Explore Glacier Bay by Yacht, Alaska

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14012A, Sail


  • Observe whales, seals, birds, and other wildlife while traveling on a small yacht
  • Hike and kayak in the Glacier Bay fjords
  • Witness the geologically young area with its receding glaciers


  • Yacht lodging and all meals
  • On-trip naturalist/marine biologist
  • Use of sea kayaks 


DatesJul 2–10, 2014
StaffMargie Tomenko

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Glacier Bay National Park is a highlight of Alaska's Inside Passage and part of a 25-million-acre World Heritage site -- one of the world’s largest international protected areas. From summit to sea, Glacier Bay offers limitless opportunities for adventure and inspiration, covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines, and deep sheltered fjords.

The marine wilderness of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve includes tidewater glaciers, snow-capped mountain ranges, ocean coastlines, deep fjords, and freshwater rivers and lakes.

Sailing through Glacier Bay today, you travel along shorelines and among islands that were completely covered by ice just over 200 years ago. When Captain George Vancouver charted adjacent waters of Icy Strait in 1794, he and his crew described what we now call Glacier Bay as just a small five-mile indent in a gigantic glacier that stretched off to the horizon. That massive glacier was more than 4,000 feet thick in places, up to 20 miles wide, and extended more than 100 miles to the St. Elias mountain range. By 1879, however, naturalist John Muir discovered that the ice had retreated more than 30 miles, forming an actual bay. By 1916, the Grand Pacific Glacier -- the main glacier credited with carving the bay -- had melted back 60 miles to the head of what is now Tarr Inlet.

Since Glacier Bay has just recently emerged from the ice, it is considered a geologically young area. A trip up Glacier Bay is like a trip back in time. Old growth forests give way to bare rock as we make our way back into the upper reaches of the bay. Here, the tide water glaciers still rumble and roar as they make their slow retreat back, dropping huge icebergs into the sea. Magnificent granite cliffs tower above our small ship as we wind our way up the fjord through the ice floes toward the faces of these massive glaciers. Along the way, our expert naturalist and guide will point out the finer points of plant succession, glaciation, local geology, and the interconnectedness of the animals that call this area home. The biodiversity of this place is simply amazing.

Join us as we explore the breathtaking beauty of this area, as well as the natural history and tribal heritage of southeast Alaska's Glacier Bay from the comfort of a small yacht. We will watch humpback whales as they gather in these rich northern waters to feed on the herring and krill that thrive here.  Once the most abundant whale species in the world, humpbacks are now on the endangered species list. Fortunately, their population is increasing. To see pods of these whales feeding and frolicking is a truly special experience.

Each day, we'll go ashore to experience a variety of beautiful beaches and forests, tumbling waterfalls, alpine meadows, and wetlands filled with incredible plants. Accompanied by a naturalist, we'll comb the shoreline for intertidal creatures, birds, plants, and marine animals as well as go on some hikes to enjoy the lush forests and wildlife that abounds there.  We will also journey into fjords to see icebergs and a tidewater glacier, look for bears and other wildlife.

We'll begin our voyage in picturesque Gustavus, Alaska. This was traditionally a logging town, but has evolved with tourism. Our group will gather the evening before we depart by yacht to enjoy dinner, get acquainted, and possibly go for a short walk around Gustavus.

Our flexible daily itinerary will be based upon group interests, weather conditions, and, of course, animal sightings. Therefore, what follows is only a sample itinerary!


Day 1: Our trip will begin in Gustavus, starting with dinner and an orientation meeting.  After dinner, we will go on a short walk and continue getting to know each other. This night will be at a local hotel in Gustavus.

Day 2: We will have a leisurely morning to pack and be prepared for our main adventure!  We meet at 10 a.m. at the Gustavus Park Service Dock in Bartlett Cove. Long before the present national park, the Huna Tlingit people lived in Glacier Bay. Among the evidence of their traditional activities are trees that were stripped of their bark for a variety of uses. You can read more about these trees, which are still growing around the lagoon in Bartlett Cove.  We’ll board our new home (a 65-foot steel motor-vessel), assign cabins, enjoy lunch, have a safety talk and then get underway to enjoy Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Days 3-8: We will cruise, kayak, and hike this gem of a park. Each day will be open in order to take advantage of opportunities to see wildlife.  Because Glacier Bay is a national park and affords all the protections that come with that status, wildlife abounds within the bay. We can look forward to days of intimate contact with humpback whales, bears, moose, wolves, sea otters, seals, sea lions, goats, eagles, and puffins, to name just a few.  We plan to go ashore daily for a walk or hike in this magical place.

