Our hiking tour will assemble in Juneau and spend the first day exploring the Mendenhall Glacier, just minutes away from the city. A popular cruise ship destination, this forest service visitor center gets a lot of traffic, but it will take just a few minutes up the trail to lose the throngs and become surrounded by wilderness as we approach the receding base of the glacier.
After a night in Juneau we proceed on to the National Park. There are no roads that lead to Glacier Bay National Park, so we arrive on Day 2 by ferry with a chance to explore the coves, bays and channels of the Gulf of Alaska along the way.
The town of Gustavus is considered the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and we will be shuttled from there to the lodge. Glacier Bay Lodge is the crown jewel of the Mission 66 initiative to build roads, hiking trails, visitor centers and lodges in America’s national parks. The architecture reflects the cultural and scenic heritage of Glacier Bay and its Tlingit influence, and this will be our home for two nights. From here we will walk the Bartlett River Trail, which starts out through northern rainforest, along the shoreline of Glacier Bay, then veers away from the shoreline, and becomes surrounded by tall fir trees and lush ground cover vegetation. Everything is moist everywhere, and good mud resistant boots are recommended. The end of Bartlett River Trail comes out next to the tidal flats of the Bartlett River. On a clear day, views of the Fairweather Mountain Range can be seen in the distance. Our second day in the park (Day 3) will be spent on a full day boat tour to the tidewater glaciers. On the high-speed catamaran, whale, seal and puffin sightings are common as we approach the glaciers through the cold waters of the Glacier Bay and Park Waters. Our destination is the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers, two towering masses of ice and snow rising 245 feet above the ocean and stretching another 100 feet beneath the water. With no land access to these glaciers, this is the way to watch the ice that calves from the face of the two glaciers.
On Day 4 we have the entire day to explore the shoreline of the National Park towards Point Gustavus. Rather than an official trail, this beach walk allows us to explore tidepools, watch for whales, comb the beaches for treasures and take in the salty sea air. At the end of the day we shuttle back to Gustavus for an evening flight to Sitka. There is a layover in Juneau long enough for our evening meal, before continuing on to our hotel destination in Sitka.
Along with its gorgeous scenery, Sitka, Alaska is the sight of some fascinating history. It is here that the rich and sophisticated Tlingit people lived, until the Russians set up a headquarters in the late 18th century. Their interest was in the trade of sea otter fur and some bloody battles were fought to secure ownership of the area. The cannons of the Russians were no match for the Tlingits and they retreated across the Peril Strait. Nearly a century later the transfer ceremony for the sale of the Alaskan Territory from Russian to the United States took place at Sitka. Our morning on Day 5 in Sitka will continue to focus on the water as we take a guided kayak tour into Sitka Sound on our quest for whale sightings and storytelling. In the afternoon we take a hike up Gaven Hill for views across the city and the surrounding bays and islands. This area is so remote that transportation is not available every day, so we must be up early the next morning on Day 6 to catch the ferry back to Juneau. Ferry rides are a highlight of any Alaskan experience and we will have yet more opportunities for wildlife viewings, a taste of local cuisine and a chance to hear stories from locals. All too soon we will arrive back in Juneau where our Glacier Bay and Sitka trip concludes.