Bay National Park is one of the glacial landmarks--and one of the
most spectacular--to experience on a northbound Alaska inside passage
The early history of the area begins with the Tlingit peoples. Oral history and scientific evidence suggest the ancestors of the Huna Tlingit were resident in Glacier Bay long before the last glacier advance. This homeland they called S'e Shuyee or "edge of the glacial silt."
In the 1700s when the glacier began to advance the Tlingit were forced out, eventually settling in the village of Xunniyaa, which means in their native language "shelter from the north wind" and today is known as Hoona.
Later, as the glacier retreated they were able to return to their homeland, which was renamed Sit' Eeti Gheeyi or "the bay in place of the glacier."
Perhaps the outside world's first discovery of the Glacier Bay region was by George Vancouver who explored the area by ship in 1794 and drafted a rough map of the bay.
He was followed almost a century later by naturalist John Muir, who wrote about the Glacier Bay area. A few decades later, William S. Cooper and his colleagues at the Ecological Society of America played a role in the preservation of this ethereal region.
But the Tlingit, in spite of their difficult and trying history have persevered and continue to reside--and even thrive--in this breath-taking landscape now known as Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
There are fifteen tidewater glaciers in the park. Four of these are active "calvers." Calving is the process whereby large chunks of ice break off and fall with a splash into the sea. This of course is one of the most exhilarating sights regularly seen on any cruise or excursion into the area.
Wildlife to be encountered include bald eagles, gulls, waterfowl, grizzly and black bears, moose, mountain goats, Sitka black-tailed deer, Dall's sheep, wolves and Canada lynx. And in the ocean are salmon, Steller sea lions, sea otters, Pacific white-sided dolphins, harbor seals, orcas, minke and humpback whales.
Many people think the place to start an exploration of the Glacier Bay is the small town of Gustavus.
With a permanent residency of close to 500 people, Gustavus is situated on a large plain and is spectacularly backdropped by the distant mountains and icefields of Glacier Bay National Park on three sides and the ocean on the fourth. No MacDonalds, shopping malls or movie theatres, just basic Alaskan amenities like lodges, B&Bs, a small store, school, post office, library, a few restaurants, public dock, an airstrip, whale watching, boat charters and great fishing.
Glacier Bay Lodge is the only lodging available within the park. It offers clean, basic amenities (no phone or internet) for those who enjoy a rustic flavor, in an outdoor setting almost unrivalled.
Image Quiz: Find the bald eagle in the photo below...