Formed over aeons by the constant build-up of snow and its subsequent compacting into ice, glaciers are like vast frozen rivers continually moving under their own weight. Because of their sheer size and potential to alter landscapes, glaciers are natural landforms particularly adept at conveying the impressive might of nature; hence their global tourism appeal.
Canada is renowned for its pristine wilderness, characterised by snowcapped mountain ranges and dense forests. The nation is also home to several glacial expanses, primarily located among the country’s elevated peaks. One of the most visited and popular is the Athabasca Glacier (below), one of the main toes (endpoints) of the massive Columbia Icefield – the largest in the Rockies – straddling the Banff and Jasper National Parks.
Through Brewster Travel Canada, you can embark on a glacial adventure, beginning with a journey on the Ice Explorer, a large all-terrain vehicle that’s been specifically designed to cope with the tough conditions presented by glacial travel.
The tour includes the opportunity to step foot on the glacier itself, taking in the breathtaking surrounds. You can also visit the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-bottomed walkway hanging off the edge of a Sunwapta Valley cliff, which gives thrill-seekers an exciting way to savour the magnificent views of the valley below and the mountains beyond.
Due to the inclement conditions during wintertime, the glacier tours open in spring and summer months only.
2. Alaska, USA
Rugged Alaska is well-known as a wildlife and adventure lover’s paradise. Its untouched wilds offer up some of the most majestic landscapes on earth. It also boasts arguably the most accessible glacier on the planet. Less than 20km from the capital city (Juneau) sits the Mendenhall Glacier (below), which, because of its easy accessibility via roadways, attracts several hundred thousand visitors a year.
Though you can reach the glacier by taking a bus or taxi from downtown Juneau, organised tours are available. One operator in the region, Juneau Tours, offers a wide range of different glacier excursions, including glacier and whale-watching combos.
Any visit to the Mendenhall Glacier wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the informative visitor centre, as well as heading out on one of the various hiking trails surrounding the glacier and lake. When walking the trails, expect magnificent mountain scenery, glistening ice caves and cascading glacial waterfalls.
As with other Northern Hemisphere glaciers, the best time to visit would be during summer (May through September).
Iceland’s glaciers are dotted around the island nation and make up some 11 per cent of its land area. The Nordic nation is also home to Europe’s largest icefield and glacial expanse, Vatnajökull, which feeds the much-photographed Jökulsárlón ice lagoon.
Because of the large variety of glaciers within Iceland, ice-seekers can choose from a number of different glacial adventures. Vatnajökull (above), being the largest, offers some of the best opportunities for ice exploration. Though it’s possible to reach the glacier privately, embarking on an adventure with an official tour operator is highly recommended. Extreme Iceland and Glacier Guides are but two outfits offering a diverse array of glacial adventure packages.
Fairly close to Reykjavik, you can also find Thórisjökull, another popular glacial attraction that is in fact both a small glacier and volcano. Accessible via helicopter, it’s possible to walk on the ice and take in the epic surrounding landscape that’s so typical of Iceland.
In Los Glaciares National Park lies one of Argentina’s most famous tourist attractions. The Perito Moreno Glacier (below) forms part of the enormous Southern Patagonian Icefield, which houses the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water. The glacier is known for being easily accessible, having a stable condition and reliable calving (large chunks of ice breaking and falling off into the water below).
Visitors to the glacier and the national park in which it’s located can choose from a variety of touring options. Walk along the park’s well-kept trails and boardwalks for picture-perfect views of the glacier and its jagged peaks, hop on a boat tour of the lake and get even closer to the ice. For the adventurous and fit, go on a more physically demanding trek on the ice itself – one tour company offering such a glacier-trekking tour is Hielo & Aventura.
Though summer (November to March) is the most popular time for tourists, the glacier and park can be visited throughout the year. Just bear in mind that winter tours may bring with them harsh and unpredictable weather conditions.