Naturalist Journeys, LLC - Small Group Birding and Natural History Tours

Southeast Alaska Wildlife and Birding Tour
Active Nature Adventure Tours by Naturalist Journeys
July 28 – August 5, 2013

Guides: Peg Abbott
Press Release: Feb. 14, 2013
New Guided Alaska Nature, Wildlife and Birding Tour that is Lodge-based Announced by Naturalist Journeys -
full press release here!

Bear - AlaskaWe have wrestled with just how to offer SOUTHEAST ALASKA for several years, trying to find a cruise that would be right for us. They all seemed too large, too structured, or just too expensive. We are very pleased to announce that we’ve crafted a NON-CRUISE lodge-based Southeast Alaska alternative!  This trip CAN be done for a small group, with freedom to wander – with ample time on the water among whales, splendid scenery, but time to really explore, savor, and delight in Alaska’s wildlife-rich Inside Passage.  We simply put ourselves in the heart of the place (Gustavus/Glacier Bay), and have five days to be surrounded by spectacular scenery.

Ferry sunset - AlaskaOur base for the first part of the tour is Gustavus Inn, a small lodge set right in the heart of stunning Glacier Bay National Park. Together with Admiralty Island, Glacier Bay is recognized by the United Nations as a Biosphere Reserve; in 1992 Glacier Bay was recognized as an International World Heritage Site.

We access this lodge and park by air (Alaskan Airlines, a 737 from Seattle), and then we travel on to Haines by air (small plane) or, in case of inclement weather, by Alaska Marine Ferry. Our final leg of travel to Juneau is by Alaska State ferry; an evening to savor the wonderful scenery from a ship’s prow before we depart this beautiful state.

Icy straits across soundWith a lodge-based tour we can set the pace, enjoy full days on the water for whale-watching and glacier-gazing, and come back to our most comfortable digs for the night. On other days we keep our feet on land as we can hike coastal trails, peek into tide-pools, identify the myriad wildflowers, and search for breeding birds.

We offer some options, such as time to paddle quieter waters in sea-kayaks; even a kayak trip with the whales!  We don’t ignore some of the region’s classic sites, moving on from Gustavus hopefully with our wilderness and wildlife fill.

Our plan is to spend 5 nights at the lodge, then 3 nights in Haines with a day for a train trip up to historic Skagway, and a final night in Juneau, the Alaska State Capitol.  People may want to stay on to visit Admiralty Island, a world-renowned bear viewing site (though July is a bit early for peak activity Otter - Alaskathere), or make a stop en route home (easy to do on Alaska Airlines) in historic Sitka.

We are proud to offer this alternative to a more conventional cruise as a way to see Southeast Alaska; one that offers true local hospitality and comfort.  We want you to ENCOUNTER Alaska, feel like a local for a few days, and sink your teeth into learning. If you have been waiting to see Southeast Alaska, this is a GREAT way to do so. Please check out Gustavus Inn online (, and feel free to call our office with any questions.

It is imperative that you book early for this adventure. July is high season in Alaska and we have a number of bookings we must firm up – ferries, boat rides and more!



Ferry, lighthouse - AlaskaSun., July 28 Arrival in Gustavus / Glacier Bay National Park
Gustavus is a remarkable place for us to begin! Located on a peninsula of land, surrounded either by ocean or magnificent Glacier Bay National Park, there is no way to drive there – part of the magic of this remote yet very comfortable place!  Alaska Airlines now offers jet service direct to Gustavus, or you may prefer to travel by ferry up from Ketchikan, Sitka or Juneau.  Either way, our tour begins on Gustavus on July 12 and we start with a great welcome dinner at this charming lodge, where we have lodgings for the next five nights.

AlaskaFor those who call Gustavus home, many of the island’s pleasures are small: the marvel of flowers growing fast in summer’s abundant day-length, the cozy feel of being tucked in on a rain-rich day, smells of the sea and time to fish, a walk sorting through stones on a quiet coastal beach. The long Alaskan summer days will allow you to experience this abundance here.

