What is Gustavus, Alaska, Known For?

This post may contain affiliate links.

If you’ve taken a boat tour through the Inside Passage of Alaska’s Panhandle, you’ve likely passed the towns of Ketchikan, Wrangell, and Sitka. At the northern end of the Inside Passage is the remote town of Gustavus, AK. 

Although not large in size or population, this town offers tourists a chance to explore one of America’s national treasures at Glacier Bay.

Let’s take a closer look at Gustavus so you can decide if you want to visit during your next Alaskan road trip!

Where Is Gustavus, Alaska?

Gustavus sits in the panhandle of Alaska near the top of the Inside Passage. It’s northwest of Juneau, AK.

Numerous islands and small communities dot this region of Alaska: Skagway and Haines to the north and Sitka farther south. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve sit north and northwest of Gustavus, AK.

A map of Alaska's Inside Passage with a black circle around Gustavus, AK.

How Big Is Gustavus, AK?

According to the 2020 Census, approximately 655 people live in Gustavus, AK. It’s a small city but has grown by 50% over the last ten years.

The total land area measures about 36 square miles, while the total water area measures about 20 square miles. The Salmon River runs straight through the city to Glacier Bay National Park.

The small downtown area of Gustavus, AK showing the row of shops and a fake bear carved out of wood in the middle of the lawn.

Can I Drive to Gustavus, AK?

Gustavus is only accessible by boat or plane.

During June, July, and August, you can buy a ticket on Alaska Seaplanes or Alaska Airlines to visit Gustavus.

Or you can board a ferry and travel the Alaska Marine Highway any time of the year.

Pro Tip: We visited Gustavus via ferry. Click here if you want to learn more about The Alaska Marine Highway.

Cars parked at the old fashioned gas station in Gustavus, AK.

Is There Public Transportation in Gustavus, Alaska?

Once you arrive in Gustavus, AK, public transportation isn’t available.

You can rent a car, bring your vehicle via the ferry, call a taxi, or rent a bicycle.

The entire road system in Gustavus is only about 20 miles. The main attraction of Gustavus is Glacier Bay National Park. People fly or boat in to explore the park for a day or two then are on their way.

You’ll need to plan ahead if you want to visit Glacier Bay National Park. We wanted to leave Carmen in the truck camper connected to electrical, so we opted to take a taxi when we visited Glacier Bay.

Camping In Gustavus, AK

The only camping in Gustavus, AK, is Hollywood Farms RV Park. This brand-new campground offers nine RV sites with electric and water hookups. There’s a bathhouse, laundry, and dump station on the property.

While we weren’t terribly impressed with Hollywood Farms, it was the only place we could stay with the camper. So we were thankful for that! You can read our full review of the park here.

Bartlett Cove Campground in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a free, walk-in campground. However, you must complete a Bartlett Cove Campground Permit Application before arriving. There are no RV sites or car camping areas here.

A sign that says Hollywood Farms on the side of a road in front of the RV park.

What Gustavus Is Known For

The Tlingit people used to harvest salmon in this community, and white people settled around 1917, with the first homestead built in 1923. The first post office was established in 1925.

But it has always been a remote area. Only recently, with the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry route, have tourists started to visit this wilderness.

Today, Gustavus, AK, is known as the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park. The receding glaciers have created this small town and given way to a relatively flat plain. Mountains, ice fields, and the Pacific Ocean surround Gustavus.

A Man and his dog standing in front of the skeleton of a hump back whale.

What You’ll Find In Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is one of the largest national parks in the country. Its 3.3 million acres protect rugged mountains, glaciers, fjords, rainforests, and coastlines.

It sits at the northern end of the Inside Passage and is part of a 25 million-acre World Heritage Site. Birdwatching, hunting, kayaking, rafting, fishing, hiking, and flightseeing are the most popular activities here.

Rae and Jason standing in front of the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve sign in Barlett Cove.

