Outside magazine, June 1996
Ever since John Muir visited in 1879 to ponder receding ice, Glacier Bay has had a firm grip on the American imagination. Though most see the breaching humpbacks and lichen-covered landscape from the deck of a tour boat, wistfully watching the nimble kayakers dart between bergs into the maw of a blue glacier, you don't need paddling experience to become one of the latter: Ninety percent of Glacier Bay kayakers arrive in Gustavus, the national park's gateway, as neophytes.
Outfitters. Alaska Discovery (800-586-1911) is the only company that guides multiday sea-kayaking outings in Glacier Bay. On its eight-day trip, you'll paddle the length of the bay's East Arm from Bartlett Cove to the head of Muir Inlet, with time to hike, comb the beaches, or just watch the abundant wildlife. Trips depart June 8 to August 18 and cost $1,890 per person, including equipment, meals, and a floatplane ride back to the put-in. If you're planning a land-based visit but would like to test the waters, sign up for Alaska Discovery's one-day guided Bartlett Cove paddle ($119 per person, including lunch and equipment).
Do it yourself. You don't need a permit to paddle the bay on your own, but for multiday trips you must check in at the park's Bartlett Cove office, where rangers will lend you the requisite bearproof food canisters, set you up with maps and charts, and warn you about area closures. Rent your boat at Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks (907-697-2257), in Gustavus, for $40-$50 per day. Spray skirts, life vests, paddles, rudder systems, and built-in flotation are included; camping equipment is not, so bring your own for overnights on beach flats and spongy meadows. On the evening before your trip, you'll also get a two-hour orientation on paddling technique, wind, weather, tides, and maps. Then you'll load your kayak onto The Spirit of Adventure, the tour boat that ferries kayakers out to three designated drop-off points ($88 one-way; $175 round-trip). The boat leaves at 7 a.m., so buy all maps, check in with the rangers, and get your stuff in order the night before. Allow at least seven days to paddle the East Arm.
How to get there. Alaska Airlines flies to Juneau daily and will book you through to Gustavus for an additional $60-$70 each way. If you take a ferry to Juneau, book a 25-minute flight to Gustavus on Haines Airways ($60; 907-789-2336).
Where to bunk. Wilderness camping is your only option along the bay itself, but in Bartlett Cove you can pitch your tent at the free walk-in campground or rent four walls and a comfy bed at Glacier Bay Lodge, the only such facility inside the national park (800-451-5952; doubles, $78 per person per night; dormitory lodging, $32). Outside the park, Gustavus Inn offers rooms for $130 per person per night, including all meals and airport transportation; call 800-649-5220.
GuideBooks and maps. Glacier Bay National Park: A Backcountry Guide to the Glaciers and Beyond, by Jim DuFresne (The Mountaineers Books, $10.95), is a valuable manual for both the first-time paddler and the serious naturalist. For nautical charts ($14), write to the Alaska Natural History Association, Box 140,
Gustavus, AK 99826. The Park Service also publishes a Glacier Bay handbook (No. 123; $6); call 907-697-2230.