If you arrive earlier in the day, stretch your legs with a walk about town; stroll down to the National Park Visitor Center; walk along the Salmon River or by the sea.  Meet your guides and fellow traveling companions and after dinner enjoy an overview of the week ahead.
Accommodations at Gustavus Inn, Gustavus (D)

Kittiwake, Glacier BayMon., July 29 Glacier Bay National Park Boat Cruise (National Park Service, Ranger-led) / Glaciers and Marble Island Bird Rookeries
The park service describes Glacier Bay National Park as a “land reborn, a living lesson in resilience.” Who could not be inspired by this stunning place, one where you’ll encounter inspiration at many levels?  From ground-hugging plants that began on land scraped bare by glaciers, to roaring blocks of ice calving from tidewater glaciers and crashing into the sea, a day on the water in Glacier Bay is a thrill. Today’s Glacier Bay Tour Boat departs from Bartlett Cove, ten miles from Gustavus and we provide a shuttle.  The waters are quite, the boat is stable, and in the seven-hour tour we travel the length of the bay, a round trip journey of 130 miles.  In this sheltered bay, the famed explorer George Vancouver found a river of ice just 225 years ago (1794).  Today one travels 65 miles to find the same ice. En route, park naturalists describe Earth processes, how glaciers form function, and what their future might be now that glaciers are in retreat. We look for Grizzly and Black bears, Mountain Goats, Moose, River Otter and Mink along the shore.  Some lucky travelers have even spotted Gray Wolves and even more elusive Wolverines – every day is different and, while rare, these animals are around. 

Bald Eagles patrol the skies, and smaller seabirds like Pigeon Guillemots are ever-watchful. About twenty miles from the glacier face we start to encounter icebergs. Throughout the day we may spy Orca, Minke, and Humpback Whales. Harbor Seals Humpback Whale groupoften haul out with their pups on the ice, beyond the reach of Orca. 

The lower part of the bay is forested, while its upper reaches, approximately 65 miles away, stand rugged and icy. It is an amazing experience to see this with experts, people who can show you both bold and subtle changes that this emerging landscape holds. Glacier Bay is a vital living laboratory for people studying climate change, but as early as 1890 John Muir built a cabin and studied the glacial landscape here, partly in an effort to understand the past glacial history of his beloved Yosemite. We pass by Muir Point and Muir Inlet on our cruise.

The Marble Island Bird Rookeries are a highlight of the day for birders. The ship passes close to the island for great binocular views of Tufted and Horned Puffins, Common Murres, Pelagic Cormorants, and Black-legged Kittiwakes. The sights, sounds (and smells) are amazing!  Over 300 Steller Sea Lions also use the island to haul out and pup.
Accommodations at Gustavus Inn, Gustavus (B,L,D)

Whale tailTue., July 30 Pleasant Island – Ancient Forests Trails
The native Tlingit people traveled widely when in residence here, making summer camps to harvest salmon, selecting winter villages that provided more protection.  Much of the land they lived on is now under the bay, as water levels have risen with glacial melt since the Tlingit lived here at the peak of the Little Ice Age. We wander a bit ourselves today, crossing Icy Straits to Pleasant Island to walk trails, learn about Tlingit medicinal plants, photograph wildflowers, and listen for songs of boreal birds. What a thrill to walk through an ancient temperate rainforest, where huge conifer trees tower above an elfin realm, all primitive plants that continue to thrive on this coastal island today. We take a picnic lunch and spend much of the day here.

Kayak lunch on the beach Pleasant IslandScientists, including William S. Cooper, refined the theory of plant succession based on over fifty years of work in Glacier Bay. Forests like these showed them a magnificent part of the spectrum, the culmination of species assembling into forest over time. In John Muir’s days theories of continental glaciation were just emerging, and we had yet to understand the concept of plant succession. Pleasant Island is in essence a living laboratory, protected from climate extremes by being surrounded by water, and since it holds a remnant ancient coastal forest, it provides an important window into our understanding. Some of the birds we hope to see include Three-toed Woodpeckers and Varied Thrushes.
Or, the adventurous at heart may want to book a day sea-kayaking with whales (this is an all-day adventure by boat. You take kayaks out to the whales and have ample paddling time with them – marvelous!  This must be booked ahead and is an additional cost - in 2012, it was approximately $435.00).
Accommodations at Gustavus Inn, Gustavus (B,L,D)

