The Historic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad

Learn about the historical start of Skagway

“Born in the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, the White Pass & Yukon Route is a rare story in the history of railroad building.” -All Aboard Magazine

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Skagway, also referred to as the Garden City of Alaska, is located at the northern tip of Alaska’s Inside Passage, just 100 miles northeast of Gustavus. In 1900 when the city was established, the population reached 3,117 and was the second-largest settlement in Alaska. Now, Skagway’s year round residents almost double Gustavus at 850 people. It serves as restored gold rush town with a historical significance for tourists to experience, and is the headquarters of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

The History

In his search to find uncharted land into Interior Canada for a survey company, Captain William Moore was the first non-native settler in Skagway. He arrival in 1887 is credited with the discovery of the White Pass route into Interior Canada. Only nine years later in August, gold was discovered in the Klondike by George Carmack and two Indian companions, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie. By 1897, boatloads of prospectors made their way eagerly to this new opportunity. Not two months following those hopeful prospectors and dreamers, the landscape had grown into a lively city with a population of about 20,000.

Though the gold found by Carmack and his companions was a minimal amount, it triggered a massive movement and forever changed the course of history in Southeast Alaska.

Exploring the City

The city of Skagway prides itself on preserving its history. The main shopping street, Broadway Street, features building fronts similar to what you would have seen back in the 1890’s. A walking tour of various lengths can be taken to familiarize yourself with this delightful town. Several National Park Service Buildings help you learn about the gold rush and all the men endured with the hope of striking it rich.

If you have time be sure to head out to the Skagway cemetery. You will be able to see Frank Reid’s headstone inside the cemetery and “Soapy” Smith’s grave outside the cemetery. You don’t know the Reid/Smith story. No trip to Skagway is complete without learning about their gun battle and how it helped Skagway become a peaceful and quite town.

The Train Ride

 

When our guests go in the train they usually take the Summit Excursion up to White Pass and then back down to Skagway. The White Pass & Yukon Route climbs from sea level in Skagway to almost 3,000 feet at the summit. Imagine being on the same type of trains up the same route the gold miners were traveling in their search for gold.

REMEMBER: Weather in Southeast Alaska is unpredictable, and can present an obstacle to flights and activities. The Bear Track Inn is not responsible for any costs incurred or activities missed due to weather related delays. We highly recommend trip insurance.

Read more about the railroad here.

Wildlife in Glacier Bay NP (Pt 2)

Part 2 of 2: Marine Wildlife in Glacier Bay

Often, we are asked tons of questions about moose and bears. Will we see one during our stay? What do the bears eat? How big are they? 

Glacier Bay is full of wildlife. From bears and moose to eagles, Ermines, and even porcupines. We’ve made a list of the most common wildlife guests will see here, and added a little bit of information for those curious wildlife viewers:

Read Part 1: Wildlife in Glacier Bay NP

Sea Otter

Just as with moose, sea otters are a “new comer” to Glacier Bay. These cuties began recolonizing the waters after over one-hundred years of absence due to over-hunting, and the population has gone from zero to almost 9,000 in the last 20 years!

Sea otters spot the waters of the Icy Strait and Glacier Bay, and occasionally, a mother otter can be spotted with her pup lying across her chest. Pups weigh up to 5lbs at birth and live atop of their mother’s stomachs until they are weaned. Adult males grow to be about 5 feet and 80-100lbs (with females 1/3 their size), and all have a lifespan of up to twenty years (if not made prey). As they get older, their face gets whiter. Their diet includes clams, mussels, crabs, and other invertebrates, and they can dive as deep as 250 feet to reach them while foraging. Sea otters eat up to 25% of their body mass, and bathe, eat, and sleep while floating on their backs!

Fun fact: Sea otters have no blubber for insulation, but rather, have the densest fur of any mammals to keep warm- up to one million hairs per square inch! 

Stellar Sea Lion

Though not unique to southeast Alaska, stellar sea lions are the most common marine mammal you will see while visiting- from established rookeries in the national park to bugging the fisherman at the Gustavus dock for a fish carcass. Rather than migrating, sea lions will establish a “haul out” on offshore rocks that will become the center of their hunting and mating grounds. Glacier Bay’s South Marble Island is known to have quite a few sea lions!255-v-xiv-32-sea-lion-on-the-can03.JPG.1024x0

When born, these blubbery creatures will weigh 50 pounds! Males grow to be up to 1,200 pounds, while females are 580 pounds. Males can be identified by their prominent, broad foreheads, muscular necks, and dark coloration on the neck and chest. Females have a buff coloration on their backs. Males live up to 20 years and females up to 30 years.

Fun fact: Males don’t hold territories on rookeries until they are between nine and thirteen years old. 

Harbor Seal

13886499_1168113216543934_6279672823649112709_nHarbor seals are what we call the graceful puppies of the sea. They can be identified by their dappled gray coats, big, round eyes, and their cute little noses. As adults, they are only 5-6 feet long and up to 280 pounds. The average lifespan is between 26-35 years. They are known for their aquatically adapted anatomy, allowing them to dive up to 1,640 feet and remain submerged for over 20 minutes.

Up to 1,700 seals assemble in John Hopkins Inlet each summer, hauled out on the ice patches for pupping and mating. They produce only one pup per year. Pups are born between May and mid-July, and they are able to swim almost immediately at birth! During winter, harbor seals will spend 80% of their time in the water.

Fun fact: Sea lion flippers cannot support their bodies on land. Rather, when hauled out on the ice, they scoot around on their big bellies! 

Humpback Whale

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We have an entire posted dedicated to the mighty humpback that you can read here. Humpback whales are abundant in Glacier Bay during the summer months. After their long migratory journey from the southern Pacific waters, these giant beauties will hunt and feed for almost 23 hours a day while here. They are very active creatures and are a treat to see, from breaching to tail-lobbing, and everything in between!

