Glacier Bay National Park: Boat Tour

The highlight of our visit to Glacier Bay National Park was a boat tour.  The full day tour leaves Bartlett Cove and travels 130 miles through Glacier Bay.  A National Park Ranger is   onboard to help spot wildlife, provide commentary and programs to help passengers understand and appreciate Glacier Bay National Park.

boatpic
Picture of tour boat. Picture by NPS.

We woke up early and ate our breakfast at the lodge before going down to the dock for the boat tour. They’ll start checking people into the tour around 7:00-7:15 am. Two suggestions. Breakfast at the lodge opens at 6am. We got there a little early and were first in line and soon others began lining up behind us. Service at the restaurant is great but slow. Many people opt for the breakfast buffet, so they can eat quickly and leave. Since we were one of the first people seated, we opted to order a la carte and had enough time to eat our food before making our way down to the dock.

Once we boarded the boat, we found some nice window seats on the second level of the boat. My oldest ended up spending the entire boat ride on the top deck. The younger two split their time, spending time inside and out. The boat came with binoculars for people to use. Even with warm clothes, hats and gloves, the wind can make standing outside for longer periods of time uncomfortable. Luckily, with the window seats, we could enjoy the views from inside.

IMG_2902
View from inside the boat.

Because everyone is so excited about wildlife, our fellow passengers were very nice about letting others hover on their side of the boat when they saw something interesting.

The ranger on our boat, Cate, was amazing! She did a great job narrating and answering everyone’s questions, she kept the kids engaged. Also, if a fellow passenger spotted something, she would announce it on the loudspeaker so others could hear.

We were blessed with great weather during our boat tour.  As we passed by marble island, we saw sea lions, puffins, and sea otters. As the ranger was giving a talk on birds, we saw whales!

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Picture of sea lions as we passed Marble Island.

Later, we saw a wolf walking along the coast. This was especially exciting for us. Last year, we spent a bit of time looking for wolves in Yellowstone, but didn’t have any luck spotting one there. The skinny wolf walked down the coast for a long time, looking for food.

wolf
Wolf walking along coast. Ranger said he should fatten up once salmon come in.

The tour boat also serves chowder mid-morning, then lunch. Around lunchtime, the boat reaches tidewater glaciers. We saw eagles sitting on some ice floating in the water nearby.

eagle picture
We passed by a number of eagles.

From the boat you can catch a glimpse of Grand Pacific Glacier. The boat took us Margerie Glacier. There we floated for a while. The glacier was magnificent. It is one of the few glaciers in the park that isn’t considered receding, but that might be different now. On the side, you can see where the glacier has darkened. One of our fellow passengers had photos from 2015 trip and the change was obvious.

glacier picture

The boat also took us to see John Hopkins Glacier, Lamplugh Glacier and Reid Glacier. The ranger talked about the effects of climate change on the glaciers.

On the way back, some people took the opportunity to relax, but many folks stayed on the deck, still scouring the coast for wildlife. The kids participated in junior ranger program and got the junior ranger badges. The crew brought out cookies for the passengers to enjoy.

The boat is also used to drop off kayakers. On this particular day, it dropped off a father and son who we’re spending a few days kayaking and camping in the park.

We arrived back at the dock at 3pm. The seven hours had just flown by so quickly.

We walked the Tlingit trail, a short one way trail from the dock along the shoreline. We saw a porcupine walking along the forest by the beach.

porcupine

We also saw park displays including a traditional Tlingit canoe, a complete whale skeleton. We also visited the Huna Tribal House.

Houma house

Here, we attending a ranger program. The park ranger, who is also a member of Tlingit tribe, told us the story of the tribal house. It was fascinating and we left adding an appreciation of what the land meant to the tribes that called the area home as well as their resilience.

We had a 6pm dinner reservation (You’ll need to make reservations for dinner at the lodge; don’t forget since that’s the only restaurant in the park). With an hour to go until dinner, we hiked the Forest Trail. This short, easy trail takes you through the temperate forest. The hike is easy but the views are spectacular! We even saw a moose by the pond!

moose
Moose sighting by the pond.

After the hike, we enjoyed dinner at the lodge. Afterwards, we looked around at the park visitor center, which is upstairs in the lodge and attended the ranger talk. The ranger spoke about home and how she found her home at Glacier Bay National Park and the animals and plants that also make their home there.

Writing about it now, I’m amazed how much we did in one day. It was an amazing day!

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