Five Ways to See Glaciers in Alaska

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Five Ways to See Glaciers in Alaska
When in Alaska, you must see a glacier. You won’t have to try very hard—with more than 100,000 glaciers in the state, they’re harder to avoid than they are to stumble upon. Don’t settle for just one view of the ice (or the wildlife that flocks to it). Here, four operators that have dreamt up unique ways to take in the beauty of nature’s ice sculptures in Juneau. (Warning: Glacial ice conditions can change rapidly, so always travel with a licensed guide who knows the area and conditions. We’ve recommended our favorites for each angle of ice-viewing.)
By Yvonne Gordon, AFAR Local Expert
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    1. Take a helicopter tour
    You might get lucky and catch an aerial view of a glacier if you fly into Juneau airport, but the best way to see the rain forest, mountain ridges, valleys, and huge expanses of glacial ice from above is by helicopter. Go with Temscoair, and your pilot and guide will point out crevasses, meltwater pools, moulins, and features such as the Mendenhall Towers and glacial moraines. You’ll even get to land and walk on two different glaciers.
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    2. Weave through icebergs on a boat in Tracy Arm Fjord
    Take to Tracy Arm Fjord by boat with Adventurebound Alaska to visit the twin Sawyer Glaciers (North Sawyer and South Sawyer) and you can also see a range of wildlife, including black and brown bears, bald eagles, mountain goats, whales, porpoises, seals, and sea lions. The fjord has steep rock walls, waterfalls, and hanging valleys where visitors also often spot wolves, deer, and Arctic terns. You’ll also get to sail between the icebergs as you near the glaciers. That close, the world gets very quiet, and you’ll be able to hear a few of the most magical sounds there are. Plus, your guide will teach you fun ice terms like “bergy bits” and “growlers.”
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    3. Paddle to a glacier; then, walk on it
    Get closer to the pristine glacial water by kayaking across Mendenhall Lake to the Mendenhall Glacier with Beyond AK. Along the way, keep an eye out for wildlife and Nugget Falls. Once you get to Mendenhall Glacier, you’ll use shoes made for ice-walking—with special microspikes—to take a glacial tour. Your guide will point out crevasses, moulins (vertical shafts), and other features of the ever-changing ice surface and explain how light density makes glacial ice so blue.
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    4. See a glacier from a mountain
    The Mendenhall Glacier has retreated 1.75 miles over the past 87 years. A temperate rain forest now grows where the ice once was, with lots of moss, alder, and spruce trees. The six-mile West Glacier Hike offers a chance to learn about the forest and see animals such as deer and squirrels. You’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the glacier itself (so high up, in fact, that the people walking on the ice will look like tiny dots). Bonus: If you go with Adventure Flow, you won’t have to worry about taking photos. Their guides take professional shots, as well as video, along the way for guests to keep after the hike.
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    5. Get inside a glacier
    Join Beyond AK on a trip inside the ice caves of the Mendenhall Glacier, and you’ll see stunning icicles, ice formations, and astonishingly blue ice bubbles.The Mendenhall ice cave is one of the most spectacular examples of ice caves in Alaska. Because this can be a risky venture, Beyond AK’s guides are specialists in assessing the ever-changing ice conditions.
    Photo by Yvonne Gordon
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