Orca

Though orcas do not have a migratory ritual to and from Glacier Bay like the humpbacks, they are often spotted traveling through here, or even hunting. The two populations of orcas that we see are Resident and Transient. Resident killer whales are known to be fish eaters, while transients feed on both fish and marine mammals. In addition, Transient killer whales are larger and will have a more pointed dorsal fin, while Resident killer whales will have a rounded tip.

These unique mammals reproduce slowly, at one pup per 4 to 6 years. Their lifespan is known to be up to 63 years for females, and 36 years for males. Orcas weigh up to 13,000 pounds and grow up to 27 feet long.

Harbor Porpoise

Often confused with dolphins (the difference is in their appearances), harbor porpoise are the smallest cetaceans around these parts, averaging about 5 feet long and 120 pounds. Their dorsal fin and short spouts will make them seem like very tiny versions of humpback whales. With stocky bodies and blunt stouts, porpoise will feed on schooling fish, eating about 10% of their body fat each day. They have dark grey or brown coloring, with a lighter coloration on their sides.

Seabirds and Other Marine Life

There are an abundance of seabirds that migrate to Glacier Bay. By abundance, we mean 281 species! For this post, we will focus on the most exciting birds (in our opinion, of course): Puffins. Puffins are easily recognizable and the most popular Alaskan seabird. The two types we see are the Tufted and Horned puffins. IMG_0077_0011_edited-1

Puffins are recognizable by their large, colorful bill and beautiful black and white coloration. Tufted puffins are named for their tufts of feathers that curl back on each side of their head. Both have webbed feet and sharp claws used to scratch out burrows for nesting underground. They nest in May and by July, a chick is hatched.

Puffins are built for swimming rather than flying. From land, they will dive off of cliffs to gain enough speed for flying, and will fly close to the water. Most spend winter in water rather than land, and young puffins will spend the summer of their first year at open sea.

Fun Fact: Puffins use their feet to navigate while swimming and flying. 

For more information on the Birds of Glacier Bay, click here.

For more information on wildlife around Glacier Bay, click here.

Tips for wildlife viewers: 

  • Keep a low profile: Don’t make sounds to get an animals attention. Remember, if your presences is causing the animal to stop it’s natural behavior- give it more space. Be respectful of nesting or feeding areas
  • Right time: Dawn and dusk are when species are most active. Low tides expose tide pools, while midday is great for seeing eagles and hawks
  • Look for signs of wildlife: Tracks, droppings, trails- the works. Use tracking books, etc., for more information on what signs to look for based on species.
  • Help keep wildlife wild: NEVER FEED A WILD ANIMAL! 

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Read about some of the excursions we offer that include wildlife viewing:

Humpback Whales in Glacier Bay

The most common and most exciting encounter guests will have while on the water here in Glacier Bay is with the majestic humpback whale.

Humpback whales are known for their massive migrations from the southern Pacific waters of Mexico and Hawaii, to the northern waters of Alaska and Antarctica (though they can be found traveling through all of the major oceans). Their known to travel as far as 16,000 miles, with mature males leading the way. Glacier Bay is a general “hot spot” of whale feeding activity, and has been observed here as far back as 1899. Whale numbers rise in mid-June and peak in both July and August.

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If you are interested in reading about the humpback whale research accomplished in Glacier Bay, click here

Identification

IMG_0827_edited-2In addition to their massive size and visible “hump” on the back (hence the name!), humpbacks can be identified a few other ways. Though their back is flat with a small dorsal fin on it, while swimming, they will arch their back and fluke, causing the “hump” that we use to identify them.

These mammals are generally dark grey or black with white patches on their stomach, and poses two blowholes atop their head. Blows are also a good sign of humpbacks. Water covering the blowhole is vaporized and the whale exhales on the water’s surface, causing a visual “spout”. This spray can travel anywhere from six to twenty feet high. IMG_0978_edited-2

Flukes (or tails) are used to identify humpbacks in a more unique way. Each pattern of a fluke is equivalent to fingerprints on humans. The parts of the fluke include the tips, notch (middle of tail), and the trailing edge (the nooks and ridges on the end of the tail). From the notch, you can identify the left and right fluke. The trailing edge remains stable during a whales life and is a pretty good identifying factor of the whale. The notch and scaring patterns are also used in identification. Learn more here.

Using body language is an exclusive and incredible way humpbacks communicate with one another. These aerial acrobatic abilities include breaching, tail lobbing, and pectoral fin slapping. These fascinating marine mammals are also known to communicate through sounds. These sounds, and songs, are usually loud,  low-pitched moans, whines, or howls. Whale songs play a role in mating rituals and feeding coordination, as well as social structure, and can last anywhere from minutes to hours. Air is pushed out of it’s blowhole to create these sounds.

Behaviors

Feeding

Instead of teeth, humpbacks have baleen plates, which are bristles that help to catch small prey. These bristles are bunched close enough together to capture prey, but are spread apart enough to allow water to pass through without issue. Their diet includes small aquatic animals, from krill or squid to herring, pollock, and mackerel.

Humpbacks will diet during their winter in Hawaii or Mexico (there, they will mate or give birth if had been pregnant), and migrate to the northern waters of Alaska to feed during the summer months.

Breaching

Breaching is a behavior that scientists and enthusiasts can’t quiet agree on the cause for. Is it for communication? Is it to warn off predators? Or are they “playing”?  During a breach, the whale will shoot out of the water, spin, and land on it’s back. Landing on the back allows more structural support for the giant beauty. This, along with tail and pectoral fin slapping, create a bursting sound to be heard for miles, almost like a canon firing. It is an incredible and unbelievable sight to see a humpback breach.

