|On this exciting adventure, we visit Glacier Bay National Park, located in southeastern Alaska, for four days during the height of summer to immerse ourselves in an awesome ice age wilderness; spend three days in Juneau, a historic gold mining town located amid the tall Coastal Mountains, and venture out to see the nearby Mendenhall Glacier, a sinuous ribbon of ice extending 12 miles down the valley, fly to Admiralty Island to observe and photograph grizzly bears in a rainforest wilderness, and then relax and explore the city. During our visit we will enjoy the long days of summer which have 18 hours of sunlight.
Glacier Bay National Park is characterized by the 15,320 foot tall Mount Fairweather; a massive ice field amid the mountains which spawns over 100 alpine glaciers and 16 of which carve their way down the mountains to plunge into the Bay; and abundant wildlife including grizzly bears, lynx, wolves, moose, mountain goats, bald eagles, humpback whales, orcas (killer whales), sea otters, porpoises, and harbor seals, often seen resting on floating icebergs. We cruise the Bay to watch large chunks of ice calve from the 250 foot high edge of the glacier’s wall and thunderously splash into the ocean, hike with Park Rangers to explore interesting natural areas and observe wildlife, fly over the Park for a spectacular awe-inspiring close-up view of the mountains, glaciers, fjords, lakes and Bay, and cruise out into the Bay to look for giant humpback whales in their summer feeding grounds and observe the many other species of marine wildlife.
While in Juneau we hike to the nearby Mendenhall Glacier with our guide and then hike onto the glacier to explore ice caves and see small streams, crevasses and other unique glacial ice formations. We fly to the nearby Admiralty Island, home to the largest concentration of grizzly bears anywhere in the world. With our guides we hike to Pack Creek for the incredible experience of watching and photographing these majestic bears in a temperate rainforest wilderness. We also have time to explore the interesting waterfront, historic areas, and museums of Juneau, a town with a colorful past.
Day 1. Saturday. June 29. Arrive Glacier Bay National Park
When we arrive at Glacier Bay National Park we will be transferred from the airport at Gustavus to the Glacier Bay Lodge, a wonderfully rustic wilderness lodge constructed of massive timbers and located on the Bartlett Cove. The Lodge, surrounded by spruce trees in a quiet rainforest, has magnificent views to the Cove and to the massive snow-capped Mount Fairweather. The comfortable Lodge has a cheerful lobby with a massive stone fireplace and the rustic and cozy guest rooms have a private bath. The Lodge dining room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers fresh Alaskan seafood like halibut, salmon and much more. Following dinner we enjoy the fireplace and meet guests from around the world.
The National Park Service shows several films daily in the Visitor Center auditorium, located on the second floor of the Lodge and at 8 PM each evening the Park Ranger presents a program that explores different aspects of Glacier Bay.
Day 2. Sunday. June 30. Glacier and Wildlife Viewing
Early in the morning we board the Baranof Wind, a comfortable, heated, high speed catamaran at the dock of the Glacier Bay Lodge for an intimate day of glacier viewing on Glacier Bay. The eight hour tour is narrated by a National Park Ranger, who explains the glacial ecology of the Park. We will cruise up the West Arm of the Bay to see the face of the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers, remnants of the Little Ice Age which began 4,000 years ago. The 21 mile long Margerie Glacier has a terminal wall of ice 250 feet high and one mile wide, and the 35 mile long Grand Pacific Glacier, which is darkened with debris, is two miles wide and extends 100 feet above the surface of the water. Our boat will approach the edge of the glaciers so that we can watch chunks of ancient ice break (calve) from the wall of the glaciers and splash into the icy water. Chunks of ice the size of a 10 story building can often be observed breaking from the glaciers and gliding into the Bay to create icebergs. We will see floating icebergs of various shades of blue and of many shapes and sizes, and coastal wildlife including whales, Stellar sea lions, rare birds, seals, eagles, and much more. Lunch and beverages are included in the tour.
After the tour we return to the warmth of the Lodge, enjoy a great dinner, have the option to attend the Ranger program in the auditorium, and then have another good night’s rest in the North Woods.
Day 3. Monday. July 1. Whale Watching and Hike with Park Ranger
After breakfast, we board the 23 passenger TAZ, a 45 foot long high speed vessel at the Gustavus City dock for a morning whale-watching tour in Icy Strait near the mouth of Glacier Bay. We head for Point Adolphus, a nutrient rich feeding ground for several types of whales, including humpbacks, which feed here before migrating to Hawaii for the winter. We may also observe orcas, minke whales, and a variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, Stellar sea lions, sea otters, Dall porpoises, harbor porpoises, bald eagles, puffins, Arctic terns, phalaropes, blue herons, and glaucous-wing gulls.
The TAZ is ideal for wildlife viewing. It is extremely stable, with large observation windows which allow for great viewing from both inside or outside on the deck. In addition, the unique hydrophone system allows us to hear the underwater calls of the whales. The tour includes the use of binoculars, and snacks and an assortment of hot beverages are provided.
After the tour we head back to the Lodge, have lunch and get ready for an afternoon guided hike on the Forest Loop Trail. This 1.5 hour hike which departs from the Lodge is led by Park Ranger who informs us of the ecology of the area and identifies the many species of wildlife. The trail winds through a pond-studded spruce/hemlock forest alive with songbirds, and then descends to the beach where we see waterfowl and shorebirds. The wildflowers in the forest and meadows will be at their peak during our July visit. We spend another night at the Lodge and have the opportunity to attend the Ranger program in the auditorium or mingle with other guests around the fireplace.
