Gustavus, a town of about 600 people in Southeast Alaska, is known as The Gateway City to Glacier Bay National Park for a very good reason but the activity here isn’t limited to the park! There are many other great things to do in and around the town itself.
People often ask how to say the name of the town when planning their trip. The easiest way is to think of your friend “Gus Davis” but change the “D” to a “T” and say it as a single word.
If you’re planning a trip here, you’ll probably want to aim for a few days so you can make sure you have enough time to do all the amazing things the area has to offer. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can still do a lot in only a few hours!
Let’s talk about how to get to Gustavus real quick and then we’ll look at some of the awesome activities and adventures you can have on your next visit.
How to Get to Gustavus
Despite being part of the Alaskan mainland, Gustavus is surrounded by mountains on three sides and water on the other, so there is no road access.
The Alaska Marine Highway System serves Gustavus but the most common way for visitors to arrive is by plane from Juneau. Alaska Seaplanes offers year-round service from nearby Juneau and it’s roughly a 30-minute flight.
However, in the summer, Alaska Airlines flies to Gustavus Airport as part of their service between Anchorage-Juneau-Seattle.
The 12 Best Things To Do In Gustavus, Alaska
1. Take a Tour of Glacier Bay
Of the many things to do in and around Gustavus, touring Glacier Bay is by far the most popular activity. The most popular is a seven-hour boat tour with a Forest Service Park Ranger.
These tours operate out of the Glacier Bay National Monument Visitor’s Center in Bartlett Cove, about 20 minutes away from Gustavus.
You can also get a helicopter tour from town if you’d prefer to see the area from above instead of on the water. These flights run for about 30 minutes, although they can go longer and you can also use them if you want to have your marriage ceremony in the park!
2. Kayaking and Camping
If you’re feeling really adventurous, the boat tour from Bartlett Cove offers a drop-off service, with locations in the east arm and the west arm of Glacier Bay.
If you arrange it in advance, you can start the tour with the rest of your group, then get dropped off by yourself or with your party inside Glacier Bay, then get picked up at the same spot by the next day’s tour group.
You can camp, kayak, or do any number of other things while in the park, but please do remember bear safety, as you’re likely to encounter them and many other wild animals during your stay.
3. Enjoy Local Art
Even though Gustavus’s population is low, their love of art is incredibly high, with multiple local artists owning galleries in town.
Some of these artists operate in multiple mediums as well, so whether you buy a print or another item, or just enjoy their galleries, you can spend some time appreciating and supporting local artists.
4. Enjoy a Fishing Charter
Fishing Charters are one of the most exciting things to do in Southeast Alaska, with several great options available in Gustavus.
The fish available to catch include ling cod, rockfish, halibut, all five types of salmon, and more.
If you’d prefer, you can stay in one of several fishing lodges in town or you can go out for a few hours. Some lodges offer nine-hour full-day charters or five-hour half-day voyages.
5. Take a Van Excursion
If you’ve come by boat and want to take a break from the water, you can still see a lot of amazing scenery near town and in Glacier Bay.
Strawberry Point Tours (whose name honors the original designation given to the town by the homesteaders who established it) offers charter tours or if you don’t have a lot of time, a standard 45-minute tour from the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry Terminal.
There are also kayak racks on top of the van if you’d like to be dropped off at the end of a charter tour or just need a place to store it while you enjoy the drive.
6. Visit the Gas Station
Normally, if someone suggested you visit a gas station, you’d think there weren’t a lot of better things to do in town. This is not the case in Gustavus!
The gas station in town is a replica of a pre-World War II Mobil station with actual functioning pumps from 1937! It is one of the most photographed gas stations in the United States.
Located downtown in the area called “Four Corners,” the location also features a gift shop and the only museum dedicated to petroleum in the state of Alaska.
7. Buy Some Locally Made Soap
A local company called Pretty Nice Soap offers a variety of soaps and other products made from goat cheese, yogurt, and other locally-sourced ingredients.
Willow Rose Soap & Salve Company also creates handmade soap from items in the surrounding area, so you can buy both and decide which one you like best!
8. Buy a Plant or Some Produce
Since the city of Gustavus was originally started as a homestead, it makes sense that there are many local farms in town that sell fresh produce.
There are options in the city center, as well as on the road to Bartlett Cove. If you rent a car, you can get some delicious fruits and vegetables on your way back to Gustavus from your exciting Glacier Bay adventure.
Gustavus Gardens sells plants, gardening equipment, and even tomatoes while they’re in season.
9. Enjoy Nagoonberry Loop Trail
Situated near the city center, Nagoonberry Loop Trail provides a wonderful opportunity to take a scenic stroll in a beautiful forested area.
It is just over two miles long and has an elevation gain of just over 100 feet, which makes it the perfect trail for walking, jogging, or running.
You’ll want to remember your rain gear, as you’ll be walking in the Tongass National Rainforest and it’s liable to rain at any point. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the trail, although this won’t be an issue for most visitors.
10. Visit the Huna Tribal House
The Huna Tlingit used the area in and around Glacier Bay for thousands of years before it was designated as a National Park and their usage was then restricted.
In an effort to revitalize Alaska Native art traditions and in honor of the Clan Houses that once stood in the area, The Huna Tribal House in nearby Bartlett Cove was built and dedicated in 2016.
Tlingit singers, dancers, carvers, and other knowledgeable elders can be found here, allowing visitors to return home with a greater knowledge of Alaska Native history and culture.
11. Explore the City on a Bicycle
A local company called Aria Cycles rents both bicycles and e-bikes, which can provide visitors with a great opportunity to see many of the local sites.
You can see birds down at the dock, head over to the beach and walk down miles of shoreline, and grab some wild strawberries down by the old golf course, which shut down several years ago.
Gustavus is mostly flat and there are only two main roads out of town, which makes navigating very easy, even if your smartphone maps aren’t working, which they generally will not the further you go from the city center.
There are also several places around town to take the “Classic Alaskan Photograph,” which features a bed of wildflowers in the foreground and mountains in the background.
Even if you’re not that great at taking pictures (like me!), this is an easy shot to take while in Gustavus, which is why it’s one of my personal favorites! I like to crouch down and tilt the camera up just a little bit.
12. Enjoy Local Coffee
If you’re in the mood for a cup of coffee and want something a little different than Starbucks or Seattle’s Best, you’ll love the local options in Gustavus!
The Fireweed Gallery Coffee & Tea House sells Fairweather Ground Coffee, which is a 100% organic blend that is roasted locally.
If you really enjoy their coffee, you can buy a pack of beans in town or order them online and have them delivered to your home, which is particularly useful if you have limited baggage space for your return journey!
Final Thoughts and Summary
These are just a few of the many wonderful things to do in Gustavus, Bartlett Cove, and Glacier Bay National Monument.
Whether you’re coming to enjoy the fishing charters, buying some locally-made products, taking pictures of the gas station, or visiting the beautiful Glacier Bay, you’re sure to find something you love while you’re here.
The city of Gustavus can’t wait to welcome you as part of your next exciting Alaskan adventure!