Pectoral Fin Slapping and Tail Lobbing

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Tail lobbing

 

 

A humpback’s pectoral fins are dark on one side and white underneath, and can be up to fifteen feet long (1/3rd of the whale’s total length). Fin slapping or tail lobbing are behaviors thought to either communicate with other whales or stun surrounding fish for feeding, though during mating season, males use their pectoral fins to  battle for females. Tail lobbing is when the whale will repeatedly slap its fluke against the water.

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Pectoral fin slapping

Spy-Hopping

Spy-hopping occurs when a humpback will emerge the top of it’s body out of water to “take a look around”. They can shoot up from ten to twelve feet, and may spin around to take in their surroundings. Then, gracefully, it will return to the water. Researchers believe this behavior helps with navigation.

Lunge Feeding and Bubble-Netting

IMG_1296_edited-2When humpbacks lunge or bubble net feed, you are truly getting a rare glimpse at the cunning and marvelous abilities they are capable of. They will lunge feed alone or in groups. The whale will lunge through a school of prey with it’s mouth gaping open, followed by it’s outburst through the surface.

Bubble-net feeding is a coordinated group event. Witnessing this behavior is almost metaphysical, and we have been lucky this season to have it occur multiple times for both our guests an staff to witness. During this spectacle, the pod will dive down together, while one will swim around in a circle and blow bubbles. These bubbles confuse and confine the fish. The bubble blower will let out short bursts of “feeding calls”, followed by one long, loud call to signal the pod- “It’s time!”. On this final signal, all of the pod will come through the circle together, mouths gaping open as they catch as much fish as possible. Imagine seven or more humpbacks exploding through the water’s surface, mouths open! The sounds are just incredible, and you can even hear it all without a hydrophone!

We hoped you enjoyed learning a little bit more about one of nature’s most incredible species. Be sure to contact us about how you can see it all for yourself!

Other Facts:

  • The humpback is one of over 80 known species of cetacea
  • When born, humpbacks are about 14 feet long and weigh 2 tons (1 ton = 2,000lbs)
  • Males grow up to 46 feet and weigh up to 25 tons, while females grow up to 49 feet and weigh up to 35 tons
  • They can have 270-400 plates of baleen
  • Their tongue is 2 tons alone
  • Humpbacks can live up to 100 years
  • They can look into their own mouths!
  • Whales lack vocal chords
  • They will consume between a third to half a ton of food a day
  • Gestation is 11-12 months, and are single births. Females bare offspring once every 2-3 years while fertile. Sexual maturity is from 4-7 years.
  • During the winter, humpbacks will fast and live off their body fat, or blubber, that they acquired during feeding season. They focus on migration and mating during the winter, and feeding or hunting during the summer.
  • Though these whales can be seen migrating, hunting and mating in large groups they are generally very solitary and non social creatures that prefer traveling alone or in small groups of two to three
  • The seasonal trek from Hawaii to Alaska and back is 6,000 miles per year
  • Male humpbacks in the North Atlantic can be found singing the same song in unison even when they are miles apart from one another, while males in the North Pacific can be heard singing a different song.
  • The humpback whale is currently listed as an endangered species and is protected against hunting by law

 

Read about how you can see humpbacks while whale watching aboard the m/v TAZ or the Glacier Bay Day Tour. Or, read about how you can kayak with them!

Source: Whalefacts.org and nps.gov

Kayaking Excursions

Insight on one of the must-do activities in South-East Alaska

If kayaking among humpback whales, quiet forest and outstanding scenery is on your bucket list, than this excursion will not disappoint. Southeast Alaska is known for it’s extraordinary sea kayaking. Kayak the Inside Passage and Glacier Bay National Park while learning about the wildlife, geography, and history of this unique area.

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Kayaking in Glacier Bay National Park

All kayaking trips are in double sea kayaks, but booking for a single is also an option. Rain gear, rain boots, life jackets, and kayaking equipment are all included and provided. These kayaking options are suitable for lone wolves and families, beginners, and champs alike. 

Kayaking with the Whales

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Kayak with humpback whales, otters, sea lions, porpoise, and other marine wildlife. Learn to recognize them by their sounds, behavior, and appearance. Explore the tide pools, trek the rain forest of Chicagof Island, and enjoy being one with nature.

These trips start with gearing up and a short orientation on the basics of sea kayaking. To begin your journey, you will take short boat ride from Gustavus to Point Adolphus, where humpback whales are known to feed and socialize. Kayak around the shoreline and observe the wildlife around you.

For lunch, paddle to shore and enjoy the serenity. Hike through old growth forest and let your knowledgeable guide teach you about your surroundings. Then kayak around a little more, until its time to reluctantly say goodbye.

Kayaking in Glacier Bay National Park

Guided or Unguided, Half Day or Full Day

Paddle in the protected and treasured waters of Glacier Bay. Day trips are in the lower part of Bartlett Cove. Both single and double kayaks are available. Half-day trips are available in the morning or afternoon. All trips begin with an orientation.

Guided Trips

IMG_0099_0009_edited-1Kayak with a group of other adventurers and an experienced guide. These waters are protected and full of abundant wildlife, including humpback whales, harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters, Eagles, bears, and more! Just as with kayaking with whales, your guide will teach you all there is to know about Glacier Bay, both on land and by sea.

Unguided Trips

Unguided trips are great for the self-explorers. Paddle at your own pace, stop where you want to, and explore whatever your heart desires. This trip is suitable for beginners as well, since Bartlett Cove is very calm and easy to navigate.

Extended Kayaking and Camping Trips

Guided, 3-8 Days

If a day trip just isn’t enough for you, consider joining a group of others that feel the same. Camping trips include spending time on either Point Adolphus or further into Glacier Bay National Park. Kayaking and camping by the glaciers is also an option. Contact us for more details on this amazing and unique opportunity.

What Should I bring?

