Everyone knows Alaska has bears. And moose. And whales. And miles and miles of untamed wilderness.
But did you know that GLACIERS are actually Alaska's top tourist attraction? Yes, big slabs of slow-moving ice. Who knew??
There are more than 600 named glaciers in Alaska, and the ice masses cover roughly 5 percent of the state. That doesn't sound like a lot, but remember that Alaska is HUGE.
The area covered by glaciers in Alaska is slightly larger than the state of West Virginia. !!! Talk about mind-blowing.
I've now been to Alaska three times, and on each visit have had the chance to get up close and personal with some of its glaciers.
Here are some of my favorites.
Some of the best glaciers in Alaska
Located in eastern Alaska (and part of the Yukon Territory) with its face extending into Disenchantment Bay, the Hubbard Glacier is a monster at 76 miles long. The blue-white ice surges and calves constantly, moving up to 5 feet per day.
I saw this glacier from a cruise ship; we spent hours slipping through water filled with “bergy bits” until we were about a mile from the glacier's 7-mile-wide face. There we sat pivoting for hours, watching for harbor seals and listening for the thunder-like rumbles and crackles that accompanied calving.
This glacier is super active, and we saw tons (literally) of ice fall into the water.
Fun fact about the Hubbard Glacier: It takes ice 400 years to come down all 76 miles. Meaning the ice we saw falling into the bay was older than the United States of America.
Found about 100 miles north of Anchorage, the 27-mile-long Matanuska Glacier is located in a valley and is the largest glacier accessible by car in the United States.
I visited this glacier back in 2012, when my sister and I actually went ice trekking on top of it! It's a pretty awesome backdrop for any sort of adventure activity, but hearing the crunch crunch of ice beneath crampons was particularly satisfying.
Glacier Bay National Park
On my latest Alaskan cruise, I was lucky enough to spend a day in Glacier Bay — a national park and preserve, and also the largest UNESCO-protected biosphere in the world.
You might assume the park gets its name from the 15 tidewater glaciers found within its protected borders, but it actually was formed by a much larger glacier — the Grand Pacific Glacier — that carved out and shaped the bay over the past 200 years.
I was able to see quite a few glaciers in the park (as well as learn a lot about the area from the National Park Rangers that boarded our cruise ship), including:
Our massive cruise ship got ridiculously close to the face of this glacier, allowing us to truly appreciate its size. Unlike other glaciers in Glacier Bay that are receding, scientists consider the Margerie Glacier to be “stable.”
The smallest glacier I've seen in Alaska (clocking in at only 8 miles long), the Lamplugh Glacier was nonetheless really impressive simply because of its surroundings. Seriously. Look at these mountains!
Not far from downtown Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier is a popular side trip from Alaska's state capital. The glacier's face ends at a lake, and there's a waterfall (Nugget Falls) nearby, too.
I've been to this glacier twice now, and I must say that the glacier + waterfall element makes it really unique!
And to think… there are SO MANY MORE glaciers in Alaska, each one completely different from the next.
If you ever get the chance to travel to Alaska, be sure to go glacier spotting!
Is Alaska on your travel wish list? How about seeing glaciers?