Alaskan Cruise: Glacier Bay National Park

First Glacier we saw

On Saturday morning we sailed into Glacier Bay National Park. The park can only be accessed by boat or plane. The number of boats visiting each area is restricted and must have a permit. The park rangers who live there actually live a little outside of the park. The glaciers that you get to see at any given time depends on weather and wildlife activity. There are areas that are closed due to bears, nesting birds, seals, and humpback whales. The boat sails over 55 miles into the park before you see the first glacier.

The boat picked up the park rangers on the way into the bay. We were having breakfast when that occurred. They told us over the intercom that we would be arriving at the first glacier around 9am. Jef and I bundled up and found a spot on the aft deck so that we could run from one side to the other. We were first looking for wildlife. The park rangers kept us informed both over the intercom and on a tv channel if you were in your room. The first animal spotted were two mountain goats. They were white specks on the mountain unless you had binoculars or a good camera.

Beautiful clear day

The wildlife was a bonus to the views. My first pictures are at the beginning of our journey toward the glaciers. You can see some smaller glaciers on the way in both on the top and bottom of mountains. We were excited to see two brown bears fishing. They were very far away, but Jef was able to get pictures with his camera and extra zoom.

As we sailed further into the park, you could feel the chill in the air change and the smell of fresh clean air was even stronger than before. The color of the water changed to a lovely greenish shade and there were small chunks of ice in the water that got bigger as we sailed.

Margerie Glacier in the distance
Great color here with some ice chunks

The first glacier we got close to was the Margerie Glacier. It is located at the very end of the inlet and lies right next to the U.S./Canadian border. It is a tidewater glacier, which means it interacts with ocean water. It is 21 miles long and as high as 9000 feet. It is considered to be a fairly fast moving glacier because of the steepness of the mountain and the amount of snowfall. It moves about 6 feet a day. The end of the glacier calves (falls off into icebergs) into the ocean. The neat thing about glaciers is that they are constantly changing due to the environment. My husband noted that if my nephews take this trip when they are our age it will look like a completely different glacier.

Margerie Glacer
Margerie up close
Ice chunks from the glacier
Seals from afar

After Margerie, we cruised back down the Tarr Inlet and over to John Hopkins inlet. The park rangers made a comment every time they spoke on the intercom about how beautiful the weather was for us. They couldn’t believe what a nice day we had to cruise around Glacier Bay. We were very lucky. We spent the entire morning gawking at the mountains, the water, and looking for wildlife. We saw an eagle on an ice chunk at one point.

Possibly the Lamplugh Glacier
Can you spot the waterfall?
Another glacier high in the mountain melting

John Hopkins Glacier was named after the university by explorer Harry Reid. This glacier is only open to viewing in September due to harbor seals encampment during pregnancy and birth in this area. It is at the end of the John Hopkins Inlet in the furthest northwestern corner of Glacier Bay. The glacier itself is 1 mile wide reaches 250 feet above the water line and about 200 feet below the water line. It runs about 12 miles long from the Fairweather Mountain Peaks. The black bands come from rocks scraped off the mountainside.

John Hopkins Glacier

The park rangers have not been out to this glacier because of weather conditions and COVID issues since 2019. We were one of the first boats allowed to view the glacier in three years. We viewed it from our balcony. It was amazing because you could hear the cracking and shifting of the ice. We did not see it calve because the ship turned to the other side when it did so. I heard the ice fall though. It was quite loud.

I almost captured the whole mile length
Zoomed in
Looks like a river of ice

After the ship shifted to the other side, we found ourselves thrilled to spot all the seals on the icebergs. There were so many of them! I had trouble counting them all. Jef got some great shots with his camera and I watched them through the binoculars.

Harbor seals hanging out
Could they be cuter?

The park rangers gave the passengers extra time to view the glacier before they gave a talk in the theater. We caught the tail end of the presentation. They also had a special meet up with the children on board. We spent more time outside as we cruised back through Glacier Bay and eventually dropped off the park rangers. It was an amazing day with incredible views and perfect weather.

Margerie was cold
John Hopkins was warmer because we were barely moving

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