The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park encompasses several different mountain ranges, bays and glaciers and is the largest in the U.S. National Park System. It is home to many types of wildlife including mountain goats, black and brown bears, bald eagles, whales, seals, owls and several types of fish, most especially several varieties of salmon.
A visitor to the park could literally spend weeks there hiking, camping, boating and watching the animals. When I first set eyes on it, I could hardly breathe. It is still now hard for me to get my mind around the vastness and the beauty of the place.
If you go, it is a good idea to know what you would like to see before hand, or to have some sort of a plan. The rangers there are very helpful and several companies offer boat and helicopter excursions out to view the glaciers and mountains. Guides are also available for hiking and camping trips, and are probably a good idea unless you are very experienced.
Keep in mind also that the weather here can change quickly and that it never really gets very warm. When I was there in early August the temperature was in the high 40's (F) and if you're walking near glaciers or if it rains it can feel even colder.
The Hubbard Glacier begins at Mount Logan in the Yukon Territory of Canada and stretches for 76 miles until it meets the sea in Disenchantment Bay in Yukatat. The Hubbard is a "tidewater" glacier because of the way that it comes down right into the sea. It is the largest tidewater glacier in North America.
At the glacier's face, in the bay, it is about 30 stories tall and almost three miles across. It constantly "calves", meaning that vast chunks of ice break off of it every few minutes creating a loud roar and enormous icebergs. Some of the icebergs that break off of the Hubbard are as large as a two-family home.
From the town of Yukatat you can get to the glacier by boat or helicopter in about 30 minutes--and making the trip to see it will be some of the best money you ever spend.
There is nothing like seeing something like the Hubbard up close. I was completely speechless for nearly two hours in its presence. It is very likely one of the most amazing and beautiful things I will ever see, and I consider myself fortunate.
The Valerie Glacier lies across Disenchantment Bay from the Hubbard Glacier. It was named for the scientist, Valerie Wood, who was killed in a plane crash while exploring the area. The glacier originates in the St. Elias Mountains.
At first glance doesn't look like a glacier at all, but like a giant rock. This is because of the large amount of dirt, or glacial silt, covering the ice. The silt is picked up from the earth and rocks as the glacier advances forward. Like the Hubbard, the Valerie Glacier is also very fast moving, advancing several feet per month. It does not, however, calve into the ocean nearly as often as the Hubbard does.
If you take a trip out to see the Hubbard you can see the Valerie as well.
Hubbard Glacier is located inside Yakutat Bay. In 1986 it drew lots of attention for its rapid advance threatening to close Russel Fjord and turn the long inlet it into a lake. Eventually it receded and reopened the fjord. But still it remains one of the most active glaciers in the world. The photo was taken from AMH Kennicott when we left Yakutat for Valdez.
Yakutat is a small isolated Tlingit village with population of about 800. It's the only port of call we stopped between Juneau and Valdez. No road connection to the outside world, Yakutat depends mainly on the once-a-month AMH Kennicott for supply. While Kennicott was unloading the supply, I walked around the village imagining what life would be like in Yakutat.
There's a general store in the village. Although I got everything I need on ferry, I bought some bakery to get a local taste. Unfortunately it tasted stale. What I found interesting was that half of the general store was filled with cheap novels and pulp fictions - possibly the most popular pastime of locals.
Yakutat was written up by Surfing Magazine and is gaining popularity among surfers around the world. At the line that separates Southeast Alaska from South Central, it is open to the entire Pacific Ocean and the site of some dramatic NW breaks. Sandy beaches that stretch for miles.