Gustavus is a city of about 650 people which is located on the mainland of the Southeast Alaskan panhandle.
The city is named for the nearby Point Gustavus, which lies at the mouth of Glacier Bay National Park.
The main industries in the town are fishing, tourism, and government, with most of its residents being employed in one of these fields.
Gustavus’ nickname is “The Gateway to Glacier Bay,” as most visits to the city are centered around viewing the nearby gorgeous Glacier Bay National Park.
The city has a total area of about 37 square miles, as it also includes the nearby location of Bartlett Cove, which is the main entry point into Glacier Bay National Monument.
Gustavus is a very tourist-friendly city compared to towns of similar sizes in Southeast Alaska, with its location near Glacier Bay bringing thousands of visitors every year.
The Huna Tlingit called the Gustavus area “Wanachích T’aak Héen,” which translates as “Stream at the Back of Wanachích,” with Wanachích being the name used for the nearby Pleasant Island.
It is one of the fastest-growing cities in Alaska, with the 2020 Census figure of 655 representing almost a 50% increase from the 2010 figure of 442 residents.
The people of Gustavus are very proud of their hospitality, customer service, and appreciation for visitors, as they strive to provide the perfect experience for travelers.
There is a bridge that crosses the Salmon River, which flows through town and is home to various types of salmon, Dolly Varden, and other types of fish.
Things to Do in Gustavus
Most of the visitor activity in Gustavus is centered around visiting Glacier Bay National Park and seeing its many amazing sights.
There are several boat and plane tours in town dedicated to seeing the park in all of its glory. Many of these operate from Bartlett Cove, the official opening of Glacier Bay, which is part of Gustavus and just a short trip from town.
There are also numerous charter fishing operations that operate in the city, with some going into Glacier Bay and some remaining outside.
There are also numerous trails around town, which provide many great opportunities for hikers and backpackers.
Strawberry Point Tours offers a guided tour of the island by van, that features many beautiful sights, as well as the opportunity to see moose, deer, bears, and other wildlife.
How to Get to Gustavus
Due to Gustavus’ location on a peninsula and the fact that it is surrounded by Glacier Bay, there are no roads in or out of town, despite being part of the Alaskan mainland.
Alaska Airlines offers summer service to Gustavus Airport and many regional carriers also offer either regular service or charters to town.
Only smaller cruise ships tend to visit Gustavus and none of them stay overnight. As the main visitor draw of Gustavus is the ability to view Glacier Bay, many cruise ships already give visitors the chance to do this and therefore do not make port in the city.
There are also charter boats available in Juneau and other nearby cities that transport visitors to Gustavus.
The Alaska Marine Highway ferry offers weekly service to Gustavus from many cities and towns across Southeast Alaska, as well as Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Bellingham, Washington.
Where to Stay, Eat, and Shop
There are several fishing lodges in town that combine a hotel with charter fishing expeditions, including the Glacier Bay Lodge.
Hollywood Farms is a smaller RV Park that only has space for nine customers each night, which means visitors are encouraged to make reservations far in advance.
There are also numerous bed and breakfasts, rental cabins, and a campground for visitors wishing to sleep in tents.
Fireweed Gallery Coffee and Tea offers refreshments and is located directly in the center of town.
Several of the lodges and hotels also have restaurants inside open to the public, although all do require reservations.
The Higher Grounds Coffee shop is located inside the airport near the Alaska Seaplanes counter, which sells coffee and doughnuts.
There are several gift shops in town, including the Alaska Native Eagle Gift Shop, the Glacier Bay Lodge Gift Shop, and the Fireweed Gallery Coffee and Tea House.
History of Gustavus
The area now known as Gustavus was used by the Huna Tlingit for thousands of years for hunting, fishing, and berry gathering.
The town was originally founded by a homesteader named Abraham Lincoln Parker, who moved to the area in 1917 with his wife and their six children.
To this day, many residents of Gustavus are direct descendants or relatives of the Parker family.
The city was originally known as Strawberry Point, as many bushes bearing the fruit could be found growing all over the area.
When the US Postal Service opened a post office in 1924, it required the city to change its name, although many residents continued to call it Strawberry Point for years.
The name “Gustavus” was chosen after Point Gustavus on Chicaghof Island, which is still used today as a viewing point for humpback whales.
Point Gustavus got its name from Point Adolphus, which lies just across the bay. Point Adolphus was named after the then-Duke of Cambridge, Adolphus Frederick, the tenth child of the English King George III.
However, when naturalist William H. Dall made a map of the area later, he assumed that Point Adolphus was named after Gustavus Adolphus, better known as King Gustavus II of Sweden. He then gave the unnamed point the designation of “Gustavus.”
Today, Gustavus is proud to welcome visitors from all over the world to enjoy some Southeast Alaskan hospitality on their next adventure to Glacier Bay National Park!