday 9th of October 2023

I know! I couldn't believe the day we had. It was truly magical!

Sharyn

Saturday 7th of October 2023

Growing up in Australia I don't get to see iceburgs so I would love to visit Glacier Bay NP for this reason. It looks cold!

thattexascouple

Monday 9th of October 2023

I had never seen an iceberg until this trip also. It was such a cool experience! I hope you get to go soon!