Glacier Bay Exploration

See how the physical world shapes the biological with the succession of marine and terrestrial life flourishing in the wake of receding glaciers. The East Arm of Glacier Bay National Park, known for it's fjords teeming with wildlife, towering jagged mountain peaks, and stunning glaciers combine to create the paddling experience of a lifetime.

Trip Photos

  • Kayaking in the upper reaches of the West Arm of Glacier Bay Kayaking in the upper reaches of the West Arm of Glacier Bay
  • Paddling in the lower section of Glacier Bay with Mt. Fairweather Paddling in the lower section of Glacier Bay with Mt. Fairweather
  • Pausing in a remote cove for lunch Pausing in a remote cove for lunch
  • Family of bears feeding off of shellfish along the shoreline Family of bears feeding off of shellfish along the shoreline
  • Kayaking calm waters of Glacier Bay National Park Kayaking calm waters of Glacier Bay National Park
  • Early season paddling in Glacier Bay Early season paddling in Glacier Bay

Trip Notes

Location: Alaska/Yukon
Meeting Point: Gustavus, AK
Destination: Glacier Bay National Park
Duration: 5 days
Price: $2390 (+ tax, in USD)
Activity Type: Kayaking
Season: June, July, August
Guide to Guest Ratio: 1 to 6
Difficulty Level: 2 out of 5
Paperwork Required: Registration, Health Form, Risk Acknowledgment

Related Trips:

Trip Description

This Glacier Bay sea kayaking trip explores the remote East Arm of Glacier Bay National Park. Motorized boat access is limited in this rarely visited corner of the park making for an incredibly secluded Alaskan getaway.

John Muir came to Glacier Bay in 1879 and was so stunned by its epic beauty that immediately upon his return he began to secure wilderness protection for this spectacular region he called “unspeakably pure and sublime”. Glacier Bay National Park is now a part of the largest protected wilderness area in the world and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Glacier Bay’s fascinating geology, plentiful wildlife, and breathtaking scenery of soaring mountains and gorgeous glaciers are the setting for an unforgettable wilderness sea kayaking experience. On this trip you’ll enjoy an adventurous exploration of Glacier Bay National Park’s scenic East Arm, including the pristine wilderness of the Muir Inlet. You’ll start with a charter boat trip across the lower bay, then after a drop-off on a remote glacial beach. The next few days are spent paddling into the East Arm, kayaking and camping amidst awesome mountain scenery and majestic glaciers. Paddling the inlets and hiking along the immaculate beaches allow visitors to view the Earth’s most fundamental geologic processes first-hand. At the end of the trip, we’ll get on the ferry to make our way back to Gustavus after taking a cruise of the Glacier Bay’s West Arm.

GUSTAVUS: Gustavus, Alaska is the starting/finishing place for this trip. Gustavus is a small community located along Icy Strait in Southeast Alaska. This is the headquarters for the park service. Gustavus is easily accessed with several flights departing Juneau, Alaska daily. Ferry service is also available. We will spend the evening before and after our trip here.

GETTING TO THE EAST ARM: This trip is scheduled to use a Glacier Bay boat shuttle to take us from Gustavus to the to the entrance of the East Arm. We will head north and begin exploring the East Arm from there. The shuttle boat is a great experience in and of itself, offering great wildlife viewing potential on our way up to the drop off location.

KAYAKING: Paddling amongst icebergs under the majesty of the towering peaks of Glacier Bay is a unique and serene experience. Our guides are also experienced paddlers and can help teach paddling technique and skills to make your adventure the most enjoyable.

GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is located in southeast Alaska and includes some of the wildest and most spectacular fjords and glaciated terrain in the world. As a unique marine wilderness, Glacier Bay provides countless adventures and stunning views of glaciers, wildlife, and majestic maritime and mountain scenery.

OUR GUIDES: Alaska Mountain Guides & Climbing School Inc. instructors and guides are professionals. They have a wealth of experience from guiding throughout Alaska and the world and they genuinely enjoy sharing their knowledge. Their skill and positive attitudes help our guests to have the best possible experience during their trip. Your safety and enjoyment are their primary goals.

Trip Itinerary (in a printable PDF format)

Day 0: Meet in Gustavus for a pre-trip orientation. Lodging and meals on your own.

Day 1: Board the Glacier Bay Day Boat for a spectacular ride to the mouth of the East Arm of Glacier Bay National Park. The scenery changes dramatically as we leave the lush forests of Bartlett Cove behind and enter a land still under the influence of the Little Ice Age. We’ll unload gear, have a kayak lesson, and begin paddling into the remote reaches of the East Arm.

Days 2 – 4: We’ll explore the pristine upper fjords of Glacier Bay by kayak and on foot. Keep your camera ready for dramatic scenery of awe-inspiring 9,000-foot mountain peaks, ice-hewn fjords, extraordinary glaciers, and abounding wildlife. Experience the thunder, crackle, and pop of the McBride Glacier calving into the bay. Keep watch for the scores of marine and terrestrial species that call the Park home. A flexible itinerary allows for fabulous hikes and serene paddles. You may explore McBride, Riggs, and perhaps the Muir Glaciers; each with their own striking beauty and personality.