Things to Do in Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is one of the most remote parks in America. Not only is it inaccessible by car, but once you arrive, there are also very few roads within the park.

Bartlett Cove is the only developed area in the national park with the Glacier Bay Lodge, the Visitor Center, the Park Headquarters, several trails, a public dock, kayak rentals, and a walk-in campground. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some fantastic ways to explore this national treasure.

Explore Bartlett Cove

You can take a boat or plane from Gustavus, AK, to Bartlett Cove. Once you arrive, you can walk the Forest Trail to the beach. We encourage you to visit the Visitor Center to learn more about the park through the exhibits.

Also, stop by the Xunaa Shuká Hít, a Huna tribal house that offers insight into the cultural heritage of this region.

The Xunaa Shuká Hít in Gustavus, AK showing the native american paintings on the exterior.

Go Sea Kayaking

Sea kayaking is one of the best ways to explore Glacier Bay National Park. If you travel to the park aboard the ferry system, you can bring your kayak.

Additionally, you can rent a kayak at Barlett Cove. Book a guided kayak tour or explore the tidewater glaciers on your own.

You can also arrange pick-up and drop-off services at the Glacier Bay Lodge during the summer.

A boat coming to pick up sea kayakers that have been exploring for a few days.
Our Glacier Bay tour boat stopping to pick up sea kayakers.

Enjoy Backcountry Camping

There aren’t many camping options in Glacier Bay National Park or Gustavus, AK. But if you want to enjoy the park’s wilderness, you can get a backcountry camping permit to stay overnight.

You’ll need to stop by the Visitor Information Station to process the permit and get up-to-date information on regulations, closures, and logistics. The permit is free, but all campers must complete a mandatory orientation at the Visitor Information Station.

Book a Glacier Bay Day Tour

If you can’t go sea kayaking, another great way to take in the sights of Glacier Bay National Park is on a boat cruise. These day tours dock at Bartlett Cove during the summer and take visitors on a full-day excursion to the tidewater glaciers.

It’s best to stay in Gustavus or at the Glacier Bay Lodge to allow yourself plenty of time to arrive for the morning departure.

Keep in Mind: Looking to see the biggest glaciers while in Alaska? Then make sure these are on your itinerary!

Rae and Jason taking a selfie with a glacier behind them. This was during the day tour at Glacier Bay National Park in Gustavus, AK.

Book a Flightseeing Tour

Finally, there’s nothing more magical than flying above massive glaciers and rugged peaks in Alaska. Book a flightseeing tour to experience the immensity of this national park.

Alaska Seaplanes, Seaport Airlines, Harris Air, Drake Air, Mountain Flying Service, Ward Air, Yakutat Coastal Airlines, and Gulf Air provide flightseeing tours over Glacier Bay.

Keep in Mind: During our Alaska getaway, we went on an Alaska Bear Adventures flight seeing tour. Click to see if it was worth it!

The Best Time to Visit Gustavus, Alaska

May through September is the best time to visit Gustavus, AK, because all the services, tours, and attractions operate.

Whale viewing is also extremely popular during these months because a large concentration of humpback whales migrate here. Since transportation is limited, you’ll want to make your reservations and plans early.

Will you add a visit to Gustavus, AK, to your next Alaska trip?

Gustavus, AK: The Gateway To Glacier Bay National Park

Gustavus, AK is unique. It takes some planning to spend a few days here, but it’s well worth it. You’ll find that even though it’s a small town, Gustavus has everything you need. The residents welcome visitors as tourism is a huge economic industry.

You’ll find outfitters that provide kayak, boat, hiking, and whale-watching tours, shops with local trinkets and souvenirs, lodging accommodations for a comfortable stay, and local dining options.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous Article
View of kenai fjords national park.

Is Kenai Fjords National Park Worth Visiting?

Next Article
View of mines in Kennicott-McCarthy, Alaska.

Kennicott & McCarthy: Alaska's Weirdest Towns