Eagle and seabirds - AlaskaWed., July 31 Exploring Gustavus Island / Optional Sea-kayaking or Fishing
Today is a relaxing day with time to take in the stunning setting of our lodge, right at the mouth of Glacier Bay. The lodge has been open since 1965 and is treasured for its hospitality. It is set up for naturalists, with a library, fireplace room for blustery days, and a deck from which to view half the world. The Salmon River runs nearby; bikes are parked here for you to use anytime you wish to explore; a garden flowers draw in butterflies and birds, such as the Rufous Hummingbird. Glacier Bay National Park has some 240 birds on its checklist and a number of these we can pick up right around our lodgings.

Bartlett Cove TrailEnjoy this day with time to walk, watch birds, work on your photography, or sea kayak. There are one, four and eight-mile trails in the vicinity of Bartlett’s Covenear Gustavus, and we plan to set up options based on the group’s interests and abilities. Those opting for a leisurely morning may wish to join the National Park Service naturalist for a guided walk, something offered each day.

Rental kayaks are available right in Bartlett Cove near the lodge, and we can plan on some lessons and a guided excursion today for those who wish to explore by sea. If it’s a drop-dead gorgeous day, you may want to book some flight-seeing.  Or, just relax and soak in Alaska’s beauty. 

Friends walking - AlaskaWe plan to visit The Nature Conservancy’s Gustavus Forelands Preserve for part of the day to walk and to learn more about special habitats on the margin of land and sea. There is a 2.5 mile trail we can walk called the Nagoonberry Loop. We should find a grand mix of birds, shorebirds along the water and boreal forest birds inland.

We booked enough days here that we don’t have to rush so there is time if you want to admire the large kitchen garden of our lodge, which supplies us with produce and flowers. Or take a walk to sample some of the wild edibles along the trail.  Meals here are a memorable part of our experience – imagine being this close to fresh salmon, halibut, sablefish and Dungeness crab!  James Beard named the restaurant of Gustavus Inn one of “America’s Classics” in 2010!

Gustavus dinnerA special note for sport fishing enthusiasts:  Fishing by charter boat, for halibut and up to five species of salmon, can be arranged. Boats typically hold six persons, and they fill up quickly so it is strongly advised that you book this in advance.  The park provides general background information you can review, but our lodging host can discuss options with you and help you book the sport fishing trip of your life!  Additional cost, based on duration of your trip – half or full day. 
Accommodations at Gustavus Inn, Gustavus (B,D)

Thurs., Aug 1 Point Adolphus Whale Watching
Seeing Humpback Whales is the prime attraction on our day to Point Adolphus.  Alaska is known for whale-viewing and this place is the best of the best! We travel by boat, Boats in Icy Straitspassing through magnificent scenery to find pods of Humpbacks that have swum back from Hawaii and farther reaches to feed in nutrient rich waters. This is the largest concentration of feeding whales in Alaska!  Orca, Minke Whale, Dahl and Harbor Porpoises may all be found, as well as Sea Otter. Once among the whales, we interpret their behaviors.  We have great hopes of seeing them bubble-feed – grouping up under a school of fish, diving down and rising to surround them while making a “net” of bubbles. We save this for our Gustavus grand finale, and a grand day it is!
Accommodations at Gustavus Inn, Gustavus (B,L,D)

Steller’s Sea Lion

Fri., Aug. 2 Flight to Haines
Today we fly away to explore other areas of Southeast Alaska. Our host has arranged flights for us over to Haines; our route and time are dependent on weather. If it’s a glorious day we fly over the mountain, one of the most memorable experiences of our adventure. If it is blustery or rainy, we hug the coast, on a time-tested route that works in all but extreme weather. It’s a quick trip, highly scenic, and on arrival we are greeted by our hosts from the lodge.