The small vessel allows access to shoreline areas inaccessible to larger ships. We will spend days traveling from place to place, observing marine life, and stopping for shore excursions one to three times every day.

Evenings will bring secluded anchorages, with time to reflect and share a delicious meal prepared by our chef in the galley.  As Alaska is also known as the Land of the Midnight Sun, we can take advantage of the long days there. Many evenings will offer time to quietly explore the shores by kayak or slow motoring along in the skiff.  It’s amazing how much can be seen and heard along the shores in the quiet evening time.  Before turning in for the night, we will bring out the charts to review the happenings of the day and to make a plan for the following day.  We keep the schedule flexible to allow us to adapt to the multitude of variables that we might encounter along the way.

Toward the end of the trip, we plan to leave Glacier Bay and head west toward the outer coast of Alaska.  Here, in the near coastal environment, we will encounter a completely different landscape of windswept islands, rugged sea cliffs, and whirling sea birds.

Day 9: The last day of our trip will bring us back to Gustavus, where we will arrive at 11 a.m. with both a newfound appreciation of the world and memories (and photos) to last a lifetime.  As flights do not depart until about 5 p.m., the trip leader will assist you in getting your luggage situated.  Then we will enjoy a farewell (no host) lunch and a last walk around the area we have come to enjoy! You may opt to catch the flight back to Juneau to continue on with your Alaska adventures or head home. Others may want to stay at one of the hotels or B&B in Gustavus to further experience small-town life in coastal Alaska.

Occasionally, changes may occur in the trip -- either in advance or during the trip. Please be aware that we will make every attempt to stay within this itinerary. However, if weather, equipment, or any other condition causes a change, please be flexible and respect the decision of the leader. The safety of the group is our number one concern. While wildlife in Alaska’s Glacier Bay is tremendous, we cannot guarantee that you will see all species listed as examples. 



Getting There

This trip starts and ends in Gustavus, which is serviced by Alaska Airlines. You will need to make your transportation arrangements. There is also some accessibility via the Alaska Marine Highway into Gustavus. Taxis are available between the harbor, airport, and town.

The weather in Southeast Alaska is unpredictable and bad weather causes flights to be delayed or cancelled. That is why we are providing dinner and lodging the night before in Gustavus. With a 10:00 a.m. departure on day two, there are not many options other than to arrive the night before. To be sure of arriving, you may consider staying in the Juneau area a night or so before our trip begins. From Juneau, the Alaska Marine Highway is another option for getting to Gustavus.

Accommodations and Food

Our home will be a 65-foot power vessel. Built in 1973 as a private yacht, this U.S. Coast Guard-certified passenger vessel boasts a motorized inflatable raft for shore excursions and enough sea kayaks to allow all of us to quietly explore islands and shorelines as a group. The knowledgeable crew consists of a captain, a professional cook, and an experienced deckhand. We'll also have a naturalist onboard with expertise in marine biology, ornithology, or anthropology.

The yacht sleeps 12 passengers in six private (all double occupancy) fully heated cabins, and has three toilets and two hot showers. The main deck features an airy salon, a library, a galley, and a dining area. Large windows permit unobstructed views out all sides, and access to the outside is easy. The upper bridge deck provides a good vantage point for spotting wildlife and has comfortable seating for passengers who wish to learn about navigation. Please note that smoking is not permitted aboard the ship.

Our first meal will be in Gustavus. All meals during our cruise will be aboard the ship. During the cruise, we will have a social hour before dinner and evening discussions about our experiences that day. Most nights will be spent anchored in quiet coves. The trip price includes all meals, starting with dinner on the first day and ending with breakfast on the last day. Lunch on the last day is optional and not included in the trip price. A professional cook will prepare all the meals on board the boat. Volunteer help is always welcome. There will be ample quantities of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy products. Delicious, wholesome meals will be served family- or buffet-style. Complimentary wine is served before and with dinner. Otherwise, guests are responsible for bringing their own alcoholic beverages or soft drinks. Coffee and tea are also provided.

Trip Difficulty

This will be a leisurely trip. Hikes will be optional and generally easy, covering moderate terrain. Insects should not be a significant problem, although mosquito repellent will be useful on some hikes. You must be able to ascend and descend a short ladder to board an inflatable launch for shore excursions. You must be able to maneuver on the boat, descending and ascending stairs to the cabin level. Daytime temperatures usually range from 55-85 degrees. Although we should have days with sunshine, we must also be prepared for rain and gusty winds. The minimum age for the trip is 12 years.