Your rain gear (pants, jacket, boots) is provided, as well as kayaking equipment. We recommend that guests bring the following on their excursion:

  • Long underwear (for underneath your clothing)
  • Wool socks
  • Hat and gloves (preferably fleece, or a material that is both warm and does not retain water)
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera equipment, of course
  • A neck or face wrap is optional, to protect from the wind

Additional Notes:

You will be provided with dry bags to keep your electronics and extra clothing in. Dry bags are stored in the kayak, by your feet.

The rain jackets provided will have Velcro on the wrists to keep out water. Gloves are recommended as extra protection from water.

Kayaking equipment includes the kayak, paddles, and “skirts” to seal you into your kayak and protect your legs from water.

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Interested in seeing humpback whales and other wildlife, but not so much into kayaking? Learn about our whale watching excursion on the TAZ and wildlife viewing on the Glacier Bay Day Boat Tour.

Bear Safety: What You Should Know

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Before visiting Bear Country, it is important to educate yourself on how to handle any encounter you may have with bears. Often, guests will ask us about whether or not it is safe for them to go for a walk. Though it is safe, knowing exactly what to do during a bear encounter is the best way to eliminate any concerns or fears you may have.

The two types of bears we have here at the Bear Track Inn are black bears and brown bears. Black bears are the most common encounter we have at the lodge. Black bears grow up to 5 feet in length, weighing 150-400lbs for males and 125-250lbs for females. Brown bears grow up to 7-9 feet, and males weigh in at 400-1500lbs while females are 200-850lbs. Learn more about them here. 15825742_1230372330382819_8260175740543315571_n

Black bears are usually timid, especially juveniles. The encounter to be most concerned about here is crossing paths with a mother and cubs. But don’t worry- these tips, along with common sense, will help you to stay safe.

Before the Encounter:

  • Bears don’t like surprises. Make your presence known by making noise, singing, talking loudly, etc. Avoid walking through thick brush that could hide their view of you.
  • Though their hearing and eyesight is as good as humans, bears use their noses more than either. If possibly, walk with the wind at your back. Make sure your food is stored properly if you are backpacking with a picnic lunch.
  • Use your nose, too. Bears have an almost foul, “wet dog” smell. If you notice this smell on your hike, be alert.
  • Remember that bears use trails and roads, too.
  • Avoid areas with carcass or fish. During the summer, bears eat spawning salmon along the river and creeks, so look for signs of their presence: if there is a noticeable path to the bank or there are fish carcasses around, bears were (or are) definitely near!

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During the Encounter:

Remain calm if you do see a bear. Most are only interested in protection of food, cubs, or “personal space”.

  • Identify yourself. If you’re noticed, talk in a normal voice. Wave your arms. Try to back away slowly. If followed, stand your ground.
  • A bear may stand on his hind legs for a better look- this is out of curiosity, and is not threatening.
  • NEVER RUN FROM A BEAR. You cannot outrun a bear, and besides, they like to chase fleeing animals. A charging bear may stop short a few feet away from you. If this happens, become more defensive as he nears you: raise your voice, beat on something loudly, or throw rocks or sticks. If you’re with a group, stand together.
  • If you are fishing and a bear approaches, stop fishing. If there is a fish on your line, give it slack so it does not splash or get the bear’s attention. Cut the line if needed. We don’t want the bears to associate humans and food!

IF the encounter escalates and you are attacked, you have two choices: Play dead or fight back. Make your decisions based off of your surroundings and whether you think the bear is threatened and defensive, or seeking food.

  • If it is a brown bear that you have surprised, and it is eating a carcass or is a mother protecting her cubs, play dead. Lie flat on your stomach with your legs spread apart, or, curl into a ball with your hands behind your neck.
  • A bear will break it’s attack once it feels the threat has been eliminated. If you move, it may return, so remain motionless as long afterwards as possible.
  • Fight any bear that follows you, or that breaks into a campsite or tent.
  • For black bears, your best defense is always to fight back.

Is bear spray effective? Should I be traveling with it? 

Bear spray, for those unfamiliar, is a medium sized can that contains red pepper extract. They are designed to propel a mist at about 15-30 feet, meaning the effectiveness is only at a close range to the bear. We do have bear spray for those who feel more comfortable with it, however, you should know how to use it before you carry it, and it should never be an alternative to common sense when it comes to bear encounters.

We also encourage our guests to bring Bandit with them on walks to the waterfall. Bandit is an excellent hiking companion and has been known to tree black bears.

Fun little note: While writing this, a mother brown bear and two cubs walked through the open meadow outside our lobby! The cubs put on quite a show for our guests. 

 

Wildlife in Glacier Bay NP (Part 1)

Part 1 of 2 on the Wildlife of Glacier Bay NP

Often, we are asked tons of questions about moose and bears. Will we see one during our stay? What do the bears eat? How big are they? 

Glacier Bay is full of wildlife. From bears and moose to eagles, Ermines, and even porcupines. We’ve made a list of the most common wildlife guests will see here, and added a little bit of information for those curious wildlife viewers:

Black Bear

Black bears, found mostly in the forests of Alaska, are the smallest species of bear. About 100,000 black bears roam around Alaska.

 

Males can weigh up to 350lbs and females 250lbs. Adults stand up to 29 inches at the shoulders, and are about 60 inches from nose to tail. These solitary creatures actually range in color, from jet black to white, to cinnamon, which are common in the interior of Alaska.15825742_1230372330382819_8260175740543315571_n

Black bears have a straight facial profile and an outstanding sense of smell. Their omnivorous diet includes  vegetation, salmon, blueberries, insects- they’ll eat nearly anything they encounter! During the summer, they can be found in both high and low elevation, in either river bottoms or berry patches. We see them randomly around the lodge all season long.

