Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay, Alaska © National Park Service
When the early explorers and pioneers of the 18th century sailed this way, Glacier Bay was hidden under a huge sheet of solid ice, more than 4,000ft (1,219m) thick and up to 20 miles (32km) wide. Today the branching 65-mile (105km) long fjord is the work of the fastest-receding glacier on earth; the melting ice of the Grand Pacific Glacier opening up a spectacular carved terrain of steep rock walls lining deep-water fjords. Sliding out of the mountains are 16 active glaciers that fill the sea with different shaped icebergs, creating the icy blue landscape that is world-renowned. At the head of the fjord is the massive ice wall of the Grand Pacific Glacier, slowly melting and sculpting the still-unfinished land as it backs away from the sea, a natural work of art in progress. An added attraction is the variety of aquatic life including humpback whales, sea otters, seals and porpoises, while bears, moose, mountain goats and many species of birds inhabit the land. This rugged landscape can only be accessed by boat or small plane as most of the park is made up of water. Because opportunities to see this huge wilderness are limited, facilities can be crowded, especially on the tour boats; activities are also expensive, and wildlife sightings cannot be guaranteed. Gustavus is the small settlement that services the park, but the park headquarters is at Bartlett Cove from where boats can be arranged or alternate means provided to enjoy the park experience. Kayaking or camping in the backcountry, ranger-led programs or walks, hiking and fishing are all available.