Getting to Glacier Bay National Park

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June 25th 2015
Published: August 17th 2015
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On the ferry ride to Gustavus (Gus-TAY-vus), we went to the Observation seating area and with some foreboding, found the only remaining spot was to the left, near a large and loud family, next to the children’s play area. Across from us in the center were two men among many others, the one closest we soon learned was Steve, a very gregarious retired Yellowstone Ranger. He and his very amiable brother-in-law Dan struck up a conversation with us and become extremely excited when Terry told them he was the former longtime chef at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Steve, it turns out, is a fanatical golfer, with a nearly completed goal of playing the best public course in each state. Playing at a private course like Shinnecock was the next level of dreams. A very lengthy and animated discussion ensued and at one point, we looked around and found we were nearly alone. Apparently nothing clears a room like a robust exchange about golf!

Visiting Glacier Bay is probably the highlight of any luxury Inside Passage Alaskan cruise. The ship sails up to the far inlets, spends several hours snuggling fairly close to the John Hopkins or Margerie Glaciers, hoping to see large chunks of icy wall collapse with a large crack (calving) and then continues on to the next port in the itinerary.

Hundreds of miles away to the South is the Glacier Bay Lodge, the headquarters of the Glacier Bay National Park, which is 5,000 square miles in size. The lodge is 10 miles from the modest port of Gustavus which only recently started receiving ferry service. We stayed at the campground next to the lodge, which is free as is the entry to the park. The Lodge also provides free shuttle service from the ferry which we didn’t know on arrival but took advantage of when we left several days later.

We were at the mercy of another $30+ taxi ride due to our lack of research, and happily picked up by a local woman in her van, which she called the Strawberry taxi. She stopped at a local deli to see if we wanted to grab something to eat. I looked around quickly but returned empty handed, tired from the sleepover at the Juneau terminal and not that hungry. The stop reminded me of the perfume and rug shops we were subjected to by the tour guide on way to the Giza pyramids.

As we pulled up to the campground parking lot and ranger registration building, our driver said the public bathrooms at the back of the building were the “Taj Mahal” of such facilities in town. Indeed, they were nice, clean heated rooms with flush toilets, soap and warm water versus the pit toilets inside the camp. For the rest of our stay, we called a stop here a visit to the Taj Mahal. As she pulled away, she handed us two little strawberry candies which I put in my pocket.

During the next step, registration, the ranger directed us to put our belongings in a wheelbarrow and haul them to the campground, pick a spot and return to complete the registration. It was a half mile wide path near the bay to where the campsites started and they were lined up almost in a row just inside the path along the bay for another half mile.

The sites were nestled in a lovely deep yellow green mossy forest. The food cache building was elevated and set well away on its own little spongy path, although with the unsettling evidence of a recent bear visit on the ground at the turn.

We set up our tent, went to the Lodge to get something to eat as there were no good cooking and cleaning areas in the campground, and returned for an amazing sound – the exhalation of breath by humpback whales. There was a path through the rocky shoreline out to an extension of land where we were able to see the spouts and occasional splashes and flukes. We enjoyed this for a long time then returned to our tent.

Throughout the night, we heard the marvelous rhythmic whooshing sound amplified so loudly it seemed they were right outside our tent. We listened with wonder until we feel asleep. I woke the next morning with delight at our surroundings, only briefly alarmed to discover I had forgotten to put all bear enticements in the cache when I discovered the strawberry candy in my pocket.


27th September 2015

How I Know I'm Not Cut Out for Camping
Hi Becky! You used a phrase that instantly made me laugh and cement how I am not an 'outside/nature' girl! You referred to the facilities at the Taj Mahal and said they had "flush toilets". Now you see, to me, if a toilet doesn't flush, it's something else, but it's not a toilet!! Hey, be careful with those bears and your supplies! :)
7th October 2015

You learn in camping there are MANY types of toilets, from flush to most commonly a "vault" or pit to a camping toilet shovel! We're staying in established campgrounds so we don't need that last little item.

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