Whale watching and excursions in Gustavus

June 1998 

Gustavus, in Southeast Alaska, is a small community in the middle of a Tongass National Forest, from where many tours and excursions are available. Tourists visiting Gustavus should not miss a full day cruise into Glacier Bay, as well as hikes or bycicle rides in Tongass forest where there will be possibilities to see brown and black bears. The waters around Gustavus are also an ideal spot to see whales, orcas, sea lions and otters.


Gustavus is a small community of abut 350 inhabitants, located about 75 kilometers north-west of Juneau. Like the other towns in the south-east, there aren't roads or highways connecting Gustavus to the nearby communities, so it is possible to get here only by sea or by air, with several daily services from Juneau (20 minutes by air and 1 hour and 45 minutes by sea). The community of Gustavus is very interesting: there aren't banks, police stations, hospitals, malls or fast foods. The economy is based o fishing, tourism, and services for the community itself. The place and the people is very charming and friendly, everything is surrounded by a dense forest and pure nature, leaving the roads of the "downtown" it is more easy to encounter bears and mooses, rather than other humans. Up to 200 years ago, the land where Gustavus is built was still buried under a huge sheet of ice, but after a tremendously fast glacier retraction, a new land was exposed, promptly colonized by trees, animals, and humans. As the weight of the ice is no longer compressing the ground below it, the earth is lifting up at a rate of a couple of inches per year. The weather is relatively mild if compared to other places at similar latitudes, with cool summers and colder winters. Long overcast periods with low clouds and rain are common on summertime, but I think that this particular situation contributes a lot to increase the "sense of mystery", making this place more and more fascinating. Try to belive !

Gustavus airport, Alaska
Gustavus airport, Alaska

I choose to reach Gustavus by air, with a direct flight from Juneau.
Annie Mae Lodge, Gustavus, Alaska Annie Mae Lodge, Gustavus, Alaska

There are several full-service lodges in Gustavus. I've chosen the Annie Mae Lodge, featured by very good standards, with excellent food and staff. On the right picture, this is what I can see from the window of my room... just trees and nature in every directions.
Gustavus, southeast Alaska Gustavus, southeast Alaska
The roads are normally unpaved... there aren't signs, markers, stoplights and... above of all... there aren't cars !
Alaska rainforest Alaska rainforest
Alaska rainforest Alaska rainforest
The ground under the woods is uniformely paved with mosses and lichens, creating often a very soft carpet up to 10 inches thick.
Black Bear, Gustavus, Alaska Black Bear, Gustavus, Alaska
Excuse me Mr. Bear... It isn't to avoid you... but... do you know any alternative road to go back to the lodge ? The staff at the lodge told me "the beach is a beautiful place, it is less than five walking minutes from here and, if you are lucky, you may see a bear or a moose". My first thought was "nooo !!! I will never be SO lucky". Instead he appeared suddenly and it is an incredible experience when you know that you are alone here... alone with him...
Gustavus, Alaska
This is the main dock of Gustavus. Here a daily boat service arrives and departs daily from/to Auke Bay, near Juneau, in addition to whale whatching cruises. The dock is very distant from the land because the land is raising at a rate of a couple of inches per year (because the ice is no longer compressing the ground), so the water is very shallow.
Whale watch cruise, Alaska
Whale watch cruise, Alaska
Icy strait is locaded before the entrance to Glacier Bay and here there is one of the most dense population of whales and orca of the the entire Pacific ocean. With a few hour of cruise, seeing these animals is almost guaranteed, togheter with seals, otters, sea lions, bald eagles, mooses and bears walking on the beach.
Whale watch cruise, Alaska Whale watch cruise, Alaska
Whales !

The ground is usually totally covered by a dense vegetation and tall trees, even the smallest islands where just a narrow beach separates the forests from the sea.
Gustavus, Alaska Gustavus, Alaska
With a smaller boat, I reach an unhabitated place where I'll take a mountain bike tour. The scenery all around is impressive.
A dense forest, where there aren't other humans for dozens of miles.

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