Alaska’s glaciers are massive and majestic, bright white and deep blue, icy cold and oh so cool, and truly must be seen to be believed. Fortunately, Alaska visitors have plenty of opportunities to see, and even touch, them – there are around 100,000 glaciers in Alaska and more than 600 are big or popular enough to have official names.
Whether you fly, drive or float to Alaska, glaciers are regular awe-inspiring window scenery. They spider-web across mountain ranges, loom over lakes and rivers, and dot most southern regions of the state.
Glaciers have a history and harken back to the days when Alaska was covered in ice. And while glaciers may seem docile, they are far from frozen in place. When they crack, it sounds like thunder striking. When they calve, chunks as big as your SUV or condo can come crashing down. Stand nearby in the summer and you can hear the constant running of melting glacier water, sometimes trickling, sometimes raging.
Some of Alaska’s sparkling glaciers you can walk up to (Exit Glacier in Seward, Worthington Glacier in Valdez) or even walk on (Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Matanuska Glacier outside of Palmer, Kennicott Glacier in the old mining area of McCarthy-Kennecott).
Even more awesome is seeing glaciers galore in one day trip, whether by boat or air. Numerous tour companies with boats of all sizes and conveniences, as well as some small sightseeing planes, will to take you to meet these icy giants. Prince William Sound is packed with them. Take a day cruise out of Whittier and see more than 20 glaciers in a day. If you visit Southeast Alaska make a plan to spend time in Glacier Bay National Park, which certainly lives up to its name with more than 50 named glaciers in the area. Majestic Margerie Glacier is the princess of the park, massive and constantly calving.
Fly and land on Ruth Glacier, which is near Denali and arguably as impressive – it sits nearly 3,800 feet tall, which is grander than the Grand Canyon, and it is framed by mountains and granite walls. Now that’s a once-in-a-lifetime postcard or selfie setting.
Aboard the Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Discovery route, you can hop off at a whistle stop and spend the afternoon with Spencer Glacier south of Anchorage. You can admire it from afar while you eat a packed lunch, or hike, float or even paddle to it.
Glaciers are beautiful and attractive, but they can also be dangerous. If you get near or on a glacier, please use caution. This is ice, after all, and it can be extremely slick, brittle and sharp. Many glaciers also hold some not-so-easy-to-see-or-escape holes and caves.