Flying into Glacier Bay Nat'l Park to kayak

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of March 5-11, 1998
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Flying into Glacier Bay Nat'l Park to kayak
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Flying into Glacier Bay Nat'l Park to kayak
Question: We are planning a trip to Alaska, three to four days of which will be spent kayaking Glacier Bay. The drop-off points are a bit of a distance from the Tidewater glaciers, let alone the active ones.

Is it possible to fly in to one of the arms on a pontoon plane, from say Juneau, with a folding kayak, or are there restrictions against this because it's a national park? Also, I have only had experiences with rigid kayaks. What differences can I expect from a folding kayak?

Glenn Anderson
Oxnard, CA

Adventure Adviser: Glacier Bay National Park wouldn't get much traffic if it didn't allow charter planes. With the exception of one ferry-boat service, float planes are the only option.

If you're flying into Juneau from the Lower 48, it's probably most economical to take a charter flight from Juneau directly into the park. If there are only two of you, you, your gear, and your kayaks should be able to fit no problem into a 206 Cessna. Call the following Juneau-based charter services to shop around for the best price: LAB (907-789-9181), Air Excursions (907-789-5591), Ward Air (907-789-9150), and Wings of Alaska (907-789-0790).

If you do fly directly into the park from Juneau, be sure to stop at Centennial Hall, where you can fill out a permit, purchase nautical charts, and pick up your mandatory bear-proof food canisters. A word of warning: Bears are quite a problem on the upper west arm of Glacier Bay, particularly in Tarr Inlet. Campers aren't allowed there for the time being.

If you'd like a more thorough introduction to paddling in the park, you could take the AukNu ferry ($45 one-way, it leaves Juneau every morning at 11 a.m.) to Gustavus, where Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks (907-697-2257) offers a two-hour orientation on paddling, technique, wind, and weather. Then they'll load your kayaks into a ferry and drop you off at one of three designated park service drop-off points ($90.25 one-way, $180 round-trip).

Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks also rents kayaks, sells maps, provides bear canisters, and permits. If this is your first time to the park, you may also want to consider picking up a copy of Glacier Bay National Park: A Backcountry Guide to the Glaciers and Beyond (The Mountaineers Books, $10.95).

As far as folding kayaks are concerned, the word from the locals who regularly paddle Glacier is that folding kayaks are the way to go. They may be a bit slower than fiberglass, but they are so much easier to transport and they'll make your trip much more seamless and worry free. If you don't own your own folding kayaks, Folding Kayak Adventures rents them ($20 to $45 per day). Call 800-586-9318.

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