There are two basic centers for visitors to Glacier Bay. Bartlett Cove, inside the park, has Park Service Headquarters, a campground, the Glacier Bay Lodge (with a bar, a restaurant, and the park service visitors center), and a boat dock. Ten miles away (a $14 shuttle-bus ride) and outside the park boundaries is the community of Gustavus (pop. 370). Here you will find the airport, the main boat dock, a general store, B&Bs, and luxury lodges.
The town of Gustavus consists of equal parts park employees, fishers, and folks dependent on the tourism trade. It’s one of the only places in Southeast Alaska that has enough flat country to raise cattle, and the only Southeast Alaska town of any size without service from the state ferry system (though this may change in 2011).
Be sure to check out the historic—and still working—1937 gas pumps decorated with the old Mobil flying horse at Gustavus Dray (907/697-2481), which also sells antiques and gifts. Across the street is Fireweed Gallery (907/697-2325) and Homeshore Café. Gustavus is also home to the nine-hole Mt. Fairweather Golf Course (907/697-3080, www.gustavus.com/activities/golf.html).
The Gustavus Visitors Association (907/697-2454, www.gustavusak.com) has information and links to local lodging and other businesses; also try www.gustavus.com. Find free Wi-Fi at the Gustavus Library (907/697-2350, www.gustavus.lib.ak.us), in Glacier Bay Lodge, and at Homeshore Café. There are no ATMs in Gustavus, so be sure to bring cash with you from Juneau.
Fishing and Whale-Watching
Fishing, primarily for halibut and salmon, is a big attraction for many visitors, and most of the lodges offer package deals for anglers. Get a list of charter boat operators from the Park Service or at www.gustavusalaska.org. Most of these companies also run whale-watching trips, and some can carry sea kayaks on board.
One of the best ways to see Glacier Bay National Park is from the air. Both Air Excursions (907/697-2375 or 800/354-2479, www.airexcursions.com) and Fjord Flying Service (907/697-2377, www.puffintravel.com/fjord.htm) provide flightseeing trips over the park. Other companies offer Glacier Bay flightseeing from Juneau, Haines, and Skagway, but prices are generally higher since you need to fly farther.
Getting to Gustavus
State ferry service to Gustavus does not exist as of this writing but is expected to begin in 2011; get the latest at www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs.
Glacier Bay Lodge & Tours/Aramark (907/264-4600 or 888/229-8687, www.visitglacierbay.com) provides twice-weekly summertime boat access to Bartlett Cove from Juneau. The Fairweather Express II has departures in both directions on Friday and Sunday evenings for $82 adults, $41 children. Service is not dependable, and the boat often runs late. Dinner whale-watching tours ($139 adults, $64 children) are also available three times per week June–mid-August.
Many visitors fly by jet from Juneau to Gustavus on Alaska Airlines (800/426-0333, www.alaskaair.com), but book ahead to be sure of getting on these popular afternoon flights. The trip takes only 15 minutes in the air, so the flight attendants don’t even have time to throw bags of pretzels at you.
More rewarding are flights by Wings of Alaska (907/789-0790, www.wingsofalaska.com), Air Excursions (907/697-2375 or 800/354-2479, www.airexcursions.com), or Fjord Flying Service (907/697-2377, www.puffintravel.com/fjord.htm). They offer more personal service to Juneau, and the small planes fly lower, providing excellent on-the-way sightseeing for around $190 round-trip. Wings of Alaska has scheduled flights, while Air Excursions and Fjord Flying fly to Juneau whenever enough folks want to go (typically several times per day).
Note that it’s illegal to transport white gas and other potentially explosive fuels in any commercial aircraft, so be sure your gas stove and fuel bottles are empty before you reach the airport. Purchase fuel in Bartlett Cove next to the visitor center or in Gustavus at Beartrack Mercantile. Also, you can’t carry “bear mace” on the jets, although floatplanes will sometimes carry it in their floats.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition