Glacier Bay Tour Boat
Each morning through the summer, a tour boat leaves Bartlett Cove and travels 130 miles through Glacier Bay. For seven hours it will take passengers on a journey through a landscape rich with wildlife, full of human stories and still maturing from recent rebirth. Visitors explore a waterway that was under a river of ice only 250 years ago. A National Park Ranger will be onboard to help spot wildlife, provide commentary and programs to help passengers understand and appreciate Glacier Bay National Park. Be sure to have binoculars ready and rain gear handy so you can be outside to greet each new discovery!
One of the first highlights of the day is a stop at South Marble Island. The vessel cruises very close to the small isolated island to observe seabirds and marine mammals. Be sure you are outside to see, hear and even smell the creatures that live here. Tufted and Horned Puffins and their cousins the Common Murre nest here alongside Pelagic Cormorants and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Steller Sea Lions haul out here between feeding because of the convenient location, flat, smooth rocks, and nearby feeding grounds. There may be over 300 sea lions clustered on the rocks together, growling and roaring as they wrestle for the best resting spot.
As you continue toward the glaciers, you can scan the beach for black bear, grizzly bear, moose, and wolves. Watch along any barren mountainsides for the white coats of the mountain goats that scale precarious cliff edges. Most of this terrestrial wildlife returned recently to this landscape, recolonizing after the retreat of the glaciers that began only two-and-a-half centuries before. Mountain goats, however, may have lived on the lonely peaks that jutted above the rivers ice that flowed in Glacier Bay.
For those seeking the precious quiet and solitude Glacier Bay can provide, the tour boat offers a drop-off service in the backcountry. The vessel will pull up to shore to drop off kayakers and campers. These adventurers must prepare carefully to have all the food, gear and equipment they need to be in the wilderness, but the rewards are great. They may float on the water hearing the crunch of bear’s teeth on barnacles in the intertidal zone or fall asleep in their tents to the sound of whales breathing.
Though you may still be more than twenty miles away, you will soon see the first icebergs from the tidewater glaciers ahead. If you look out onto shore, you should see that the vegetation is very different from what you saw earlier at Bartlett Cove. The closer you are to the glaciers, the more recently the shorelines have emerged from under glacier ice. Your park map will tell you where the face of the glacier was at various dates over the past 250 years. Ask the Ranger where you are and see when the glacier ended there.
Soon after lunch, you will be in view of tidewater glaciers. Be sure to have on all those warm layers you brought and get outside, if you aren’t already. You are in the presence of a river of ice many miles long, hundreds of feet thick and around a mile wide. Try to imagine how much snow must have fallen in the Fairweather Mountain range to build these glaciers! In all, you will visit up to four tidewater glaciers. At one, you will sit for at least half an hour, so you will have the chance to see and hear the ice fall (calve) into the water. It is a dramatic sight and an amazing sound. Don’t miss it.
Be prepared. Bring warm clothes and rain gear. Bring binoculars and cameras. And, don’t forget to bring your sense of wonder. By the end of your day you will have sailed by nearly eight hundred miles of coastline in one of the wildest places left on our planet. Be prepared to be captivated by the beauty and abundance of Glacier Bay.