Glaciers in Alaska

This travel guide will showcase a small but gorgeous sample of the estimated 100,000 glaciers in Alaska.

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1 Disenchantment Bay Approach to Hubbard Glacier in Alaska

After your ship sails from the Gulf of Alaska through the Yakutat Bay, it slowly advances toward the Hubbard Glacier’s terminus in Disenchantment Bay. The rising sun makes the glacier’s blue facets sparkle like a gemstone. This giant wall of ice is over six miles wide, is as tall as a 40 story building and extends 76 miles to its source: Mount Logan in the Yukon of Canada.

Disenchantment Bay, Alaska
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2 Icebergs Floating Near Hubbard Glacier in Alaska

Hubbard Glacier is the largest calving glacier in North America which means it regularly sheds massive sheets of ice. So, although these icebergs floating in Disenchantment Bay do not look very large, they could be the size of a ten story building. They are also about 400 to 450 years old.

Disenchantment Bay, Alaska
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3 Hubbard Glacier Dam Site of Russell Fjord in Alaska

The dark rock on the right is the tip of Gilbert Point. Behind it is the mouth of the 35 mile long Russell Fjord. Twice during the last 30 years, the glacier blocked this opening and made the fiord into a giant lake. When the dam broke in 1986, the gushing water was equivalent to 35 Niagara Falls making it the largest lake outburst in history. Because Hubbard Glacier advances 80 feet a year, a new dam will form in the future. The narrow sheet of ice extending down the center of the photo is Valerie Glacier.

Disenchantment Bay, Alaska
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4 Turner Glacier near Hubbard Glacier in Alaska

Four smaller ice fields surround Hubbard Glacier and this is its western neighbor, Turner Glacier. But it seems unfair to call this tidal glacier “small” because it is 21 miles long and the terminus shown here is 3.7 miles wide. It was named after John Henry Turner, a geologist. Over one hundred years ago, the Turner Glacier was a tributary to the Hubbard Glacier when the latter extended much further into Disenchantment Bay.

Disenchantment Bay, Alaska
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5 Vegetation along Disenchantment Bay in Alaska

I was surprised to see vegetation along Disenchantment Bay between Hubbard Glacier and Bancas Point because the surrounding area is North America’s largest complex of glaciers and ice fields. I also assumed global warming would cause these glaciers to retreat like 95% of them in the world. Just the opposite is true. The Hubbard Glacier is advancing and will someday reclaim this low ground like it did hundreds of years ago.

Disenchantment Bay, Alaska
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6 Mountains along Disenchantment Bay in Alaska

Perhaps the Disenchantment Bay in Alaska should have been called the Disappointment Bay. Here’s why. Alessandro Malaspina was a Spanish naval officer who sailed the world and mapped the west coast of North America. In 1792, he thought this was the entrance to the Northwest Passage. Instead, he encountered the Hubbard Glacier. In 1899, this bay has the distinction of the greatest vertical displacement when an earthquake made the seabed violently rise 47 feet.

Disenchantment Bay, Alaska
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7 Malaspina Glacier on Saint Elias Mountains in Alaska

This view of the Malaspina Glacier is at the intersection of the Gulf of Alaska and the entrance to Yakutat Bay. It flows down from the Saint Elias Mountains which peaks at 18,000 feet. This piedmont glacier, which means it remains in a valley and does not reach the water, is the world’s largest. It covers 1,500 square miles and its depth can be 2,000 feet. When just 66 feet of that depth melted between 1980 and 2000, it raised the world’s sea level by a half a percent.

Yakutat Bay, Alaska
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8 Mountain and Glacier at Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska

This stunning mountain peak with its valley glacier is located along the Gulf of Alaska. Despite its enormous size, it is a very small part of the 13.2 million acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest park in the United States. It is named after Mount St. Elias, the second largest mountain in North America with an elevation of over 18,000 feet.

Icy Bay, Alaska
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9 Mendenhall Glacier from Visitor Center near Juneau, Alaska

Alaska has so many impressive glaciers but most are in remote areas of the state. Mendenhall Glacier is a beautiful and very accessible exception. Simply take a tour, taxi or car about 12 miles from Juneau and enjoy this dramatic glacier and the Mendenhall Lake from the platforms at the U.S. Forest Service’s Visitor Center. There are also easy paths and trails to walk for a closer look.