Brown Bear

Although Brown Bears are associated with Grizzly Bears, there is a difference in behavior between the two. Brown bears can be found along the southern coast of Alaska, where spawning salmon is abundant, while Grizzlies are found in the interior and northern parts. Identifying features include a prominent shoulder hump and long, straight claws used for digging for food.  Males can grow up to 9 feet in length and weigh up to 1,500lbs, while females weigh up to 850lbs!

Like their cousins, brown bear feast on salmon, berries, and roots, as well as caribou or moose. Though they are solitary creatures, feeding in groups is not uncommon, especially if there is a tasty whale carcass lying around the beach! During summer, they can be found in both low and mid elevation, just like black bears. Here around the lodge, we rarely encounter a brown bear, though their tracks can be spotted on the beaches of the Icy Strait. We recommend booking a bear viewing tour, or the Glacier Bay Day Boat Tour, which is where our guests have the most interactions with brown bears.

Fun fact: Twins are common for brown bears. 

Moose

Moose are common in Alaska, but did you know the first moose didn’t arrive in Glacier Bay until around the 1960’s? Once the terrain allowed it, moose migrated from Haines, AK, through the Endicott Inlet.

Though they are solitary animals, a calf will stay with their mother for up to two years. Bulls can weigh up to 1,600lbs and up to 6ft tall, and cows up to 1,300lbs. Males are recognized and prized by their antlers, which grow in the summertime. These herbivores eat willow, birch, weeds, and grasses.  Moose have been known to sneak into our garden here at the Bear Track, or walk in front of the lobby windows!

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Wolves

Seeing wolves in Glacier Bay is a rare treat, as they do not inhibit surrounding territories, such as Admiralty or Chichagof Island. They range over about 85 percent of Alaska and come in a variation of colors from black to white, gray, tan- even “blue”. Wolves here in the southeast tend to be darker and smaller than those in the northern parts, and can weigh from 85 to 115lbs for males.

Wolves live in packs of about six or seven that include adults, sub-adults, and pups of the year. The territory of a pack is about 600 square miles, and they can disperse up to 500 miles! Surprisingly, pack overlap is only occasional. Here in the southeast, their diet includes moose, mountain goat, and black-tailed deer, as well as salmon and ground squirrel.

Though we have spotted them here in Gustavus, your best chance of seeing wolves is on the Glacier Bay Day Boat Tour.

Coyote

Coyotes are a newcomer to Alaska, and were first spotted in the southeast in the early 1900s. Features include a gray coat with tan along the belly, pointed ears and nose, and a long, bushy tail. Coyotes only average about 30lbs and are one-third the size of wolves. Like the black bear, coyotes are an opportunistic predator that feast on almost anything, from hares and rodents to moose, fish, and even insects.

Fun fact: Eagles and Great Horned Owls have been known to prey on coyote. 

Mountain Goat

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Mountain goats inhibit – you guessed it- the mountainous regions of western North America. Here in the southeast, they live on steep, rugged, rocky cliffs in the mid-upper bay of Glacier Bay. In fact, scientists believe that mountain goats were the first land animal to recolonize Glacier Bay after the ice retreated.

You can distinguish these 300lb creatures as off-white specks among the mountainous terrain. Their thick, white coats of hollow hairs help keep them warm in extremely cold weather, and their specially shaped hooves help them to leap from ledge to ledge on such rugged terrain. They feed off of shrubs, berries, hemlock, and lichen. The only place for our guests to spot mountain goats is on the Glacier Bay Day Boat Tour.

Fun fact: Females have differently shaped horns: they are more slender, bend back more, and have a sharper tip. 

Porcupine

Most of our guests are pleasantly surprised when they spot a porcupine or two on their morning hike. Porcupine spend most of their time high up in cottonwood trees, nibbling on leaves  or inner barks of trees. These creatures are large, yet stout with short legs, ranging from 25 to 31 inches long. They are completely covered with hair and quills- except on their foot pads and nose. These quills are modified hairs tipped with barbs for protection from predators. Once threatened, the porcupine will turn their back towards the predator and try to intimidate with a display of prickly quills.

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Fun fact: Porcupines grunt, whimper, and even scream as communication. 

Ermine

Ermine are another species that guests are surprised to learn live around these parts. Resembling the long-tailed weasel, Ermine have a long body with short legs, long necks, round ears, and long whiskers.  They grow up to 34cm in length and weigh 100-180 grams.  Their fur ranges from reddish-brown or creamy-white in the summer, to completely white in the winter.

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Ermines feed on small mammals called voles, or mice, and live in dens that they create in hollow logs or under stumps. The best chance to see them here at the Bear Track is while on a walk to the beach.

Fun fact: Ermines have a life span of about 2 years.

Bald Eagle

IMG_0308_edited-1Recognized by their white head and up to 7.5 foot wing span, the Bald Eagle is Alaska’s largest resident bird of prey are are more abundant in Alaska than anywhere else in the U.S., with a population of about 30,000. The highest nesting densities are actually here in the islands of the southeast. Bald eagles will nest in old-growth timber along shorelines or by mainland rivers. They are known to use and rebuild the same nest each year.

These fascinating birds of prey have a diet of mainly fish, such as herring, pollock, and salmon, although they have been known to feast on small mammals as well as sea urchins, clams, and crabs. Bald eagles are also known to harass smaller raptors into dropping their catch so that they can steal it for themselves. The best opportunity to view them here are either at the Gustavus Dock, or while on a walk to the beach.

Various Species of Bird

Finally, there is a long list of various species of birds that are often spotted around the Bear Track Inn. Early June and late August are best for viewing rufous and anna’s hummingbirds, while other species are residents all summer. We will provide more specific information in another post, but for now, here is a list of the beautiful variety of bird species we encounter almost every day:

Barn Swallows, Canadian Geese, Sandhill Cranes, Blue Herron, Robins, Juncos, Common Sparrow, Crows, Ravens, Magpies, Warblers, Belted King Fishers, Chestnut Backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Sap Sucker, Hermit Thrush, Spruce Grouse, Red-breasted Nut Hatch, Common Loons, and Wilson’s Phalarope.

