Paris has the Eiffel Tower and New York has the Empire State building, but Alaska’s glaciers rival even some of the greatest landmarks around the world in terms of statuesque beauty. Towering high above the surrounding sea, the glaciers all seem insurmountable… and some really are, due to their sheer size and steep grade. The best way to view these icy behemoths up close is by sea; a highlight of any trip to Alaska. Here are the five best to visit glaciers to see:
This is the largest tidewater glacier in the world, named after Gardiner Hubbard, the founder of the National Geographic society (and the magazine, too). At seven miles wide and 76 miles long, this glacier is a sight to behold, to say the least. In some places, it reaches heights as tall as a 30-story building. While many other glaciers around the world are retreating, the Hubbard Glacier continues to thicken and grow. Calving, the process of ice on the edge of the glacier breaking off into the sea, happens on a regular schedule here, making it one of the best places in the world to view this dramatic, natural spectacle.
Endicott Arm is downright stunning. One of Alaska’s lesser-known gems, Endicott Arm fjord is a virtually untouched wild frontier. As you drift through its 30-mile stretch, you’ll see towering granite cliffs, dozens of gushing waterfalls, and wildlife including harbor seals, bald eagles, sea ducks, and maybe even moose. The journey ends with a spectacular view of Dawes Glacier. Standing at over 600 feet tall and a half-mile wide, you’ll watch as this mammoth glacier dramatically sheds icebergs into the sea below.
Possibly the most famous of all 38 glaciers that make up the Juneau icefield, Mendenhall Glacier is located in the Tongass National Forest–the largest protected forest in the United States. This is one stop where you can see everything up close, on land. Embark on a 3.5 hour hike to see incredible vistas of the glacier itself as well as wildlife, including the park’s famous beavers. But even if you don’t opt for a shore excursion, the bright blue ice calving off the glacier and drifting downstream is a spectacular sight in and of itself.
The great Klondike Gold Rush lives on in Skagway, a small 19th-century town that has been charmingly restored and retains a feel of the old WIld West. After touring the town, take a helicopter to snow-capped Denver Glacier and then go on an exciting ride with a dog sled team led by a professional guide. This is one of the dog sledding capitals of the world, so the experience is not to be missed.
The best time to visit any of these glaciers is mid-May through mid-September, with June and July being peak months for spotting wildlife along the way. Not only is the weather warmer, but the glaciers are at their most active during this time of year, calving icebergs off into the sea. Whatever your plan, you’ll have the opportunity to view these mammoth glaciers onboard as well as up-close while in the ports of Skagway and Juneau, creating memories of a lifetime.