Mendenhall Glacier Interpretive Visitor Center E Glacier Trail, Juneau, AK 99801
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10 Mendenhall Glacier Terminus Features near Juneau, Alaska

This terminus of Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau shows several glacial features. At this ablation zone, the tidewater glacier will shed large sheets of ice into Mendenhall Lake. This process is called calving. Notice the complex structure of ridges, facets, crevasses and suncups that reflect the color blue. The black streaks are crushed sediment and rock called moraine. The vegetation-free rock is the barren zone and the grooves are chatter marks.

Mendenhall Glacier Interpretive Visitor Center E Glacier Trail, Juneau, AK 99801
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11 Cruise Ship Sailing Glacier Bay in Alaska

Most of the Alaskan coastline and the Inside Passage are not accessible by car, so approximately one million tourists a year board cruise ships to visit a handful of small towns like Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. A major highlight is slowly sailing through the Inside Passage to enjoy the mountains, coves, islands and inlets. Especially exciting to see are the spectacular glaciers at Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve. It consists of 3.3 million acres and is a World Heritage site.

Glacier Bay, Alaska
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12 U-shaped Valley in Glacier Bay in Alaska

This U-shaped valley at the base of a mountain tells a story of the glacier that has since retreated. The broad, flat floor among the steep walls suggests that the ice used to be very deep. The “river” of sediment shows the path of its final flow. And the moss covering only a portion of the barren zone explains that the glacier’s retreat occurred in the last decade or so.

Glacier Bay, Alaska
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13 Retreating Glacier with Braided Stream in Alaska

This small glacier formed within a cirque basin high on mountainside. As it retreats, it is exposing layers of moraine or sediment above its terminus and below its former flow. The brown, muddy waterfall is known as a braided stream because of its numerous branches that separate and then reunite before emptying into Glacier Bay.

Glacier Bay, Alaska
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14 Reid Glacier in Glacier Bay in Alaska

Reid Glacier flows ten miles from its origin at the Brady Icefield before its ¾ mile terminus … which is considered to be small … extends into the Reid Inlet in Glacier Bay National Park. This mountain glacier flows about 15 feet a day and is retreating about 30 to 50 feet a year.

Reid Inlet, Glacier Bay, Alaska
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15 Lamplugh Glacier at Glacier Bay in Alaska

This wall of ice, with its black bands or veins of moraine sediment, is the Lamplugh Glacier. It originates about 16 miles away in the Brady Icefield within the Fairweather Range and flows about 1,000 feet a year towards the mouth of the Johns Hopkins Inlet. This blue terminus is next to Jaw Point in Glacier Bay National Park.

Glacier Bay, Alaska
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16 Margerie Glacier Terminus at Tarr Inlet in Alaska

At the northern end of a 65 mile fjord known as Glacier Bay are the U.S.-Canadian border and the stunning Margerie Glacier. This tidewater glacier flows 21 miles from the 12,860 foot Mount Root, which is part of the Fairweather Range, until its mile-wide terminus reaches the Tarr Inlet. This massive tower of blue ice stands about 250 feet above the waterline with another 100 feet below sea level.

Tarr Inlet, Alaska 99826
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17 Johns Hopkins Glacier Underwater Cave in Alaska

The Johns Hopkins Glacier, named after the university in Baltimore, is typically closed to cruise ships in order to protect wildlife habitat in Glacier Bay National Park. Melt-water from this mile-wide glacier often emerges from below the surface causing tunnels or caves like the one in the photo. Sometimes the water squirts out like a giant fountain. Imagine this 250 foot wall of ice, equivalent to a 25 story building, moving about 3,000 feet a year. That’s eight feet a day.

John Hopkins Inlet, Alaska
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18 Exit Glacier Toe near Seward, Alaska

Most of Alaska’s glaciers are only visible by ship or plane, but the Exit Glacier near Seward, Alaska, can be reached after a short hike through the Kenai Fjords National Park. The glacier earned its name in 1968 when the first team to successfully cross the Harding Icefield finished their journey here. That icefield covers over 700 square miles, making it the largest in the U.S. Its 400 inches of annual snowfall generates 39 other glaciers.

24620 Herman Leirer Rd, Seward, AK 99664
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19 Exit Glacier Extreme Close Up near Seward, Alaska

Most of the photos in this Alaskan glaciers gallery have been taken from extreme distances because it’s the only way to showcase their enormous size, especially when their terminus typically stretches across miles. But this extreme close up of Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park was taken within twenty feet. Hopefully it demonstrates the beauty of these massive, moving walls of blue ice.

24620 Herman Leirer Rd, Seward, AK 99664
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