GLacier Bay Info

I’m starting to look at a trip to Alaska in 2010 or 2011. I’m thinking a small group 5-10 advanced paddlers, probably rent gear there, and take the tour boat in paddle back out, around a week paddling. I know the tides rule the travel and it will be wet.

Here’s some questions that come to mind, throw in other bit if you think they’ll help.

Any areas to definitely see or avoid?

I didn’t see much on the websites about campsites, are there improved sites or wilderness camping?

Do camp sites limit the group size either due to rules or physical size?

Any good or bad experience with an outfitter?



We were there a few years back.
If you have never been to Alaska you might want to do what we did to get all the apprehenshion out of your system, and that is to do your first trip with a outfitter.

If they are still in business the outfitter was Alaska Discovery, and at that time they were the only outfitter permitted to go into Glacier Bay.

Following two trips with them, (another to the ANWR in the Arctic) we did our own thing on a four month trip of a life time, and saw a paddled almost all the good places in AK.

Another option that you can do is to get your self, camping gear and kayaks ferried in on the sightseeing boat that leaves from the National Park, which gives you a lot more time in the good parts.

The camp sites are rustic.

Every so often some of them are off limits and closed due to too much bear activity. the NP sevice will alert you to which ones are closed.

I highly recommend camping on Chikargoff, (Sp) Island and paddling in Icy Straight if you want to have the awesome experience of paddling with the Humpback whales, but there again, you would need to get ferried to the Island.

The Beardsles are a great place to spot a stray wolf or two.

I probably still have my very long four month trip report around, and if you want e-mail me and I’ll attach a copy and send it to you.



Some thoughts
"Any areas to definitely see or avoid?"

The west arm is very beautiful and has lots of bears, usually brown. It also has the most ice. Be really careful about your tidal planning as when you get into the fjords on the flood you can find yourself getting socked in by ice pushing back to the head of the fjord. Stay well back from the calving area and when waves come, make sure bergy bits are not coming with them. The west arm has more cruise ships about 2 a day and they produce wakes, your campsite levels need to accomodate this. You can combine a west arm trip with a geike inlet trip by cutting down a pass near the east end of the west arm. You can also contract with the concessionaire for the park and get a kayak friendly drop off and pick up service in most of the major places.

The east arm is also wonderful. We just paddled up there from Bartlett cove on another trip. Be advised the tidal currents between the mouth of GB and the Beardslees are swift and you need to be able to handle these in a kayak. In fact, we picked the date of the trip to coincide with the first half of the trip moving up with the flood and the 2nd half moving back with the ebb in prime paddling hours. Along the east arm Muir inlet and the Beardslees we were never more than a few hours away from close Humpback sitings, including extended visits right from camp along deep water areas. More on this later.

“I didn’t see much on the websites about campsites, are there improved sites or wilderness camping?”

All wilderness camping and the best kind. Here is an issue you will have to contend with, regarding campsites. Look at your chart and get to know the places you’d like to camp at and try to find the narrowest band of the clay colored (intertidal zone) features. Usually that means a steeper beach as the thinnest bands harbor deeper water close to shore. This means you will not have long, long, long carries of gear and boats in an area with a 25 foot tidal range. The most recent chart publication is acceptable as older ones may not account for the land’s uprising since it is free of the ice. Your planning may reward you with close inshore visits of Humpback and other whales like it did us. Areas with wide intertidal zones may harbor some muck you don’t even want to think about trying to walk on.

“Do camp sites limit the group size either due to rules or physical size?”

Check the NPS website for GB and look at recent rules and or changes. As far as physical size we never felt constrained in all but one camp. Be careful with camps in the heads of lagoons, such as Geike, as there are lots of brownies that way. They go pretty much everywhere, but where fresh water is you can be assured they will be. In general, the Beardslees and the east arm tend to have the black bears while brown bears live in the west, all the way to the mouth. One more note on some of the lagoons and river mouths, they have a cement like glacial mud-silt that can get quite deep, be very careful about setting foot on it.

“Any good or bad experience with an outfitter?”

Only rented a boat from one once and no bad experience, really. If you hire a guide, they will usually give you greater insight about the place than you can on your own. You might simply want the freedom to explore so make your best guess. You might also want someone to cook for you and take care of logistics and so forth while you maximize exploration possibilities. Your call. We were not disappointed with the weather in June and July visits, but it’s Alaska and storms are often just around the corner. I don’t know what your experience level is with trips in places like this but the rewards can be great if you plan for and accept the risks that go along with them. There is a really cool book that has much more insight than I can give you called Adventure Kayaking: Glacier Bay by Don Skillman. Sea Kayaking in Southeast Alaska, by Jim Howard is another. Have fun.


And one other thing.
whatever you do don’t leave your kayak on the beach, even though you think you have dragged it way above the water line, while you climb up on some rocky overlook to see the view.

You’ll have an experience like I had when you look down and see it drifting away as one of those 18 or 20 foot tides comes in.

Luckily for me, “the bride” was down close enough to wade out in the very cold water and grab it before it disappeared forever.



Or you could ge lucky like we did
and have the wolves play with your gear(chew) and drag your kayak a few feet from where you left it.

Superb post to which I concur…

If I was smart I would have taken a few
more guided trips back when my paddling evolution began. I love the freedom of sea kayaking in great places like GB, however, guides can unlock some secrets for you and get you to look at things you ordinarily might not have picked up. I like to learn things on mt own, however, good guides have a certain camp-ology that is to be envied at a minimum. I’m pretty sure I would have shaved some time off my learning curve if I would have made a few guided trips to the crown jewels of the planet, but I’m happy things turned out well. You can tell by my post I’ve blundered into and camped in prime brownie habitat, not just the range, the house and commissary; sunk to my thighs in glacial mud; screwed up my camp locations and hauled gear hundreds of yards more than necessary; got things wet when the tide came up; Paddled blindly past some must see spots; and oh so many more self-imposed calamities. I got by fine, because you can’t really see all of GB in one typical sea kayak type vacation so ya gotta go back. I’ll do another trip in a few years there. It’s a special place.


Thanks guys!!!
Both of your trip reports are well written and sharpen the hunger even more. I know what you mean about not being able to see and absorb it all in one trip. We’ve been to the Apostle Islands twice and are already considering a return. Glacier bay is much much larger and it’s still only a (relatively) tiny portion of the panhandle of Alaska.

We all need a lot longer life and a LOT more money to pay these places their proper respect.



Bring warm clothes !

Glacier Bay is just the other side of this one.