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For more information on wildlife around Glacier Bay, click here.

Tips for wildlife viewers: 

  • Keep a low profile: Don’t make sounds to get an animals attention. Remember, if your presences is causing the animal to stop it’s natural behavior- give it more space. Be respectful of nesting or feeding areas
  • Right time: Dawn and dusk are when species are most active. Low tides expose tide pools, while midday is great for seeing eagles and hawks
  • Look for signs of wildlife: Tracks, droppings, trails- the works. Use tracking books, etc., for more information on what signs to look for based on species.
  • Help keep wildlife wild: NEVER FEED A WILD ANIMAL! 

Whale Watching Aboard the m/v TAZ

A look at one of our favorite excursions

 

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One of our absolute favorite activities to recommend to guests is whale watching. It is an experience you won’t forget! Glacier Bay is nutrient-rich and a wonderful summer feeding destination for humpback whales. These magnificent creatures migrate from the waters of Hawaii or Mexico during the summer months in search of food, having fasted the entire winter. All summer, they feast and gorge on small fish that thrive in Glacier Bay.

Humpback whales can grow up to 50 feet, and can weigh up to 40 tons! They feed in the waters of Glacier Bay, and other surrounding waters in Alaska and Canada, almost 23 hours a day. Part of why we enjoy watching these graceful giants is because of their acrobatic abilities. Humpbacks are well known for podding up and are very active by breaching (fully emerging from the water), pectoral fin slapping, tail-lobbing, lunge-feeding, spy-hopping, and bubble net feeding.

The man responsible for such unique and entertaining tours is Tod Sebens, captain of the motor vessel TAZ. Tod began his marine career as a Marine Diesel Mechanic in the U.S. Army, and has lived in Alaska for over thirty years. Now residing in Haines, AK, he is equipped with the knowledge and skills to ensure a fun and informative tour, for both guests and the whales being watched. IMG_0765_edited-1

Tod’s locally owned and operated business, the Cross Sound Express, offers a 3 1/2 hour tour, twice a day, full of wildlife viewing and great company. The boat features heated indoor and covered outdoor viewing, as well as a bathroom, and offers coffee, hot chocolate, snacks, educational books and field guides, and binoculars.

Visit Point Adolphis, the feeding grounds of humpback whales, and learn about their behaviors. Try to identify them by observing their flukes, or, listen to the incredible sounds that humpbacks make for communication using the underwater hydrophone. Other wildlife to search for include Stellar sea lions, otters, harbor porpoises, bald eagles and other sea birds, or even orcas or Minke whales.

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More Information: 

  • Tours offered are 8:30AM-12:00PM or 12:30PM-4:00PM
  • The TAZ is designed for wildlife viewing and is 50ft, aluminum high-speed, equipped with proper safety equipment
  • The boat holds up to 28 passengers
  • Checklist:
    • Warm clothes (fleece, wool socks, long underwear)
    • Raingear
    • Gloves, hats, and sunglasses
    • Camera equipment
  • Other bookings include weddings, kayaking services, and group charters for private events

As always, feel free to contact us with any questions you may have. We also offer private whale watching tours on smaller boats.

Learn more about humpback whales and why they are important to Glacier Bay here.

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Top Photography Spots in Gustavus

Ideas and tips for the most photographic spots in Gustavus

Gustavus is a fascinating playground for both outdoors-men and photographers alike. Whether you’re a well-known photographer, or just starting out, these top picks are perfect for wowing friends and family with the beauty of Glacier Bay.

Bear Track Inn

The Bear Track Inn is a wonder in itself. With handcrafted logs and beautiful surroundings, you’re bound to get a few great shots. Fireweed  and Cotton Grass bloom all around the lodge, while Barn Swallows build nests nearby. Take a walk down to the beaches of the Icy Strait where you will find wildflowers, various species of Alaskan birds, and possibly spot a moose or bear!

Tip: June is great for Cotton Grass and Dandelions, while July brings Fireweed. August and September are the best months to view the Northern Lights. 

Falls Creek

Rebecca's Waterfall PhotoThe hike to Falls Creek is 3-5 miles round trip and offers many opportunities to spot wildlife. The growing berries invite Black Bear to graze, while moose travel through the brush with their calves. The waterfall itself is a marvel, and is a must-visit bucket list shot for both beginner and advanced photographers.

Tip: Visit the waterfall after a few days of heavy rain for a fuller effect. 

“Downtown”

Or 4-Corners, as the locals call it. This tiny city was established less than a hundred years ago. Sites to photograph include the Dray, which features old-fashioned pumping stations, a few staple restaurants, and the Gustavus Inn. On Saturday mornings, visit the Farmer’s Market and view local artwork. In addition to the city, there is a boat harbor, old golf course, and of course, the charming little airport (which was built during WWII).

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Tip: There are a few, off-the-beaten-path trails to explore, so be sure to ask around about what trails you should be seeing.

Gustavus Dock

The Gustavus Dock is great for spotting Eagles, Sea Lions, and other marine life. Fishermen bustle in and out of the dock with their catch of Halibut, Salmon, and other tasty fresh Alaskan fish. Sometimes, humpback or Minke whales can be spotted near Pleasant Island, which is viewable from across the dock. To the West, the Fairweather mountains boarder Gustavus with peaks rising 15,000 feet from the sea. Look for Strawberries sprouting on the beach in July. Spending some time around the dock or on the beach will surely bring you some great photo opportunities!

Tip: Check the tides to better plan your photo session. Low tide brings feeding eagles and other birds, while high tide is great for Sea Lions and other feeding wildlife. 

