Kayaking Glacier Bay

The Beardslee Island Group: Features, Background, and Tips

The Beardslee Island group is made up of over three dozen islands at high tide, and many more at low tide when rocks and shoals are exposed. The islands are located immediately north of Bartlett Cove. Some scientists theorize that the Beardslees were deposited as the last glacier melted northward, uncovering the bay in the 1700s.

The greatest elevation of any island in the Beardslee group is just over 200 feet, found on a two-mile-long unnamed island northeast of Young Island. Most islands are quite low, and gentle in slope. The present 2"-annual uplift means that not only are the islands increasing in elevation and new islands are appearing, but the water around them is decreasing in depth. Channels that were passable just a few years ago are not usable today.

Of the many rocks and shoal areas exposed at low tide, most but not all are shown on the marine chart. Running onto a rock could produce scratches, or a cracked hull. Kayakers can avoid such problems in the Beardslees both by checking the chart carefully, and by keeping a lookout for obstructions under the water. Shoaling water does mean that you need to carefully select channels to paddle at low tides. Even half an hour can make the difference between completing a passage and being grounded by a mud flat. There are few areas where a marine chart goes out of date faster than in Glacier Bay, so be sure to use the newest edition available.

A trip in the Beardslees is ideal for paddlers who want to familiarize themselves with their kayak before embarking on either longer trips or trips in more open water. The entire route can be paddled without exposure to significant currents, and without being more than a few hundred yards from shelter in a cove or behind a protecting islet. A trip within the islands is not physically demanding. Yet the myriad channels and routes that you can paddle within the Beardslees will give you a real taste of Glacier Bay.

The non-motorized regulation assures kayakers peace and seclusion during the majority of the season. Closures to protect wildlife, such as seals and nesting birds, are imposed for certain areas within the islands, and must be observed by kayakers. Closure areas in 1997 were Spider, Eider, Flapjack, Strawberry and the south half of South Marble islands.

There are black bears on many of the islands. Since these animals can swim freely between the islands, protect your food and exercise care to minimize odors. Moose are also common on the larger islands. You can expect to see them very early and late in the day when they are grazing on rye grass along the shore.

While the trip narrative describes a specific route winding through the islands, the choice is admittedly an arbitrary one. Your own choice of routes might be just as enjoyable as the one described here. Many different routes and side explorations are possible, each providing opportunities to experience the islands and the scenery. You may want to use the following route as a way to get into, and out of, the islands, while fully exploring as many of the waterways, coves and islands as possible.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »