Located 50 miles west of Juneau, this 24 million-acre National Park contains some of the most impressive tidewater glaciers worldwide. It also has experienced four major retreats and at least four massive glacial advances; it also serves as an outdoor research lab. Glacier Bay has various plants ranging from lush temperate rain forests to recovered glacial retreat barren terrain. The Glacier Bay rich plant succession story is like no other.
In 1974, a survey crew described the now-called Glacier Bay as a 5-mile indent in a glacier that stretched “as far as the eye could distinguish.” In 1879, when Joun Muir, a scientist-naturalist, visited the area, he found the ice had retreated over 30 miles, creating an actual bay.
Glacier Bay National Park was named a national monument in 1925. And it officially became a National Park and was Preserved in 1980. Only six years later, Glacier Bay became a biosphere reserve and was named a world heritage site in 1992.
The Park and preserve have more than 50 named glaciers and two arms: East and West. Most of the Park’s visitors arrive on a cruise ship, and most of the vessels head up West Arm towards the most impressive glacier, the Margerie Glacier. This glacier advances 12-14 feet a day and calves frequently. If you’d like to explore the area more intimately than a large ship, consider taking a small-ship cruise tour.
You’ll often find seals hanging out on ice chunks at Glacier Bay, and if you’re in the Margerie Glacier, you’ll also be able you enjoy the Grand Pacific Glacier. This glacier used to fill the entire bay, reaching the Icy Strait in the late 1700s. It is now covered in the rocky moraine. Some other well-known glaciers available at the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve include Reid, Johns Hopkins, Lamplughm, and Carroll.
Glacier Bay is home to brown and black bears, mountain goats, whales, seals, moose, eagles, and over 200 bird species. Together with the Tatshenshini-Alsek Park in British Columbia and the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, this National Park and Preserve is a World Heritage Site and the most significant international protected area in the world.