Baird Glacier

Area Status: Open
Baird Glacier

The Baird Glacier is located about 20 miles northeast of Petersburg, Alaska. It has a large glacial outwash plain and terminal moraine in front of the ice which supports a diversity of plant and animal life. The outwash plain developed over many decades of sand deposits due to floods and coastal uplift. The terminal moraine is a prominent, long mound of cobble, boulders and sand left behind when the glacier terminus rested there for many years. There are no recreation facilities such as cabins or shelters at the glacier, though other FS cabins such as Spurt Cove and Cascade Creek are nearby in Thomas Bay. Forest Service developed hiking opportunities in the area include Falls Lake and Swan Lake trails.

Baird Glacier Story Map - For more photos and information about the Baird Glacier click here.

Planning your trip – The Baird’s outwash plain and terminal moraine are part of a world class nature viewing site.  Baird Glacier flows into Thomas Bay which empties into Frederick Sound. As you enter the bay from Frederick Sound and head towards the far end of the bay, the steep granitic walls will become closer and surround you. They were smoothed by the Stikine Icefield including the Baird and nearby Patterson glacier, which scoured the surrounding rock and shaped the landscape. 

May through September are the best months to visit, although an individual will need to apply caution during the breeding period of the Arctic Tern from early May through August. Visitors coming to the area during this time period should avoid walking near areas where the birds are congregated and audibly warn intruders to stay away. Disturbance can not only cause nest abandonment, but tern eggs are laid directly on the ground and are very difficult to see! A suggested hiking route is provided in the map below for staying clear of the main nesting areas. 

Getting ThereThe Baird Glacier environs is accessible by boat from Petersburg.

The glacier environment is a dynamic landscape with cold water constantly moving, from cascading waterfalls to swift silty rivers. Visiting by boat can only be done within the confines of the tides, coming in just before the high and leaving before the tide starts to turn in a few hours. Visitors can also camp on the outwash plain in the areas of higher relief and be picked up the next day. Outfitter and guide boat operators based in Petersburg are familiar with these confines and will plan accordingly. If you are going in your own boat and not part of a guided tour, no special permit is needed.

Boats enter the channel along the outwash plain on an incoming tide, using a fathometer to measure depth within the shallow, cobble-ridden, silty water. Several locations are possible for disembarking from the boat, with a boulder studded sandy area to guide you to the main viewing areas. It takes about 20 minutes to hike from the boat to the glacier viewing area.

Visitors wanting to climb onto the Baird Glacier cannot access the ice from the terminal moraine any longer, as the 2015 flooding and rapid retreat has broken up the terminus. A lake is blocking foot access from the terminal moraine to the ice. Climbers must plan accordingly, using small pack rafts to paddle across the lake to the ice to reach the icefields’ multiple peaks.

Arctic Tern Eggs at the Baird Glacier Walking on an outwash plain at the Baird Glacier Baird Glacier with biotic crusts

At a Glance

Current Conditions: Caution: The wet environment of SE Alaska creates very slippery conditions. There is no actual trail but people follow the route on the map over the bare sand and gravel, taking care to avoid the delicate vegetation and tern nesting area to reach the higher moraine for a view. Unexpected flooding from the glacier is also a caution to boaters and hikers.
Operational Hours: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year
Reservations: None
Rentals & Guides: Contact the Petersburg Visitor Center for more information. 
Fees: None
Permit Info: None
Open Season: May-Sept. are best, open all year weather permitting. Nesting terns present early May through Aug.
Usage: Light
Restrictions: None
Closest Towns: Petersburg, Alaska
Water: No potable
Restroom: None
Passes: None
Operated By: U.S. Forest Service

General Information

General Notes:

The first inhabitants of this area were the Stikine Tlingit of the Taalkweidí clan. Thomas Bay was a traditional hunting and trapping area with a year-round village located at the mouth of the bay. Archaeological evidence indicates at least one additional camp in the bay that was likely occupied prior to European influence. There are also tales of tragedy about the bay – a report of a slide that destroyed a village killing over 500 people and the hauntings of kustaka’s (or kóoshdaakaas) in the Ess Lake area.

As European settlers from Norway arrived Petersburg at the turn of the 20th century, the area continued to be used extensively for hunting, trapping and fishing. The bay has been the site of many activities including mining in the 1920s and 1930s, logging, trapping, a shrimp cannery and recreation opportunities, which include Civilian Conservation Corp trails and a shelter along the Muddy River. The Muddy River flows into Frederick Sound just outside the bay.

Today the area remains a popular destination for sightseeing charter boat tours, fishing and hunting, and recreation at the Forest Service cabins and trails.


Visitors wanting to climb onto the Baird Glacier cannot access the ice from the terminal moraine any longer, as the 2015 flooding and rapid retreat has broken up the terminus, creating a lake and blocking foot access. Climbers must plan accordingly with small pack rafts to paddle across the lake to the ice and begin an ascent to reach the icefields’ multiple peaks. 

Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information


Viewing Wildlife

The 20-plus mile boat ride from Petersburg to the Baird Glacier through Frederick Sound and into Thomas Bay provides opportunities to see wildlife, including a wide variety of sea and shore birds and marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, humpback whales, and possibly orcas and harbor porpoises. The outwash plain and terminal moraine viewing area of the glacier are nesting habitat to Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea) that lay eggs on the windswept sand and gravel. Arctic terns are renowned for having the longest migration of any bird, from pole to pole. When feeding, Arctic terns hover briefly in midair before plunging into the water to catch prey. Summer is the best time of the year to see them at the Baird glacier terminus, however it is important to remember they are nesting here and to minimize disturbance. Visitors should avoid walking near areas where the birds congregate on land, and instead use binoculars to view them from a distance. Other bird species that frequent the area include bald eagles, scoter ducks, harlequin ducks, semi-palmated plovers, Bonaparte and Glaucous-winged gulls, marbled murrelets, loons, mergansers, Canada geese and even the occasional osprey! Black bears, brown bears, moose, Sitka-black tailed deer, and mountain goats can also be spotted along the shoreline or on the rugged slopes of the fjord surrounding the viewing area. 

Viewing Plants

The viewing area is home to plant, lichen, moss and fungi species growing in a carpet-like layer of colorful patterns and textures over the sand and small pebbles. This early stage in plant succession visible on the outwash plain and terminal moraine is called biotic or cryptogamic crust. It is infrequently observed in our region due to difficult access to highly disturbed, well drained areas such as near glaciers and alpine habitats. This type of soil formation is also more common in arid regions of the world. In new landscapes such as after volcanic eruptions or glacial retreat, the first plant life to inhabit the surface are lichens and bryophytes (such as mosses and liverworts). Many of these species have symbiotic relationships with cyanobacteria (also a primitive and successful plant-like organism) and utilize the nitrogen that is fixed from the air by the cyanobacteria. This helps these organisms thrive in nutrient poor locations like bare rock and sand.  Visitors who get on their hands and knees with a handlens will experience a close encounter with an ephemeral vegetation community. Within a few decades these light- requiring pioneer species will naturally be replaced by faster growing flowering plants, grasses, willows and alder shrubs that shade out the biotic crust layer. Sitka spruce followed by western hemlock eventually become the dominant tree species that will grow into a rainforest habitat. The areas on the plain farthest away from the glacier are already overgrown with alder, willow and Sitka spruce, naturally threatening to overtake the younger biotic crust vegetation community on the terminal moraine over the next few decades.


Related Information

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


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