Written by Missy Johnston

Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska
Tracy Arm and Sawyer Glacier

For any itinerary out of Juneau, it would be a shame to miss a cruise up Tracey Arm to see the north and south side of Sawyer Glacier crawling bit by bit down the north and south arm of Tracy Fjord. Sawyer Glacier is one of the few glaciers abutting salt water. It is an actively calving glacier sending bits of ice floating to the mouth of Tracy Arm announcing the glaciers presence at the top of the fjord.

Tracy Arm, 45 miles south of Juneau, is one of two fjords that occupy the Tracy Arm area. Along with Endicott Arm, the area covers about 653,179 acres and both fjords are about 30 miles long. About one-fifth of the area is covered in ice. Approaching by sea, visitors sail along meandering bends and pass blocks of ice on their way to view the twin Sawyer Glaciers, located at the head of the fjord. The sides of Tracy Arm rise steeply to the 7,000 foot height of the surrounding mountains and reveal numerous waterfalls and glacial blue water. The area is home to a variety of wildlife including black and brown bears, deer, wolves, harbor seals, sea lions, eagles, mew gulls, arctic terns and pigeon guillemots. Mountain goats are occasionally spotted near the base of Sawyer Glacier. Often little harbor seals are basking on the small blocks of ice that have calved from the face of the glacier.

The spectacular twin Sawyer Glaciers are a viewing point to see shedding ice. Chunks as tall as a three-story apartment building have been known to fall into the sea. In fact, the head of Tracy Arm sheds ice about once an hour.

Spend time up close to each glacier, watching the calving action, often announced by a loud crack before large face pieces of ice separate from the glacier and fall into the waters below. If in a tender, you can go right up under the face of the glaciers and circle around the ice chunks with harbor seals basking in the sun. Put sea kayaks in the water and kayak around the ice field, stopping to break chunks of glacier ice off for drinks later.

When cruising up and down Tracy Arm, also watch for the many waterfalls that drop down from the mountains into the fjord, and be on the lookout for wild and marine life.