Snowfields view from flight to HainesWe’ve chosen the historic Hotel Halsinglad with a promise from the proprietor they will take good care of us!  It is a 100-year hotel, so you can imagine some things are a bit funky, like small bathrooms, although we have spacious rooms. The hotel gets mixed reviews, but we feel confident the new owners are paying close attention, making improvements, and in this town of just over 2000, we feel it certainly has the best food and most charm available among the three main hotels in town.

Haines is far less touristy than neighboring Skagway, so we choose it as our home base for this part of the tour. The Haines Convention and Visitor’s Bureau claims the “population is 2400 – 1897 dogs, 4000 eagles (in fall), and 260 species of birds.” We book three nights here so we can have a day to sample local highlights, as well as explore the more-touristic, but fascinating area of Skagway.  Tonight we’ll take a poll to plan ahead for some of our options, sampling interest for kayaking (lake), bear-viewing, hiking (several levels), seeing local art and culture and more!
Accommodations at the historic Halsinglad Hotel, Haines (B,L,D)

Sat., Aug. 3 Skagway and White’s Pass Scenic Railroad Ride
This morning we walk to the ferry dock, where we take the fast ferry to Skagway, only 45 minutes away.  The National Park Service has a strong presence here, interpreting this rather White Pass Railroadextraordinary era of Alaskan history – a mining boom extraordinaire.  This is officially the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, once command center for the turn-of-the-century Klondike gold rush.

We have booked a boat and rail package for you so we can ride what is perhaps North America’s most scenic train ride – from Skagway up to White’s Pass and the Canadian Border. From Skagway at sea level, White’s Pass is an almost 3000-foot climb.  The route of the railroad parallels that of the famed Chilkoot Trail.  We pass brilliant peaks, waterfalls, deep gorges, and the railroad’s own impressive trestles and tunnels. The forty-mile ride takes, roundtrip, about 3.5 hours, so you have time upon return to explore historic Skagway at your leisure. Join an interpretive walk (five times daily by the National Park Service) or just roam the boardwalks.  

We are not alone in Skagway and in mid-summer it can be congested, but it’s a vital part of Alaskan history and we feel still a “must-see” part of the adventure. By afternoon we are happy to board the fast ferry and return to quieter Haines, and the lounge and historic dining room of our Hotel Halsinglad digs. Dinner tonight is at your leisure, so if some want to stay on in Skagway, they can take a later ferry home. 
Accommodations at the historic Halsinglad Hotel, Haines (B,L)

Skagway White Pass Railroad

Scoping wildlife on the river near HainesSun., Aug. 4 Exploring Haines / Chilkoot Lake Bears and more…
Haines has some of the most accessible bear-viewing in Alaska, with several salmon-bearing rivers pouring into Chilkoot Lake. We venture out with local experts to locations where we hope fish may be feeding within view. If the fish runs are delayed, we hike in lush forests, look for nesting Bald Eagles and other birds of the region.

We return to Haines for some free time to explore. Remember this is a “NON-cruise” experience and we can learn from the locals just what makes Haines tick. Intriguing is Totem pole - Hainesthe list of Tlinget Totems that can be seen around town, and the Alaskan Art Center where we can see carvers at work. Who would not be captivated by a museum that houses hammers – yes, the Hammer Museum of Haines is a possible attraction and one quite well-received!  Haines has a number of acclaimed artists, a writer that contributes local stories to podcasts on NPR, and some great hikes and wildlife just out the door.

