Gustavus is the gateway city to Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
It’s a very small city with a population of only about 500 and there are no roads that go directly to the city.
But given its proximity to Glacier Bay National Park, many travelers find themselves trying to get to Gustavus either by air or by boat.
Below, I’ll break down the different options that you have for getting to Gustavus.
I’ll provide some details like pricing, scheduling, and also what you can expect from the different experiences so that you’ll be able to choose the best form of transportation.
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Alaska Airlines offers a single daily flight between Juneau (JNU) and Gustavus (GST) every day from about the middle of May to the end of August.
The flight departs Juneau at about 4PM and arrives in Gustavus at 4:40PM. It then departs Gustavus at 5:40PM and arrives in Juneau at about 6:15PM.
This means that you can depart on Alaska Airlines on the same day you are doing the Glacier Bay Boat Tour!
When we took this flight it was served by a Boeing 737-700 and the flight time was only about 30 minutes. It’s one of those flights that as soon as you get up in the air it’s time to come back down.
A one-way economy ticket may only cost you around $110 so it’s a pretty cheap flight. Even business class can be cheap at around $160.
The airport terminal used for Alaska Airlines at GST is very small. It’s basically one large room — no Centurion Lounge here.
Checking in can be a little bit hectic because there will be a long line for checking bags that fills the room (and extends outside). You’ll have people exiting and going to the bathrooms making it a bit cramped at times.
Then they will open up security (on the left) which makes things even more crowded since it all takes place by each other. Still, it’s pretty manageable if you remain patient (and hopefully dry).
They don’t have a dedicated line for TSA Pre-Check at GST (no surprise) but if you have Pre-Check on your boarding pass they will offer you TSA Pre-Check Lite. Basically you can still get your Pre-Check privileges but you go through the normal line.
Because they don’t have the x-ray machines for your checked baggage, each bag will undergo a manual inspection.
This means that a TSA worker will be digging through your bag so if you have certain belongings that you don’t want “messed” with, you may want to put those in your carry-on.
Once you make it through security, you will hang out in a little secure area outside and then board the plane in small groups but not according to the typical Alaska boarding group order. It’s basically first come, first serve.
When arriving at GST airport, here’s what you need to know.
First, sometimes the planes have to make multiple passes due to fog/low clouds. While we were there, one of the planes had to make three passes so just don’t be alarmed if that happens because it seems to be relatively normal.
Upon arriving, you’ll exit the plane and then head to the baggage claim area which is basically a window where workers will drop the bags off.
This works better than you would imagine given how many passengers there may be but if it is raining you and your bags might be getting pretty wet.
It seems that most of the hotels and lodges here provide transportation for you to and from the airport. So when you arrive, just look for someone holding up a sign for your lodge and approach them.
On our visit, we stayed at the Glacier Bay Lodge and they had a large bus that shuttled guests. By the way, if you want to stay at the lodge check out the full detailed review here.
Alaska Seaplanes offers year-round scheduled flights between Juneau and GST.
During the peak summer season, they will fly as many as six scheduled flights a day between Juneau and Gustavus (there are both wheel and float planes). During the winter, they will be flying three planes per day.
The Alaska Seaplanes terminal building is located right next to the Alaska Airlines building. It looks like it might also be home to a small café called “Higher Grounds.” I’m not 100% sure where exactly the Alaska Seaplanes float planes land.
Flying Alaska Seaplanes is going to be a more expensive way to fly to GST but it is also the most scenic way to go. I was told you can get good views of the glaciers and whales when you fly.
I regret not booking with Alaska Seaplanes for that reason!
A base non-refundable fare from JNU to GST will cost you ~$160, which isn’t bad, especially compared to some of the other routes. Expect to pay about $170 to $180 for a refundable fare.
If you’re planning to take the Glacier Bay Tour Boat (full detailed review here), they have a special early morning flight that can get you out to the dock in time for the tour. It departs at 6AM.
This could be a great option for making the boat tour a day trip from Juneau but be aware that the weather can sometimes ground these planes. During our 8 day-long stay, the sea planes were grounded almost every day!
So this is not always a sure fire way to get there on any given day.
Juneau is the hub for Alaska Seaplanes so flights will always route through them but you can book special charter flights if you want a nonstop option from somewhere else. Obviously, expect to pay more for that.
You can find out more about booking with Alaska Seaplanes here.
The Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) runs weekly sailings to the Northern SE Alaska community of Gustavus.
They receive ferry service two days per week most of the year. From Juneau, the ferry ride should take you about four-and-a-half hours.
It’s recommended to make reservations in advance especially if you have a vehicle. Prices without a vehicle can be as low as $60.
For an extra $30 you can add things like kayaks and bicycles.
If you have some type of motor vehicle it will be a lot more expensive. For example, a small car will probably cost around $160 although prices will vary.
If you want to explore the schedule and pricing you can find those here.
Large cruise ships like Holland America, Norwegian Cruise, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, etc. do not dock anywhere in Gustavus/Glacier Bay National Park but many of them will spend a full day taking you through the park.
Getting to Gustavus, Alaska (GST) is relatively easy and cheap. If I could go back in time, I would have booked the seaplane for the scenic ride although it was a unique experience to fly a 737 into such a small airport.
And while you can cut things close with day trips to Gustavus for the boat tour, be mindful that the weather can ground these planes and you may not have enough time to make the boat tour if there is a delay.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.