Glacier Bay National Park
Here is my trip report from my latest adventure to Glacier Bay National Park!
In the past I have been on many backpacking trips, but our group thought that it would be fun to try a kayak camping trip for a change. Glacier Bay National Park is setup perfectly for kayak camping because the bay allows access to many glaciers and it is sheltered from the ocean.
Conveniently there is a kayak rental company (Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks) right at the entrance to the park in Bartlett Cove in the park. We were able to rent a double and a single kayak which gave us enough room to store 10 days worth of gear.
Over 10 days we paddled almost 90 miles from Bartlett Cove all the way to Lamplugh Glacier. Overall it was an amazing trip and an incredible experience!
We arrived in Gustavus Alaska after a short flight with Fjord Flying from Juneau. The plane was a small 4 seater which fit our group and our pilot, Jad. After arriving at the Gustavus airport, we took the Glacier Bay Lodge van to the lodge in Bartlett Cove. We walked to the NPS visitor center and attended the 6pm NPS information session. After the information session we got permits for backcountry camping. That night we stayed at the Lodge.
The next morning we attended the 9am kayak orientation with Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks. They brought us the kayaks and rain gear, and gave us a walk-through on how to use everything. They also took a look at our map with us and made suggestions for our route. This was very helpful because we ended up changing our route in a few places based on their recommendations.
We set off from Bartlett Cove after lunch and saw a family of black bears. We went through the cut in Bartlett Cove to go towards the Beardlee islands. The cove was very shallow and we only could get through at high tide. The current was very strong against us so it made for a very rough introduction to sea kayaking!
We camped that night at the northern end of the Beardslees.
We woke up early to take advantage of the tides on our way out of the Beardslees. We attempted to get through a small cut between islands that looked passable on our map. It turned out that it was definitely not passable, and we had to portage the kayaks a few times to get between tide pools. We also saw lots of starfish and sea cucumbers.
After we got through we crossed to the eastern side of the bay. On the way we saw several whales and sea lions. That night we had a campfire and hot cocoa.
Early in the morning a few moose walked down to the water by our camp. We headed out early again to take advantage of the tides.
We made the biggest crossing of the trip (3.25 miles) and crossed over to Sebree island. On the way across a sea lion followed us very closely. This was a little alarming because of how enormous it was.
When we got across we saw two grizzly bears walking along the beach. We had to wait until they left before we filled up on water at the river.
We continued up the coast into the west arm of the bay and camped just short of Gloomy Knob.
We set off on day 5 with heavy rain. We crossed over to the west side of the west arm in heavy chop and wind. The going was slow, so when we got across we took a long break on the shore.
We found a camp spot near Scidmore cut and took a dip in the water. It turned out the water was freezing.
From Skidmore cut we paddled up to Reid Glacier. On the way we ran into a few whales that were very close to our kayaks.
The katabatic winds off of the glacier were very strong and it was difficult to paddle towards the face. We ended up stashing the kayaks along the shore and hiking up to the glaicer. On the hike we were attacked by many seagulls, who thought that we had come a bit to close to their territory.
We had originally wanted to camp in the Reid inlet, but because of the winds we headed back to a river towards Skidmore cut.
We left our camp setup, and did a day paddle up to Lamplugh Glacier. Lamplugh Glacier was really impressive and we were able to walk right up to it (but not too close, for safety). We were able to hike up a hill to the side of the glacier to get a great view. After paddling around in front of the glacier we paddled back to camp.
Since our trip was nearing it’s end, we had to make our way back to Sundew Cove to be picked up by the day boat. We paddled back to Scidmore Cut to camp. A few whales swam very near to shore at our campsite. Another dip in the water hit the spot!
We had the option to portage our kayaks across Skidmore Cut as a shortcut to Sundew Cove, but we decided against it. The wind and tides were in our favor so we paddled around. Towards Sundew cove we had to do a very short portage to get to our campsite for the night.
No paddling on day 10 because we had already made it to within a short paddle of Sundew Cove. We took a short day hike around the island we had camped on and we ran into a Grizzly. The Grizzly came out of the woods to take a look at us, but then wandered off.
We had a short paddle to Sundew Cove in the morning where we met a few other kayakers who were also waiting for the day boat. We also met a backpacker who didn’t have a kayak, and spent his time backpacking through the backcountry. We took advantage of the fresh food on the day boat and the view as we returned to Bartlett Cove. After returning the kayaks we had dinner at the lodge.
Before we had to depart, we went on a hike around one of the hiking trails in Bartlett Cove where we ran into a porcupine. We also took a look at the exhibits in the lodge about the wildlife and Native Americans. We took the lodge bus back to the airport and flew back to Juneau.
Since this was my first trip kayak touring, it was a definitely a learning experience. Some things that went differently than we had expected:
- The wildlife was way more impressive than I had expected! We saw whales/seals/eagles pretty much every day. It was amazing!
- Getting around Bartlett Cove and Gustavus was easier than we expected. The lodge was also much nicer than we expected. The people working there were very helpful with everything and they made the trip go smoothly.
- The distance we covered daily in the Kayaks was mainly determined by the direction and strength of the wind. The distance was also limited more by how long we could manage to sit in the kayak seat, and less by how physically fit we were.
- Setting up and breaking camp takes a bit more effort than with backpacking.
Things I would recommend for anyone attempting a kayaking trip like this in Glacier Bay:
- Be flexible with your itinerary! It may be tempting to try to plan out every little detail before hand, but a flexible itinerary will give you more options.
- Bring a mosquito head net, the bugs can be very nasty in certain spots.
- Bring paddling gloves, I tried to paddle for an hour without gloves and got blisters all over.
- The wind can often be more of a factor in determining pace than the tides. In the morning there was less wind than in the afternoon, so often we would try to make most of our progress in the morning, regardless of which way the tides were going.
- The map can be wrong. We found a few spots that looked passable on the map, but we ended up having to portage our kayaks to get through.