Nagoonberry Trail

Not far from the Gustavus dock is the Nagoonberry Trail. Here you will find natural communities of wildflowers, fruits, Alaskan seabirds, and other various wildlife. The trail is a 2.2 mile loop through forest and meadow, with two scenic outlooks.

Tip: The best months for blooming flowers are June and July. 

Plane Crash Site

IMG_0335_edited-1Off Mountain View Road  is a short, secluded, historically significant trail to the plane crash site of 1957. As you approach the wreckage, scattered pieces of metal are on all sides of the trail. Take a moment to learn about what occurred that frightful night, and take a moment to honor the survivors and brave residents who assisted with the search and rescue.

Tip: Look for various species of mushrooms along the trail. 

Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay offers numerous opportunities for amazing shots. Along the Forrest Loop Trail you will find various wildflowers and wildlife, as well as a reconstructed whale skeleton, Snow, a handmade Tlingit canoe, and the beautiful Tlingit Tribal House. Bartlett Cove offers breathtaking scenery and is busy with passing fishermen, small cruise ships, seaplanes, and various wildlife. Look across the cove for signs of black bear, or walk the tide pools and explore the cove’s sea life.

In addition to the cove, Glacier Bay has two rugged trails that are a must to visit. The Bartlett River Trail curves along with the river where you will find various species of mushroom, red squirrels, seals, salmon, or black bear. The Bartlett Lake Trail, which branches off of the River trail, is just as breathtaking, and takes you through temperate rainforest.

We hope you enjoyed our list of incredible photography sites around Gustavus. As always, feel free to contact us for more information. We would love to help you prepare for your visit!

Glacier Bay NP Day Boat Tour

A full-day guided tour through the West Arm of Glacier Bay

Of all the activities we like to recommend to guests, the Glacier Bay Day Boat Tour is an absolute must. We believe this tour encompasses what Glacier Bay is truly about. From scouting for Alaskan wildlife to admiring massive glaciers, this tour is thoroughly informative about the history, geology, and current ecosystems of our favorite National Park. View the map here.

The tour begins early morning in Bartlett Cove, where you will board an elegant  and comfortable high-speed catamaran. The best seats in the house can be found on the second floor, right-hand side (it goes along the coast as you travel and it is a convenient side to be on when wildlife is spotted ashore). The boat offers coffee, hot chocolate, fruits and granola bars for passengers, and offers candy bars, sodas, and alcohol for purchase. A mid-day snack of smoked salmon chowder is offered before approaching your first glacier- and it tastes delightful! Lunch of chips and sandwiches are served around noon, and cookies are served as a nice treat towards the end of the tour. IMG_0655_edited-2.jpg

Throughout the day, you will experience the changing surroundings, from developed forests to lichen coated rocks near the tidewater glaciers, as you head up through the West arm of the park.

First stop is South Marble Island. Here, you’ll want to walk outside to the viewing deck so you can hear (and smell!) the Stellar Sea Lions. The island is small and isolated, and is a great spot for the sea lions to haul ashore between feedings. Nearby, you will scan the rocks and waters for various Alaskan seabirds, such as the famous Tufted and Horned Puffins. The Common Murre, Pelagic Cormorants, and Black-legged Kittiwakes can also be found.

As you cruise along, be sure to scan the sea and shore for wildlife. Look for humpbacks, orcas, or sea otters. On the shoreline: is it a bear, or a rock? Along the way you may find black or grizzly bear, wolves, or moose. Stop at Gloomy Knob and search the mountains for large, off-white patterns- Mountain Goats!

As you approach the glaciers, notice the changes in your surroundings. Look at the shoreline and notice the change of both vegetation and geology. Icebergs from the tidewater glaciers begin to surround the boat. Finally, Margerie Glacier comes into view. Margerie advances anywhere from 12 to 14 feet a day, and calves frequently. Listen for the crackling sound of ice breaking, or “White Thunder”, as the Tlingits say. To the right, you’ll notice a long wall of black- The Grand Pacific. This mighty receding glacier once filled the entire bay, even reaching the Icy Strait in the 1700’s. The blackness hiding the glacier’s once beautiful blue coloring is rocky moraine.

After spending some time admiring and learning about Margerie and the Grand Pacific, the tour takes you to admire other glaciers nearby. Occasionally, the boat may turn into John Hopkins Inlet. (We say “occasionally” because during particular months, harbor seals will haul on the icebergs to have their pups- and for their protection, boats are not aloud to disturb). Johns Hopkins displays some of the most astounding terrain in Alaska. Above the inlet is Mount Orville and Wilbur, standing at more than 10,000 feet. Floating ice surrounds the glacier, as if its nature’s own form of protection for the habitat.

Lamplugh is the final glacial stop. It is about 160 feet high and 3/4 mile wide. A recent landslide has changed the appearance of this subtle beauty. Look in the surrounding waters for kayakers. Admire the large blocks of ice sitting on the shore. After Lamplugh, enjoy a peaceful ride back to the dock.

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After arriving back at Bartlett Cove, we always encourage our guests to explore the grounds. Take a left at the top of the dock, down a dirt road leading to Alaskan monuments. On the way, you will see a handmade Tlingit canoe, a humpback whale skeleton, and end at the Tlingit Tribal House. Inside Glacier Bay Lodge, you will find a small museum on the second floor, displaying all you need to know about Glacier Bay’s ecosystems.

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We are confident that the Glacier Bay Day Tour will be a trip you will never forget! 

