In the last few days of summer, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss something perfect for the summer months: visiting Alaska glaciers! Giant sheets of ice may not be your idea of a relaxing summer, but read on and maybe you’ll have second thoughts.
Many people wonder why the heck a glacier would be interesting in the first place. My best answer to that is that they are far more impressive and awe-inspiring in person than you think they’ll be. Some of the larger glaciers dwarf a cruise ship and stretch on beyond the horizon for miles, and when they calve (when a chunk breaks off), it sounds like a clap of thunder.
Although there are, of course, glaciers in many places around the world (and North America), I’d argue that Alaska glaciers prove the most interesting and accessible for those living in the U.S.
Many visitors to Alaska (myself included) experience it first by going on a cruise with a set itinerary. That may sound inflexible, but there are still several opportunities to see glaciers — almost every cruise itinerary includes Juneau and Glacier Bay.
In Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier is about a 10 minute drive from downtown. In addition to being an impressive glacier, it’s setting is absolutely beautiful; it’s on a scenic lake surrounded by landscape that’s protected as a national forrest.
Most cruise operators will require you to pay for an excursion to see the glacier, or you can simply hire a cab to go solo. In our case, my friends and I booked a bicycle tour that included Mendenhall and ended in a beer tasting. Our coconspirator Tom even saw a bear near the glacier… Nature. Biking. Glaciers. Bears. Beer. What more do you want?
Glacier Bay is a different beast, as there are no places to dock. For that reason, most cruise operators will spend an afternoon circling the bay, allowing for plenty of opportunities to see the glaciers from aboard the ship. If you’re arriving by land, there are ways to see the glaciers on foot, as well. Day trips to the Bay are also available from a few cities in southern Alaska.
These are just two of the many Alaska glaciers you can see. If you’re off the beaten path, I also recommend the LeConte Glacier near Petersburg, Alaska. I haven’t been, but I’ve heard great things.
If you’re interested in a trip to see Alaskan glaciers, the best time is during summer months, as you’ll have the best weather and longer days, plus most operators shut down as the tourist season ends around September.