Exploring Alaska’s Glaciers
Glaciers are near the top of most visitors’ must-see lists. And, with more than 100,000 glaciers statewide, seeing a glacier’s electric blue ice is possible no matter what region of the state you’re vising!
There’s something humbling about standing at the foot of a glacier. Water drops tricking off its face fell as snow thousands of years ago. Looking at glacier ice, compressed by time and snow, is like looking into time itself.
Alaska has more glaciers than any other state in the U.S. thanks to our plentiful snowfall and relatively cool summers (especially at higher elevations). They can be smaller, hanging glaciers dangling from a cliff or huge rivers of ice spanning hundreds of miles down U-shaped valleys. Tidewater glaciers plunge their faces into the sea, creating thundering waves as giant chunks of ice break off and calve into the water.
Alaska’s glaciers may be gigantic, but they’re easy to experience.
By car: The alpine views of Thompson Pass, north of Valdez, offer a stunning setting for the Worthington Glacier. Easily accessible from the Richardson Highway, Worthington Glacier is a designated National Natural Landmark. Take the wheelchair accessible path to a viewing platform near the toe of the glacier or hike the two-mile ridgeline trail for 360-degree views.
By foot: There are lots of opportunities for guided or self- guided hikes to – or onto – glaciers. Try the short Glacier View Loop Trail or the longer Harding Icefield Trail at Exit Glacier, near Seward, view wildlife along the multiple trails at Mendenhall Glacier, near Juneau, or take a guided day hike on the Matanuska Glacier near Chickaloon or the Root Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, where glaciers make up nearly 35 percent of the park system.
By sea: Rent a kayak or take a narrated day boat tour from Petersburg to see LeConte Glacier – the southernmost tidewater glacier in the Northern Hemisphere – or Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska’s Inside Passage, or Kenai Fjords National Park or Prince William Sound in Southcentral Alaska. On a water-based adventure, you’ll be able to float through glacial ice and – perhaps – see seals hauled up on larger bergs gazing at you with round eyes. With the engine off, you’ll be able to hear the creaks and pops of the ice as it follows the flow of gravity down to the water’s edge.
By rail: You’ll be able to see glaciers as you wind your way by rail through Alaska’s rugged landscapes. For a special treat, take a whistle stop train to Spencer Glacier. This wilderness area is only accessible by rail. Here, you can take a guided hike with a Chugach National Forest Service Ranger, rent kayaks and paddle Spencer Lake to the face of the glacier, or float the glacial-fed Placer River back to your train.
By air: Flightseeing gives you the best sense of Alaska’s vast landscapes. From the air, you’ll see glaciers joining together into immense ice fields, and dark moraines of ground rocks and boulders marking the boundaries of the glaciers’ paths. Fly to Denali to see climbers tackling Muldrow Glacier, the tallest mountain in North America’s largest glacier, or fly above The Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier, the deepest canyon in North America. Elsewhere, flightseeing opportunities include glacier landings and dog sledding opportunities, rounding out your glacier adventure experiences.