Southeast Alaska has the greatest tidal differences I’ve ever paddled in, and the combination of traveling by ship and kayaking in Glacier Bay National Park is one of the best ways to experience this natural gem. I usually feel happiest when following the pull of the sun in the Alaskan summer, rising with it and then crawling into my sleeping bag as it starts to approach dusk. Occasionally, I return to my tent in the dark after gathering with companions around a cozy campfire. These campfires are even more special since they are fueled by driftwood I had strapped to the top of my kayak for the journey.
When you enter the mouth of Glacier Bay National Park at Bartlett Cove, you are met with amazing views of the Fairweather Range, with mountains topping out at 15,325 feet. Visitors often see the humpback whales that are attracted to the rich food sources in these waters. From a kayak, it’s incredible to watch these giant whales gulp down krill, herring and other schooling fish using a method of cooperative feeding called bubble netting, in which the whales blow a net of bubbles and then propel themselves out of the water with their mouths wide open to collect their food. The trickiest part of enjoying this spectacular sight is not to end up in the middle of the feeding frenzy while in a kayak!
Continuing up the east or west arm of Glacier Bay offers even more wildlife sightings, such as black and brown bears searching for tasty morsels, including berries, grasses, fish and more, in the inter-tidal zones. Mountain goats often traverse the steep cliffs above, enjoying the short summer growth of vegetation on these high perches, far out of reach of any predators. Lucky travelers might even spot some of the wolves that they’re likely to hear howling in the distance.
Sea otters are another favorite of mine. Otters often float together by forming group rafts or by wrapping themselves up in buoyant kelp so that they don’t float away from each other while they sleep in the water. Nothing beats the sight of a baby otter curled up on its mother’s chest! Alaska’s otter population is bouncing back after the creatures were hunted nearly to extinction for their valuable pelts.
Out on the water, sea birds dive bomb our kayaks from time to time and hop along the beaches in search of insects. Trees become smaller and more scarce the further your travel up the bay. Glacier Bay National Park offers an amazing opportunity to witness glaciation in progress, and each summer it looks different. Areas once covered with ice are exposed and the moraines extend, providing great areas for hiking and opportunities to climb high and enjoy sweeping views of one of Alaska’s premier national parks.
This guest post was written by Natural Habitat Adventures Expedition Leader Andrea Reynolds.