Day 4. Tuesday. July 2. Hike & Glacier Flightseeing
At 9 in the morning we meet a Park Ranger in the lobby of the Glacier Bay Lodge and head out for a half day hike on the Bartlett River Trail. This five mile round trip trail meanders along an intertidal lagoon, through the forest, then emerges and ends at the Bartlett River estuary where ducks, geese and other water birds concentrate during migrations and molting. The Ranger will explain the ecology of the area and identify the many species of wildlife.
After lunch at the Lodge, we head to the nearby airport for a spectacular 75 minute flight over the Park to see the majestic mountains shrouded in the Brady Ice Field, alpine glaciers, and sinuous tidewater glaciers emanating from the ice field, fjords, bays, and alpine lakes. The Park has more than 100 alpine and valley glaciers that extend from the ice fields on Fairweather and Saint Elias Mountain Ranges. These mountain ranges, characterized by the 15,320 foot Mount Fairweather, have many peaks over 10,000 feet and 16 glaciers, referred to as tidewater glaciers, flow all the way from the massive ice field into the Bay. These tidewater glaciers, relics of the Little Ice Age 4,000 years ago, are receding rapidly. After the flightseeing tour, we take the short flight to Juneau via Alaskan Air and check into the Westmark Baranof Hotel. This centrally located art deco style hotel has two restaurants, a bar, a fitness center, cable TV and Wi-Fi. Juneau has no gay venues.
Day 5. Wednesday. July 3. Admiralty Island Bear Viewing
Today we have a once-in-a-lifetime bear viewing experience at Pack Creek on Admiralty Island located about 30 air miles southwest of Juneau. Admiralty Island, the most famous bear sanctuary in the world, has the highest concentration of brown (grizzly) bears in the world. On this wilderness island, bald eagles are abundant along the shoreline, the cries of the loons haunt the many lakes, and interesting waterfowl and shorebirds are abundant.
Our adventure begins with a 50 minute scenic flight in a float plane from Juneau to Admiralty Island. Once we land and make our way to the shore, we will be escorted by an expert local guide who will introduce us to the amazing wilderness of Pack Creek, share their knowledge of brown bears and other wildlife, and explain the fascinating natural history of the Island. This unique experience of observing one of the grand and majestic animals of the great Alaskan wilderness will create an unforgettable experience. After this wild adventure we return to Juneau and the Westmark Hotel.
Day 6. Thursday. July 4. Mendenhall Glacier Trek
The bluish-white Mendenhall Glacier, brilliant and glowing in the sunlight, is located in the Coastal Mountains high above the suburbs of Juneau. This glacier extends 12 miles down the Mendenhall Valley from its source, the Juneau Ice Field, to Mendenhall Lake. This glacier is a dynamic flowing force, grinding and scouring everything in its path as it carves its way down the mountain to the lake. It advances at an average rate of 2 feet per day to calve into the lake, however, the face of the glacier retreats 25 to 30 feet per year.
With our professional guide we hike through the landscape scoured by the glacier in times past and then onto the glacier to explore its many features. This 7 mile round trip hike has an elevation gain of 1,300 feet. The trip begins with a 3.5 mile trail hike through the rainforest and along Mendenhall Lake to the glacier. The first mile of the trail is well maintained and goes through forests with a few switchbacks, and the next 2.5 miles of the trail is on bedrock with rock scrambling in some steep sections. Our guides introduce us to the natural history of the glacier and the ecology of the area.
When we reach the glacier, we will be outfitted in trekking gear including crampons and ice axes. Our professional guides will provide training to ensure a safe and fun adventure on Mendenhall Glacier. We will hike on moderate glacial terrain overlooking Mendenhall Lake and have close-up views of ice caves, streams, crevasses and other unique glacial formations. After the hike we return to Juneau and have time to relax at our hotel or explore the town.
Day 7. Friday. July 5. Free Day in Juneau
Today is a free day to relax, explore Juneau’s many attractions or head out for another fantastic hike. Juneau is a picturesque town with a fascinating history and many interesting sites. The Juneau Waterfront is characterized by gold-rush theme restaurants, old-style taverns and saloons with clapboard balconies and Victorian-era windows. Gold, artifact and craft shops line the Waterfront and an old-style trolley runs up and down Franklin Street. The Juneau-Douglas City Museum documents the City’s rich cultural heritage. Juneau’s Last Chance Mining Museum and Historic Park feature mining cars, railroad lines and a train repair shed. The Mount Roberts Tramway extends from the waterfront at Juneau’s cruise terminal to the crest of the mountain and provides a grand view of the area. Interesting hikes include the 2-3 East Glacier Loop Trail near the Mendenhall Visitors Center for a second view of the Mendenhall Glacier, or the Perseverance Trail which follows the former road/trail taken by miners working the Silverbow Basin Gold Mine. We lodge at the Westmark.
Day 8. Saturday. July 6. Return to the Lower 48
We catch an early morning shuttle to the airport and return to the Lower 48.
LAND COST: $2,400 based on double room occupancy.
Single Supplement: $575
COST INCLUDES: Seven (7) nights lodging; all land, water and air transportation; airport-hotel and lodge-boat transfers; meals as noted in the itinerary by B, L and D.
COST DOES NOT INCLUDE: Personal expenses, meals on days excluded on the itinerary, drinks and alcoholic beverages, travel insurance, air fare to Alaska, and tips for guides.
The difficulty of this trip is rated as easy to moderate. We lodge in hotels and have two half and one full day of hiking on well-maintained trails, at low elevations. We also hike with crampons on our boots for about an hour on the Mendenhall Glacier accompanied by our glacier guide.
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