Glacier Bay National Park is known for its natural beauty, abundant wildlife, and remote location. It should be no surprise that it sits on the top of many bucket lists (including my own!). The bad news: Figuring out how to get to Glacier Bay National Park takes some planning. The good news: Your effort will be greatly rewarded. Glacier Bay is a bucket-list destination for a reason.
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How to get to Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park is only accessible by air and sea. The Alaska Ferry system has a stop in Gustavus, which can be accessed from either Juneau or Haines. Gustavus is literally a speck of civilization located just outside of the park. You can bring your car here (via ferry) and drive to Glacier Bay Lodge, which is the jumping-off point for all of the park. However, unless you have a large budget of both time and money, I’d recommend accessing the park by air.
Gustavus is the closest airport and all of its flights run through Juneau. Since I used Anchorage as my home base, I booked a round trip ticket from Anchorage to Juneau via Alaska Airlines. I left on a Friday evening and returned 2 days later, on Sunday evening. For Friday night, I booked a room at Extended Stay America, which is just across the street from the airport. The town is so small and easy to navigate that I easily jaywalked from the airport to the hotel. The flipside of a town this size is that acquiring a late-night dinner was more difficult than expected. Luckily, Papa John’s delivers until 11 pm.
There are 2 flight services from Juneau to Gustavus – Alaska Airlines and Alaska Seaplanes. Alaska Seaplanes operates much smaller aircraft (approx 10-12 passengers), meaning that the check-in and boarding process is extremely fast. If you can stomach a smaller plane (and snag tickets for your full group), I’d highly recommend using Alaska Seaplanes, as the prices are comparable. I booked the 8 am flight on Saturday morning and the 4 pm flight back into Juneau on Sunday afternoon. I had plenty of time to make my 9 pm flight into Anchorage that same evening.
Where to stay
When considering lodging for your trip to Glacier Bay, you’ll see 2 main options: staying in a private hotel or cabin in Gustavus or staying at the Glacier Bay Lodge, located in the park. Staying in Gustavus will certainly save some money, however, the downside is that you’ll be accountable for your own transportation. Cabs in the area are notoriously unreliable and only accept cash payments. Also, they can be hit or miss on whether not they provide change. Additionally, cell service is spotty at the airport and there will likely not be a cab line greeting you on arrival.
I opted to stay at the more expensive, Glacier Bay Lodge. In turn, I received a free shuttle to and from the airport and enjoyed the onsite, full-service restaurant for breakfast and dinner. Glacier Bay Lodge is also the jumping-off point for the must-do boat tour, as well as the most well-known hiking trails. While the rooms lack wifi and TVs, I can attest to stunning views, as well as, plenty of common space in the main lodge, which has moderately reliable wifi access.
While planning a trip to Glacier Bay can feel like a chore, I assure you that the trip is well worth the effort. The park is home to some of the most well-protected nature that I’ve ever experienced. And the remote nature of the entire experience stirred up some deep feelings of contentment that I did not expect.
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