Before 1750 the Huna Tlingit people occupied the land before they had to leave due to the glaciers expanding, encompassing the land. So in 1794 George Vancouver sailed straight past a vast wall of ice, unknowingly passing the ice-strewn wilderness that lay feet underneath the solid water. It was not until 1879 that a Scottish-born American naturalist explored for the first time, and it has been the subject of fascination for scientists, photographers and nature enthusiasts ever since. Since 1750 the ice is thought to have receded by about 65 miles, making this one of the faster glacial retreats on record. The land here is relatively newly discovered and supports hardy green mosaic of plant life among the white and grey of steep sculpted peaks and rock-strewn valleys that bear the scars of its ice age.
Considering its 200 year life without the covering of ice, the wildlife here is wonderful and a variety of mammals, birds and marine life can be found. Grizzly bears scour the shores, turning rocks looking for tasty treats, whilst mountain goats stick to the waters edge, munching on seaweed and licking the salty rocks. Other mammals include moose, marmots, lynx and black bears, and thousands of harbour seals breed and nurture their pups on the floating ice of John Hopkins Inlet, as well as the rocks of Beardslee Island. The population of sea otters is increasing, and the summer brings humpback whales as well as minke and killer whales. The sea also supports schooling fish, salmon, bald eagles and harbour porpoises, whilst songbirds nest in the newly vegetated hillsides. Beardslee attracts a whole host of shore birds, seabirds and waterfowl, and the long commuter, Arctic tern, makes an appearance on the barren ice-scapes of the glaciers.
The area is best explored via kayak and there are lots of spots that don’t allow motorised boats, such as Adam’s Inlet, Muir Inlet and Wachusett Inlet. You can also approach the beautiful Rigg’s Muir and McBride Glaciers that pour into the sea in front of you. If you prefer to sit back and relax, you can enjoy the coast by boat and there are plenty of moderate hikes across the peaceful land, including the Bartlett Lake and Bartlett River Trails.
A great place to stay is the converted Gustavas Inn, where you can charter boat trips, enjoy whale and eagle watching, organise fishing trips and sea kayaking or spectacular hikes. You can even go on the hunt for wild strawberries and it has great access to Icy Strait and Glacier Bay.
Enjoy some flight-seeing, fishing, park ranger programs or photography.