Day 5: Following a morning hike or paddle, we will re-board the day boat to take us back to Gustavus. Fly to Juneau and depart.

What wildlife will we see in Glacier Bay?
The wildlife encountered in Glacier Bay National Park varies somewhat between the East and the West Arms. The forested nature of the East Arm offers a wider variety of terrestrial and marine wildlife than the West Arm. Land mammals such as moose, both brown and black bear, mountain goats, and wolves are frequently spotted along shore. Numerous rare birds such as black oyster catchers, Arctic Terns, scoters, and Harlequin ducks are just a few of the species that call the East Arm home. Marine mammals such as humpback whales, Stellar sea lions, harbor seals, and both sea and river otters are frequently seen in the southern areas of the East Arm. While it is possible to see orca in any area of the park, humpbacks are far more common.The West Arm is known for its high concentration of brown bear and numerous herds of mountain goats. Black bears and moose that typically inhabit the southern and eastern shores of the bay are rarely seen in the West Arm, but not unheard of. The West Arm is largely free from marine mammals with the exception of humpbacks that frequent the Queen Inlet and the Russell Island area, and the high concentrations of harbor seals hauled out on icebergs. Spotting orca in the West Arm is rare, but may occasionally be seen feeding on the harbor seals from time to time. Similar birds inhabit both the East and the West Arms. Areas near tidewater glaciers such as the Margerie and John Hopkins Glaciers are excellent spots to see tufted puffins, black-legged kittiwakes, and the endangered kitzlitz and marbled murrelets.

What is the weather like in Glacier Bay? What are the best months to go?
Weather in Glacier Bay is similar to the rest of Southeast Alaska, often experiencing cool temperatures and frequent rain fall. May and June offer the least average rain fall of any months, with July and August precipitation steadily increasing up to the rather wet September and October. Some areas of the bay, such as the West Arm, are traditionally drier than other areas due to the rainshadow effect produced by the high mountain range (Fairweather) to the west. Day-time temps are in the 50’s more often than not. Paddling/camping near glaciers can be colder, possibly dipping into the low 40’s at night.

Will I be paddling in a tandem or solo kayak?
Tandem (double) kayaks are more stable and the preferred method of paddling for all of our guests. If you have extensive experience, and skilled with self-rescue techniques and comfort with paddling a solo kayak, we are happy to consider making this option available to you.

What are the paddling conditions like in Glacier Bay?
Most of the paddling we do takes place in well-sheltered arms and inlets. Lower sections of the bay can experience stronger tides and more wind than upper reaches of the park, and conditions may be variable. While winds may be encountered in any area of the bay, we use conservative judgment when paddling in such conditions. Glacier Bay is essentially an inland sea, and rarely encounters swell or surf conditions from wind found on more exposed coastlines.

What is the Camping like in Glacier Bay? Are there any facilities?
Glacier Bay National Park is a 3.3 million acre designated wilderness area, and offers no facilities or improvements outside of Bartlett Cove, the start and end of our trips. Campsites are often in the intertidal zone, on sand or small rocks and gravel. Glacial outwash plains offer flat tenting and good views up and down beaches. You will rarely camp in the forest or among trees in Glacier Bay. No improvements of any kind have been made, and disposing of waste happens in the intertidal zone (beaches) according to LNT practices and park service policy. Guides will choose the campsite based on conditions. You may find yourself camped on a vast beach with breathtaking vistas, or in a small protected cove. Most sites offer plenty of room to explore and flat, well-drained sites for tents.

What is a typical day like on a trip?
On an expedition, each night will end with a discussion of the next day plans. The route for the day will dictate your wake up time. The guides will greet you for drinks and breakfast, and you can begin to pack up your personal belongings. After breakfast, we will break camp, pack the kayaks, and depart for the day’s paddle. We may stop to check out certain places on shore, or float around and view wildlife or glaciers in one spot for a while. We will stop for lunch, and continue on to our next camp. Sometimes we may scout for camps, and keep paddling due to bear activity or site occupants.

How close do we get to glaciers?
Sometimes we may paddle to within a quarter mile of glaciers, exercising much caution at all times. More often than not we will stay 1/3 to 1/2 mile away from tidewater glaciers, but we may elect to paddle closer to non-tidewater glaciers. Glaciers such as the Riggs and Muir offer good opportunities for getting closer to ice in kayaks and on foot. Good hikes exist near these glaciers and the risk of calving ice producing waves in much less. The McBride Glacier actively calves into saltwater and can produce large surges and will be given a wide buffer. Getting trapped in floating ice is also a risk to be avoided by not approaching too close.

