How to See the World’s Most Glorious Glaciers Before It’s Too Late

Embarking on a glacier tour has often meant hopping on a gas-guzzling boat or bus; talk about an ethical conundrum. These ice-focused expeditions offer a more environmentally conscious approach.

How to See the World’s Most Glorious Glaciers Before It’s Too Late

Greenland’s Jakobshavn glacier is the fastest-melting glacier on the planet.

Photo by Denis Burdin/Shutterstock

Glaciers currently occupy approximately 10 percent of the world’s total land area, but their existence is increasingly threatened by climate change. The important swaths of snow and ice aren’t just majestic remnants from the last Ice Age; they’re also ground zero for scientists struggling to understand just how quickly the Earth is warming. But because many glaciers are located in remote polar regions like Antarctica, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic, visiting them isn’t exactly an individual endeavor (or for safety reasons, it shouldn’t be).

These expeditions in and near arctic areas get you close to some of the world’s most impressive glaciers for a full perspective on the Earth’s present—and future.

Science-forward sea tours

Small groups in Zodiac boats pass icebergs in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Small groups in Zodiac boats pass icebergs in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Photo by Vadim Nefedoff/Shutterstock


Luxury adventure company Abercrombie & Kent offers a 12-day “Classic Antarctica” expedition cruise led by a renowned team of environmental researchers and scientists, including Dr. James McClintock, director of the Antarctica Climate Change Project. Learn about Antarctica’s changing environment and efforts to conserve it while cruising the Drake Passage from South America’s southernmost tip toward the Antarctic Peninsula. Daily excursions include small boat iceberg and wildlife-spotting tours in the Antarctic Sound, South Shetland Islands, and Danco Coast, all with a focus on environmental conservation. From $12,995


Princess Cruises’s seven-day “Voyage of the Glaciers” features such Alaska highlights as the Inside Passage, Denali National Park, Kenai Peninsula, and Glacier Bay National Park, offering spectacular views of towering ice shelves such as the Margerie and Mendenhall Glaciers. (Princess is one of the few cruise lines permitted to visit the UNESCO-listed Glacier Bay National Park.) When the vessel ports in Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway, shore excursions include seaplane tours above the Juneau Icefield and Misty Fjord National Park, plus wildlife tours where frequent sightings range from tufted puffins to humpback whales. From $1,298


Silversea’s “Kangerlussuaq to Quebec City” voyage traverses 16 ports along the Arctic Sea from Greenland to Canada over the course of 14 days. Starting from Kangerlussuaq in western Greenland, the Silver Cloud vessel passes the Evigheds Glacier (the world’s second largest ice body after the Antarctic ice sheet), traveling south to Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, before crossing to the Canadian Arctic. Daily boat and land tours led by Silversea’s team of specialists take voyagers through remote Arctic islands and national parks in search of polar bears, walruses, and Atlantic puffins. With luck, on-board entertainment in the evenings might include a Northern Lights display. From $16,200


The “Intro to Spitsbergen: Fjords, Glaciers and Wildlife of Svalbard” voyage with Quark Expeditions promises plenty of Arctic glacier viewings—and it nearly guarantees polar bear sightings, too. This nine-day expedition focuses on the Svalbard archipelago. Located between mainland Norway and the North Pole, this area is known for its rugged tundra favored by polar bears, Svalbard reindeer, and Arctic foxes. For a peek at the equally abundant walrus population, take a kayaking excursion led by Quark’s expert team. These tours to the “wildlife capital of the Arctic” are wildlife friendly: The cruise line raises an average of $150,000 each season for the protection of polar environments and encourages guests to participate in a beach debris clean-up program on Spitsbergen trips. From $5,795

Ice trekkers explore Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina.

Ice trekkers explore Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina.

Photo by Yongyut Kumsri/Shutterstock

Ice trekking and on-foot glacier expeditions

Trade environmental impact for physical impact with these glacier hikes and walking tours.


Trek Iceland offers a day-long “Snæfellsjökull Glacier Hike” up Iceland’s famous glacier-topped volcano in Snæfellsjökull National Park (from $180). More experienced—or inspired—trekkers can opt for multi-day tours that pass multiple glaciers, lava fields, waterfalls, and black sand beaches around the island. The “6 Days Around Iceland” walking tour includes top stops along Iceland’s Ring Road, including the famous Golden Circle and Vatnajökull National Park, one of the real-life locations where Game of Thrones scenes were filmed. From $1,545


Located on the Argentine side of Patagonia, Perito Moreno Glacier is one of South America’s most famous landscapes. The glacier’s icy walls tower approximately 240 feet above the blue waters of Lago Argentino in Los Glaciares National Park. For a chance to stand atop the mighty Perito Moreno and explore the glacier’s many caves, spend a few hours ice trekking on a “Big Ice Tour” with expert local guides from Hielo y Aventura. From $195


Spanning more than 15 miles across the Continental Divide on the boundaries of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada’s Columbia Icefield makes up the largest mass of ice in the Rocky Mountains. The most accessible section is the Athabasca Glacier, where Athabasca Glacier Icewalks offers a half-day hiking tour on the lower glacier led by a professional guide (from $80) as well as a “Deluxe Glacier Adventure” that ventures to the icefalls of the Athabasca Glacier. From $133

A version of this article originally appeared online in May 2016; it was updated on November 8, 2018, to include current information.

>>Next: The Most—and Least—Eco-Friendly Ways to Travel

Sarah Purkrabek is a Los Angeles-based travel writer.
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