Muir Inlet-East Arm of Glacier Bay - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip
Muir Inlet is one of the most attractive parts of Glacier Bay. Only a few cruise ships visit this area, and in some parts of the East Arm, motorized vessels are not permitted during the summer months.
Most paddlers heading up bay do so by catching a ride on a camper-kayak transport boat to the drop-off at Mt. Wright, near the mouth of Muir Inlet. Doing so cuts about two days of paddling off a trip from Bartlett Cove and can be a significant time-saver when on a limited vacation schedule. However you miss out on the Beardslee Islands, an intriguing scattering of remote islands and solitude campsites. If you have the time, don't pass them up. They are at their most glorious with wildlife galore between mid-May and mid-June.
Trip Highlights: On this trip you see the complete vegetation and geologic transition that accompanies glacial retreat. Along the way there is the possibility of seeing black and brown bears, seals, sea lions, wolves, moose, and an array of waterfowl as well as puffins and kittiwakes.
Trip Rating: Intermediate/Advanced: Relatively inexperienced kayakers will do fine if accompanied by an experienced companion or guide. Wilderness camping skills are as important as kayaking ability.
Trip Duration: A popular destination in the East Arm is McBride or Riggs or Glaciers. This is a round-trip distance of 74 miles from Bartlett Cove or between 35 and 40 miles round-trip from a kayak transport drop-off near the mouth of Muir Inlet. This is a minimum of six days for those who plan to be dropped off and picked up. It includes one to two days paddle to McBride Glacier and an equal amount of time to return, a couple of days in the vicinity of the Glaciers, and one day allowance for any weather problems. Those paddling from Bartlett Cove need ten to twelve days.
Sidetrips to Adams Inlet, Muir Glacier, or Wachusett Inlet add additional days for some spectacular kayaking. Adams Inlet for example deserves an additional two to four days, Muir Glacier an additional one to two days, and likewise for Wachusett Inlet.
Navigation Aids: NOAA chart 17318.
Tidal Information: Concern with tides applies to those who elect to paddle from Bartlett Cove. It is necessary to pass behind (to the east) of Lester Island on a flooding tide and to return on an ebb well before low tide. In the Beardslee Islands ebb and flood tides can significantly affect your progress between islands. Those entering Adams Inlet are advised to do so on the flood near high water and to leave on ebb shortly after high water.
Cautions: Most important is to get off the water before wind and wave conditions increase beyond your level of ability. Special care must be taken when making any open-water crossings. It is possible to stay near shore when paddling up the East Arm and most of the way there are plenty of places to haul out to rest or camp. Those who begin their trip at the mouth
of Muir Inlet need not cross Muir Inlet. The warnings mentioned in the Paddling Southeast Alaska chapter regarding kayaking in the vicinity of glaciers applies especially to McBride Glacier.
Furthermore the entrance to the small bay in front of McBride Glacier should be entered only at slack tide. Better yet, walk the shore and line your kayak until inside the entrance to avoid any difficult currents and renegade bergs that can come tumbling into the entrance.
trip planning: Be sure you have everything you need before setting off. Once away from Bartlett Cove, there are no more services. A VHF radio is handy because the Park Service broadcasts a weather forecast twice daily.
Launch Site: Those paddling from Bartlett Cove can follow directions given for Route 21: Lester Island and Secret Bay. If you travel up bay on the camper and kayak transport boat, you will launch from a site somewhere near the mouth of Muir Inlet. The exact location of the launch point will change from time to time.
When leaving from Bartlett Cove, paddle east to the head of the cove and pass Lester Island on a rising tide. This is much easier than trying to go out the inlet and north around Young Island. Tidal currents between Young and Strawberry Islands are very strong. Make your way north through the Beardslee Islands. There are many excellent campsites on these islands. Continuing north it is possible to paddle by North and South Marble Islands or stay farther east by way of Leland Island and Sturgess Island or along the shoreline. North and South Marble are rookeries and haul outs for sea lions, so just enjoy them from a distance of 100 yards or more. Sandy Cove is often closed to camping because of the number of bears in the area. Farther north follow along the Muir Inlet shoreline. Numerous campsite opportunities are available there.
Those who begin paddling from near the mouth of Muir Inlet will travel north along the east or west side of the inlet, depending on location of the drop-off. Because the transport drop-off service usually occurs in mid- to late morning, you will probably decide to camp one night at one of the many sites along the way to McBride or Riggs Glaciers.
Everyone seems to enjoy viewing McBride Glacier because of its ideal setting. The small bay in front of the glacier is a great place to paddle among icebergs and seals. Camping on the spit at the bay's mouth presents an incredible opportunity to see and hear the glacier moaning, groaning, and crashing as huge slabs of ice fall from the face. However this is a popular camping spot and is seldom a "wilderness experience." Note too that the spits on both sides of the entrance are the sites of struggling colonies of Arctic terns. Campers have been known to carelessly destroy their nests. Give them a break.
Instead of camping at McBride, consider spending more time just north at Riggs Glacier. It is no longer tidal, but you can still kayak to it and get some close-up impressions. The vicinity of Riggs is one of my favorite camp spots, and I usually have the place all to myself.
Sidetrip: Adams Inlet deserves a two- or three-day visit. In the summer the area is off-limits to motorized vessels and abounds with seabirds, seals, and moose. I have also seen wolves in Adams.
Caution: Although not so indicated on the maps, the channel on the north side of the large island inside Adams Inlet has silted in and is impossible to cross except on highest tides. Avoid it.
Few people visit Wachusett Inlet and here too motorized vessels are prohibited during part of the summer. Hence it is sometimes a great place for privacy and remote-area kayaking and camping.
Up Muir Inlet beyond Riggs Glacier motorized vessels are permitted for only half of the summer, and it is an especially good place for bird watching. Muir Glacier is sometimes partly tidal, and so you can often paddle most of the way and walk partway for a visit.
Where to Stay Once you leave Bartlett Cove, there are no more organized facilities of any sort. This is all undeveloped National Park wilderness area and except for specific spots designated by the Park Service rangers, camping is permitted anywhere you wish.
Excerpted from Guide to Sea Kayaking in Southeast Alaska: The Best Trips and Tours from Misty Fjords to Glacier Bay by Jim Howard with permission from Falcon Publishing.
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