Gustavus : Gateway to Glacier Bay National Park
Gustavus, a small Alaskan city with fewer than 500 permanent residents, surrounded on three sides by Glacier Bay National Park, is considered the gateway to the National Park. It is located 48 air miles west of Alaska’s State Capitol, Juneau and the only way to reach Gustavus is by boat or plane. The city is surrounded by breathtaking scenery and extensive wilderness, with surrounding mountains making a wonderful backdrop. Gustavus is split by the Salmon River, across which there is a bridge for the paved road running out to Glacier Bay National Park.
Glacier Bay National Park is part of one of the largest internationally protected Biosphere Reserves in the world and is recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site. The National Park and Preserve is open year-around, but services in winter are extremely limited. The main visitor season is from late-May through early-September with the peak being the month of July.
Once having been totally covered by glaciers, Gustavus only has a few hundred people in the winter, but it is always a happening place in the summer months. The lodges, bed and breakfasts, kayak rentals, whale watching boats and other tours are always very welcoming and open during the summer. Gustavians are known for their kind and warm heartedness; they even wave to every single person while passing on the road.
How to reach
There are two major ways to travel to Gustavus: airplanes and boats. There are several small bush planes from different companies flying daily, the jet from Alaska Airlines that comes for two months in the summer once a day, and the ferry from the Alaska Marine Highway that comes several times a week. The ferry ride provides excellent views of great scenery and wildlife to spot, and you can even bring your car, dog, RV, etc.
Food and accommodation
Of the few lodges Gustavus boasts of, most recommend are Blue Heron Bed and Breakfast, Gustavus Inn, the Annie May Lodge, and the regular Glacier Bay Lodge (in that order). Blue Heron is very clean, serves great breakfast and its location is right in the middle of town. The owner will let you use the bikes and she will even pick and drop you off at the airport or ferry. The Gustavus Inn has a lot of history to it and their meals are yummy too. The other lodges and places to stay are sometimes a hit or miss each year; it just depends on the managers that season. Camping is always fun and there are great camp sites in the national park.
It is recommended to carry your own food while visiting Gustavus for any amount of time, since you may not get what you are looking for. Even though there are small stores, but the prices are going to be higher and they may not have everything you need. There is a liquor store opened just a few years ago that has basic selection of drinks. There are three places to buy hot food. There is deli in the health food store, there is a full service menu (including alcohol) at the restaurant in the national park, and a little café called the “Clove Hitch” at four corners, the town’s center.
Favorite attractions for tourists include going up-bay to see the glaciers, whale watching, charter fishing, kayaking, and camping. These of course are fun for locals too, but there are several “secret” spots too. There is a war plane that crashed in the woods you can hike to; locals know about it so just ask anyone for direction. There are always berries to pick in Glacier Bay, and the beach is another good place to check out. Even though vast majority of Glacier Bay National Park has neither roads nor trails, one can still find many outdoor activities. From group activities like guided trips and cruise ships to individual experience in camping, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, rafting, and mountaineering, one can find suitable activity for all age group and ability. You can bring your own boat to Glacier Bay
There is wildlife abound in Gustavus and Glacier Bay National Park, especially since the area is still relatively untouched by humans. Whichever way you decide to visit Glacier Bay National Park, you are certain to always be on a new daily adventure.