Other information:

  • Passengers board at 7AM and depart at 7:30AM, and return at 3:30PM
  • A Park Ranger narrates the tour and is available to answer questions
  • There are tables on the downstairs level and serving trays on the seats upstairs
  • There is a viewing deck both behind and on the top level of the boat
  • The boat has two marine toilets available for passengers
  • There is no smoking aboard the vessel
  • Binoculars are available for use
  • Vegetarian meals are provided per request (just let us know during booking)
  • We suggest you bring:
    • Warm clothing, such as a fleece, long underwear, wool socks, and a jacket
    • Hats, gloves, sunglasses
    • Camera equipment
    • Regular tennis-shoes or hiking shoes are OK, as you will not be leaving the boat
  • Rangers lead walks through the Forest Loop Trail at various times throughout the day. Be sure to ask us for a schedule of events, if you are interested in joining!

Interested in a smaller, more personalized tour? We can arrange for you to take a private glacier tour, which allows you to get a little bit closer or spend a little more time where you want. Contact us for more information!

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Top Hiking Trails in Gustavus

A compiled list of the most scenic trail ways

Waking up in Gustavus is exciting when you know there are numerous trails around to explore. Whether you have a free day or a free afternoon, we’ve compiled a list of what we think are the trails you don’t want to miss:

Nagoonberry Trail (Gustavus, AK)

Difficulty Level: Easy (45 minutes – 2 hours)

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Head on down to the Nagoonberry Trail for a leisurely 2 mile loop stroll through forest and meadows. This walk features flat topography and benches located at two scenic outlooks.

Did you know that Gustavus’s landscape is rebounding an average of 1.5 inches per year from the glacial retreat? With this rebound comes a new and inspiring type of ecosystem. The trail was created by the Nature Conservancy as an effort to preserve 4.5 miles of coastal wetlands along with essential plants, animals, and natural communities. Terrain includes mixed woodland, mature meadow, browsed willow, spruce forest, and drift logs that float ashore from the tides. The flowers and grasses in the meadow keep the spruce and other trees from establishing, while the high water table in the mixed woodlands keep spruce and cottonwood trees from thriving.

Flowers to admire include shooting stars, chocolate lilies, strawberries, cow parsnip, beach pea, angelica, and of course, the state flower, Forget-me-not. Various wildlife can also be spotted, such as moose, black bear, coyote, and porcupine. Young willows are a nice treat for moose! The mudflats often attract a diversity of birds, from sandpipers to dunlin, songbirds, sanderling, geese, and ducks.

Falls Creek (Gustavus, AK)

Difficulty Level: Moderate (1.5 – 2.5 hours)

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Bandit at the Upper Falls

Just outside of the Bear Track Inn lies a hidden, magnificent waterfall. Falls Creek is part of a hydroelectric project created for the city of Gustavus. It uses a portion of the flow to generate electricity, directing a portion of the water through a 9,700 feet pipeline to a powerhouse generator. This project displays approximate 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually! (Source)

From our doorstep to the upper falls, it is around 1.5 miles one way. The trail is clearly marked and all gravel, however, there are one or two steep hills. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, head down to the lower falls and soak up an even grander view of Falls Creek. We suggest you bring water, and Bandit, of course. Bringing a lunch to eat at the picnic table overlook is optional.

Icy Strait Beach (Gustavus, AK)

Difficulty Level: Easy (20 – 45 minutes)

The Bear Track Inn features a breathtaking view of the Icy Strait- and its only a short walk to the beach from out doorstep! Part road and part grassland, this hike is suitable for all. Enjoy looking for signs of wildlife in the mudflats, bird watching, or simply sit and take in the view.

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Forest Loop Trail (Glacier Bay NP)

Difficulty Level: Easy (30 minutes – 1 hour)

IMG_0920_edited-2We recommend this trail to stretch your legs after a long day on the Glacier Bay Day Boat Tour. At only 1 mile long, the trail begins and ends at the Bartlett Cove dock. Pass through hemlock-spruce forest while listening to the sounds of Alaska’s wildlife. Peak bird migrations are in May and June, while June and July is great for wildflowers. Guided walks are also available at certain times, and are lead by Glacier Bay Park Rangers.

 

Bartlett River Trail (Glacier Bay NP)

Difficulty Level: Moderate (4 – 5 hours) 

The Bartlett River Trail is 5 miles round trip full of muddy terrain, numerous stumps, and small inclines. The trail is not maintained and is as wild as it comes! Meander along inter-tidal lagoons and through the forest until you reach the Bartlett River. Here, you can spot duck, geese, and sometimes seal. Salmon run up the river in the later part of summer. This spot is also great for stream fishing during peak seasons. We suggest you wear rubber boots and rain gear, and bring water.. Taking a picnic lunch is optional.

Bartlett Lake Trail (Glacier Bay NP)

Difficulty Level: Moderate to Difficult  (7 – 8 hours)

BLTBranched off the Bartlett River Trail is the Bartlett Lake Trail. This magnificent trail is 6 miles round trip and is even more wild than the River Trail. With non-maintained trails, it is vital to stay on the visible pathway. Travel through the temperate rain forest and hike through moss-covered boulders or lichen-covered trees. We suggest you wear rubber boots and rain gear, and bring water as well as a lunch.

 

Back Country or Off-Trail Hiking (Glacier bay NP)
Difficulty Level: Moderate to Difficult 

Back-country hiking is also an option, however, most guests only pursue this if they are camping in the park. As always in the forest, there are steep slopes, massive threes, impenetrable alder, and a chance of running into Alaskan wildlife. Do at your own risk! (Source)

Gustavus Plane Crash (Gustavus, AK)

Difficulty Level: Easy

Gustavus has a few hidden spots, and the plane crash site is no exception. This easy, 1/4 mile hike is located on Mountain View Road near Glacier Bay National Park. In November of 1957, a military, twin-engine Douglas C-47 crashed during an attempt to land for refueling during a home bound flight to Anchorage. There were four men killed, and seven survived. Take in the history and give a few moments of silence as you view this incomprehensible scene. Be sure to ask for our pamphlet,  The Complete 1957 Gustavus Plane Crash Story written by Rita Wilson, explaining the historical significance of this site, or read about it here.

 

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