We gather back at the hotel to enjoy an early dinner, and in the evening, (their schedule, one ferry a day) we board the Alaska State Marine Highway ferry to ride to Juneau. It is a 4 1/2 hour trip, scheduled to depart at 6:30 PM. The summer evening light is extraordinary! Savor time on deck, a final evening with new friends, as tonight is the last official night of our journey. On arrival we’ll go straight to our lodgings, convenient to both the airport and ferry dock, to rest.
Accommodations at the Best Western Country Lane Inn, Juneau (B,D)

Lincoln Sparrow 

Mon., Aug. 5 A Taste of Juneau and departures
We stay in a hotel convenient to the airport, so you can plan departures today at your leisure. As many flights depart in the late evening, you can plan to explore a bit of View of Haines from ferryAlaska’s busy capital city. You may also wish to continue down along the coast using the Alaska Marine Highway system to visit additional ports on the Inside Passage. While Juneau has opportunities on the wild side, we will have come from even wilder reaches, so we suggest you sample the excellent Alaska State Museum, and some of the excellent local art galleries. If it’s a beautiful day, you may want to ride the Mt. Robert’s Tramway up 1670 feet for a panoramic view. And okay, if your flight is a red-eye (as many leaving Alaska are) you have time for one more fabulous salmon or halibut feast! (B)

Battery Cove Beach, Haines

Elfin Cove Entry

Gustavus Garden Iris

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Cost of the journey is $4375.00, based on double occupancy, from Gustavus, Alaska, departing Juneau, Alaska. Cost of the journey includes: accommodations for 8 nights (5N Gustavus Inn, 2N Hotel Halsingland in Haines, and 1N Juneau; all meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner); park entrance and other activity fees for activities described in the itinerary including a boat tour of Glacier Bay National Park, and an all-day whale-watching boat tour from Gustavus. The tour includes transportation between Gustavus and Haines, and then from Haines to Juneau by flight or ferry (partly determined by weather) and the ferry and train tour from Haines to Skagway and White Pass. There will be options for sea-kayaking, additional flight-seeing, and fishing as you select, at additional cost. Your journey includes Naturalist Journey’s host and local professional guide services, pre-departure materials and miscellaneous program expenses. This will be a spectacular trip!

Costs do not include: round-trip airfare to Gustavus, Alaska and from Juneau, Alaska – both cities served by larger airplanes of Alaska Airlines. The tour cost does not include items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar; or gratuities for luggage handling or personal services. 

Single supplement for the journey: Please note that Gustavus Inn is a small Inn with a short season, and they will not readily accommodate singles.  If this is REALLY important to you please contact our office and we will inquire. We can do a partial single supplement for the other four nights of the journey, and that cost is $295.00. 

Group size: Maximum of 12, minimum of six. The cost of the journey is based on 8 participants, with fewer than 8, a small-group surcharge (typically $100-300 per participant) may apply, or we may request that you pick up the cost of a few additional dinners in lieu of that surcharge.

Alaska Airlines serves the Alaska-state run Gustavus Airport (GST).  Our lodge is close to the airport (as is everything in this remote, but incredibly scenic village!) so you may arrive on a flight that works for you. Please feel free to coordinate this with others of the trip or with our office as you make your flight plans.  Departures from Juneau (JNU) are at your leisure, and by taking one of the evening flights, you will have a full day to explore Alaska’s capital city.  Our arrival date is July 28, and departure Aug. 5, 2013.

Photo Credits
Skagway White Pass Railroad, Haines-Skagway Fast Ferry; Kayak lunch on the beach - Pleasant Island, snowfields view from flight to Haines, Battery Cove Beach, Elfin Cove entry and Gustavus Garden Iris, Carol Bratman; Grizzly Bear, Bald Eagle and Sea Otter, ©Bud Ferguson; all other images by Peg Abbott.

Naturalist Journeys LLC, a top birding and nature tour company, offers specialty small group travel to many of the best nature destinations worldwide. Naturalist Journeys’ expert guides have decades of experience leading guided nature and birding tours as well as travel photography tours, all with a focus on responsible travel and eco-tourism. Naturalist Journeys also offer Utah hiking adventure tours and adventure travel in national parks and wildlife reserves ranging from in-depth Alaska wildlife tours to guided Texas and Florida birding tours. Costa Rica nature and birding tours are among our top-rated as are our Panama nature tours and African wildlife safari tours. Our many repeat clients enjoy dependable and diverse holidays on Galapagos nature tours, Arctic and Antarctica nature cruises, and birding and wildlife tours from Arizona to the Amazon and beyond.