How do we access the east/west arms of Glacier Bay?
We will access the East Arm by paddling into the bay via Bartlett Cove. For the return trip, we will utilize the Glacier Bay Lodge Catamaran; a large high-speed sightseeing vessel that also provides drop off for kayakers in Glacier Bay. It is not a private charter, and kayakers will be outnumbered by sightseers. The tour provides lunch and hot drinks if you are on the boat when being served. Wildlife and glacier viewing from the boat is the #1 activity in Glacier Bay for park visitors and rounds out a kayak trip very nicely. It is also an opportunity to view the infamous tide-water glaciers of the West Arm.

How much paddling will we do each day?
The desires of the group largely control how much paddling is done. Our East Arm itinerary does cover some distance and is slightly more active than some of our other Glacier Bay trips. We will typically move camp every night paddling upwards of 10-15 miles (about 3-5 hours on the water) per day.

Are there hiking opportunities on trips in Glacier Bay?
The only established trails in the park are in Bartlett Cove near the lodge and park headquarters. Glacier Bay provides some limited, but great hiking on glacial outwash plains, beaches, and rock formations up Bay. Generally, foot travel does not come easily in the bay, and most hikes will be short hikes to take advantage of a view or stretch the legs. Beach walks provide a great way to pass the time in camp. Bushwhacking is sometimes an option for the hardier folks with patience and tenacity. Most hikes can be done in the rubber boots we provide, but having light weight easily packable day hiking shoes is a good idea.

What type of food will we eat on kayak trips? Can you handle special dietary needs?
All food for Glacier Bay trips must be packed in bear-proof cans, which does limit the menu somewhat. Although we do NOT use freeze-dried or pre-prepared meals, you can expect to each eat meals with bases such as rice, pasta, and other grains on a nightly basis. Fresh fruits and vegetables are served on most days, and canned or smoked meats and fish add a great source of protein. Meals will be very similar to what you would cook at home, and we definitely aim to please with interested and varied menus and good presentation. We are also happy to accommodate any dietary restrictions and preferences.

Do I need previous kayaking experience for this trip?
No previous kayaking experience is required, but different trips may require varying levels of fitness. We can suggest a trip to best fit your experience and fitness level, and make every accommodation for you to have a successful and rewarding trip. The 8 day itinerary for the East Arm is the most active of our kayaking trips, covering the most distance.

How difficult will this trip be? What physical fitness level do I need for this trip?
Physical conditioning before your trip will increase your enjoyment. You must be prepared to help carry personal and group gear as well as your kayak (about 65-80 pounds among four people) up and down the beach. The terrain is uneven and may be slippery. If you don’t normally follow a fitness or exercise regime, we recommend beginning one now. Incorporate activities that build up arm and core strength and flexibility. In paddling, it is more important to be able to maintain a steady pace than it is to have a powerful stroke.

Trip Documents:
  • Trip Itinerary – Printable detailed trip itinerary.
  • Equipment List – Overview of personal clothing and equipment that you’ll need for this trip.
  • Rental Gear List – List of Sea kayaking gear, and personal items available for rent
  • Registration Form  – Outlines policies, and essential information.  One required per participant.
  • Health Form – This form enables our guides to have accurate health information in the event of an emergency.
  • Acknowledgement of Risk Form  – One required per participant over the age of 18.
  • Travel Info – Helpful information on how to get to/from Gustavus, Alaska.


Price: $2390 (+ tax, in USD)

2020 Dates: June 7, 15, 21, 28, July 12, August 11
2021 Dates: June 6, 20, July 10, August 8

What is included in the trip price:
  • Kayaking & camping gear – group camping equipment, tents, kayaks, paddles, PFDs, etc…
  • Expedition food – all food while out in the field
  • Transportation during trip – travel to our launch area, boat transfers
  • Professional guides – Our guides have extensive knowledge of the area and a passion for kayaking in wild places.
Guests are responsible for the following:
  • Personal clothing & equipment – review the equipment list included under “Documents”
  • Food & Lodging in town – most lodges in Gustavus provide quality food options
  • Trip insurance – we highly recommend trip insurance for all of our programs
  • Airfare – review the “Travel Information” under “Documents” for more details
  • Reviewing trip policies – please reference our policies page for policies regarding payment, cancellations, refunds and guest responsibilities.
  • Gratuities
To Book your adventure, follow the steps below:
  1. Please call to confirm availability at 1-800-766-3396 or fill out an online form to request more information via this link:
  2. Place a $250 deposit to reserve your spot: this can be place over the phone by credit card, check in the mail, or through our payment gateway.
  3. Once you’ve reserved your spot, you’ll receive a welcome packet with all the necessary registration forms and trip information.
  4. We kindly ask that you submit all of the necessary trip registration information at least 45 days prior to your trip.

Feel free to call or email anytime if you have questions about your upcoming trip. Our team is excited to help you prepare for your adventure!

Guest Comments:

One of a kind adventure! It was a challenging day, but an incredible experience I'll remember forever. John was a great guide; personable and always safety conscious.
- Roger P.