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How to Visit Glacier Bay National Park in Summer 2021

How to Visit Glacier Bay National Park in Summer 2021
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Glacier Bay is one of the top tourist draws to Southeast Alaska. The huge National Park is almost entirely inaccessible – the only way to experience it is by boat or plane. For many people who want to visit Alaska each year, it’s high on their Alaska bucket list. But can you visit Glacier Bay in summer 2021?

Since the mega cruise ships all cancelled their 2021 schedules due to issues with making port in Canada, many travelers have had plans canceled or rescheduled. You may be among them – still wanting to visit and experience Glacier Bay National Park this year.

In this post, like my similar post on how to visit Denali in Summer 2021, I’ll break down the step-by-step process for planning to visit Glacier Bay this summer. As you’ll see, you need to work backwards – arrange how you’ll visit Glacier Bay, then how you’ll reach the different parts of Alaska you need to make that happen. By the end, you’ll have the basics to plan your own trip to Glacier Bay this year; it won’t be as easy as just boarding a cruise ship – but you can still make it happen.

Note: Please remember that we are still in an ongoing pandemic. While Alaska has reduced its mask and distancing mandates to “recommendations,” many communities in Southeast Alaska lack extensive medical infrastructure and can’t handle a COVID outbreak. If you choose to visit Alaska this year, do your part to keep your local hosts safe by wearing a mask and distancing.

Step 1. Arrange Access to Glacier Bay National Park

Unlike most years when it’s relatively easy to visit Glacier Bay on a mega ship cruise, this summer there are two ways to visit Glacier Bay National Park.

Option 1: Small Ship Cruise

UnCruise Adventures Alaska Review

As with mega ship cruises, the easiest way to visit Glacier Bay this summer is on a small ship cruise. There are a number of companies that will offer Alaska cruises this summer, but the main two are Alaskan Dream Cruises and Uncruise. (Bonus: I just learned about John Hall’s Alaska Cruises & Tours Platinum Catamaran charter as another option too.)

Both of these companies have itineraries that visit Glacier Bay; if that’s your #1 must-see in Alaska, it’s still entirely possible to do an Alaska cruise that includes this on your itinerary.

Most people balk at the price of small ship cruises. As I detail in my Uncruise review (from a cruise I took in 2017), the price is actually comparable when you look at the cost of all ship add-ons and excursions.

(If you choose to do a small ship Alaska cruise, you can skip Step 2 below and read Step 3.)

Option 2: Flightseeing Tour

Icy Strait Point Excursions - Glacier Bay - Joseph via Flickr
Photo credit: Joseph via Flickr

Flightseeing tours are always available for visiting Glacier Bay, but there are fewer companies offering them this year than usual. Here are the Glacier Bay flightseeing tour companies I found:

The prices all range from $200-$450 depending on the tour length and whether you depart from Skagway or Haines. If you choose to do a flightseeing tour to visit Glacier Bay this summer, be sure to read Step 2 as you also need to get yourself to Skagway or Haines to do the tour!

Step 2. Arrange Transport to Skagway or Haines on the Alaska Ferry (Optional)

If you decide to visit Glacier Bay on a flightseeing tour, you might wonder: how do I get to Skagway or Haines to board my flight?

Great question – and unfortunately not an easy or quick answer!

The only way you can reach Skagway or Haines this summer is on the Alaska Ferry, also called the Alaska Marine Highway System. Both Haines and Skagway are connected to Juneau in the ferry system. Unfortunately, the AMHS has not yet released their summer 2021 schedule, so I can’t get more specific than that!

Note: I’ll come back and update this section with specific details about taking the ferry from Juneau to Skagway or Haines once the schedule becomes available. Bookmark this page!

Step 3. Organize Your Juneau Itinerary

Juneau Cruise Excursions - Tram

No matter whether you choose to cruise or flightsee Glacier Bay National Park, you’ll very likely start and/or end your trip in Juneau, Alaska’s capital. Luckily, Juneau is the second-biggest city in Alaska and has plenty of tourism infrastructure!

First of all, you can book flights from/through Seattle to Juneau; Alaska Airlines offers ~7 daily non-stop flights from Seattle, and Delta offers ~4 daily non-stop flights too. That makes it easy to get to/from Juneau to start your Glacier Bay cruise or ferry/flightseeing journey.

Second, Juneau has a lot to offer visitors:

  • Here’s some inspiration on what to do in Juneau, based on popular cruise excursions that are offered normally.
  • Planning a day-excursion to Mendenhall Glacier is a must! You’ll need to rent a car but it’s totally worth the extra logistics.
  • The Mt. Robert’s Tramway is another must-do – it takes you up 2,000 feet in just six minutes.
  • On my last visit to Juneau, I went on an awesome Juneau Food Tours with Midgi.
  • There are also plenty of hotel options, including The Alaskan Hotel & Bar (one of the oldest in Alaska, from $90/night), The Driftwood Hotel (from $137/night, and Alaska’s Capital Inn Bed & Breakfast (from $190/night).

It’s easy to fill a few days exploring Juneau before or after your Glacier Bay excursion.

Step 4. Have a COVID Testing Plan

Last but not least: start planning now for your Covid testing plan. Proving a negative Covid test result is a requirement to visit Alaska this summer! Learn more on the State of Alaska Traveler Information Page.

There are three options:

  • You can arrive with a negative test result within the last 72 hours
  • You can be tested on arrival – but must self-quarantine until your results are available. This can take anywhere from several hours to several days, and there are few details about where you have to wait or how much this costs.
  • You can choose to extend your Alaska trip by two weeks and spend 14 days in self-quarantine upon arrival.

I strongly recommend planning now to get tested before you depart on your Alaska trip. As I’m planning my own trip to Alaska in July and again in September, this is what I’ll be doing. I want to wait on my test results in the comfort of my home and know I’m good to go when I arrive.

There are a lot of questions about all of these new changes – and they only apply for this summer. Have other questions about visiting Glacier Bay in summer 2021? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!

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