We use a professional captain, cook, and naturalist for our Alaska’s Glacier Bay cruise. The industry practice is that outfitters require participants to sign a waiver similar to the Sierra Club waiver you will be asked to sign. Your trip leader will provide you with the details for your trip.

Equipment and Clothing

Interests may vary from one person to another, so the equipment list may vary a bit too. You'll certainly want to bring layered clothing with excellent raingear and knee-length rubber boots, a camera, and binoculars. Photographers of all skill levels will have ample opportunities to take pictures of wildlife and scenery. For all except serious photographers, a point-and-shoot camera -- preferably with a zoom lens -- works quite well. Those who are particularly interested in bird-watching will have a treat in store, so good binoculars are essential. 


  • Otteson, Paul, Alaska Travel Smart. This guidebook gives excellent overviews of places of interest in Alaska.

  • Muir, John, Travels in Alaska. Discover Alaska through the eyes of the Sierra Club's founder.

  • Mitchner, James A., Alaska. Explore Alaska and its peoples from early times to the present day.

  • Reid, William, The Raven Steals the Light. Savor Reid's fascinating stories and legends of the Haida people.

  • L'Amour, Louis, Sitka. An early adventurer faces the dangers of Russian-owned Alaska.

  • McPhee, John, Coming into the Country. Alaska is far more complex geographically, culturally, ecologically, and politically than most Americans appreciate, and few writers are as capable of capturing this complexity as McPhee, who describes his travels through much of the state.

  • Wiley, Sally, Blue Ice in Motion, The Story of Alaska's Glaciers. This book provides an illustrated introduction to Alaska's glaciers, with details on how they form, why they move, and the landforms that result.

  • Hedin, Robert and Gary Holthause, Alaska, Reflections on Land and Spirit. This book provides a collection of stories by writers who are native to Alaska or have traveled and lived in Alaska. It includes accounts of explorers, natives, naturalists, and others.

  • Heacox, Kim, The Only Kayak. An account of the past 25 years that the author has spent living in Glacier Bay. Includes a look at his own development as a conservationist.

  • Schooler, Lynn, The Blue Bear. Schooler worked for many years as a guide in the Alaska Panhandle. This book chronicles his search with photographer Michio Hoshino for the rare glacier bear, a blue-tinted variation of more common black bears.

  • Schooler, Lynn, The Last Shot. In breathtaking detail, author Lynn Schooler re-creates one of the most astonishing events in American military history—a final act of war that brought about the near-demise of the New England whaling industry and effectively ended America's growing hegemony over worldwide shipping for the next 80 years.

  • Lende, Heather, If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska. Lende's offbeat chronicle brings us inside her busy life: we meet her family and a colorful assortment of friends and offbeat neighbors, including aging hippies, salty fishermen, native Tlingit Indians, Mormon spelunkers...as well as the moose, eagles, sea lions, and bears with whom they share this wild and perilous land.

  • Lende, Heather, Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs: A True Story of Bad Breaks and Small Miracles. Lende’s irrepressible spirit, her wry humor, and her commitment to living a life on the edge of the world resonate on every page. Like her own mother’s last wish—take good care of the garden and dogs—Lende’s writing, so honest and unadorned, deepens our understanding of what links all humanity.

  • Kantner, Seth, Ordinary Wolves. The readers experience life on the Alaskan plains through the character’s own words.

  • Jans, Nick, The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears. This book is about Timothy Treadwell, self-styled “bear whisperer” who dared to live among the grizzlies, seeking to overturn the perception of them as dangerously aggressive animals. When he and his girlfriend were mauled in October 2003, it created a media sensation. 


The Alaska’s Glacier Bay is a vast and emerging wilderness. Drawing upon the knowledge of our crew and your trip leader, we will experience and discuss several environmental issues for southeast Alaska, including logging in the Tongass National Forest, mining, fishing and climate change. Further information will be coming as we prepare for our trip together.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Margie Tomenko has been a Sierra Club member since 1983, and a leader for more than 20 years. She has led boat trips in Alaska, Galapagos and the Pacific Northwest, rafting trips in Alaska, Idaho and Utah, as well as leading International trips to the Galapagos Islands, Africa and New Zealand. By day, Margie works as a Project Manager on Information Technology projects. Her true passions includes being both above the water boating or rafting, and below the water SCUBA diving. With Climate Change happening at such a rapid rate, Margie is actively concerned for the environment. Conservation, she feels, is crucial to the survival of all the world's species, including humans! Margie is a firm believer in the Sierra Club mission: to explore, enjoy, and protect the earth. Margie welcomes prospective trip members to contact her directly with any questions, or just to chat about Alaska!

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