Glaciers can be a pretty powerful force. They've carved the land, affected the weather, and once covered most of North America. But, you wouldn't know that looking at them today; they're receding at an alarming rate. Many of America's glaciers are a mere shadow of what they once were, and plenty have been downgraded from glacier status, or even gone extinct.
If you're interested in seeing a glacier, you're gonna want to visit ASAP. Luckily, glaciers can be found all over, in tons of states across the west. Obviously, Alaska is the place to go to see more massive glaciers, but you can find them in some unexpected places as well. Here are a few places where you can get in some prime glacier-spotting... before it's too late.
Kenai Fjords is a National Park in Alaska with lots of glacier-y goodness. The coolest one to see is Exit Glacier. It's also the only part of the park accessible by car (when it's not winter, in which case, you'll need a snowmobile, snowshoes, cross-country skis or a dogsled to get here). It's one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska. You can pretty much walk right up to it, or explore the network of trails around the Exit Glacier Nature Center for different views of it. You can really see how much it has shrunk; it reportedly receded 187 feet between 2013 and 2014. If you're motivated, you can hike further along to the Harding Icefield, which is hundreds of miles square and spawns dozens of other glaciers.
Hubbard Glacier in Yakutat, Alaska is a giant. It's six miles wide where it meets the water, its face is 400 feet tall, and it can create glaciers up to 10 stories in height (which is mostly underwater, but still... dang.) Those glaciers mean that boats can't always get super close, but it's still worth taking a cruise around Disenchantment Bay to get a glimpse of this 400-year-old beheamoth.
Mendenhall Glacier is such a major attraction in Juneau that it has its own visitor center. It's not hard to see why so many people are eager to check out the 12-mile-long river of ice, though. The visitor center offers great views across the lake and nearby trails to hike-- visit Nugget Falls while you're here. You can't really get right up to it, but what you can see is nonetheless impressive. The state-of-the-art visitor center has telescopes through which you can view Mendenhall Glacier, along with educational films and interactive exhibits.
Of course, Alaska isn't the only place in the US to see glaciers. North Cascades National Park owes its opaque, turquoise lakes and streams to glacial melt from its nearly 300 mountaintop glaciers. In fact, this park has the most glaciers in the US outside of Alaska; North Cascades is home to a third of the lower 48's glaciers. They're all shrinking at an alarming rate, though. Boston Glacier is a perfect example. It's the largest in the park, but is not nearly as big as it once was.
Mount Rainier has some glaciers, too. Carbon Glacier is one; it feeds the park's stunning Carbon River, and you can reach it via a hike from the Carbon River entrance to the park. It's a 17-mile round trip, but you get to access the lowest-elevation glacier in the continental US while enjoying wildflowers and views of Rainier along the way!
Mount Hood is home to a number of glaciers as well. There are about 12 named glaciers and snowfields to be found on the mountain. They dominate the top of Mount Hood, although one, Palmer Glacier, is partially within the Timberline Lodge's ski area and also happens to be on one of the most popular climbing routes. You can also see moraines and cuts left by glaciers past.
Obviously, Glacier National Park has plenty of glaciers as well. Grinnell is named for George Bird Grinnell, a naturalist and one of the earliest advocates for establishing Glacier National Park. Unfortunately, it's receding at a terrifying pace. Between 1966 and 2005, Grinnell Glacier lost almost 40 percent of its acreage. If global warming gets much worse, it could be totally gone within a decade or two. You can see Grinnell Glacier, along with Gem Glacier and Salamander Glacier, (while they're still around) on a 6-mile hike that starts at Swiftcurrent Lake.
There are some glaciers in Grand Teton National Park as well. Falling Ice Glacier is one of a few. It, like the others in the park, was formed during the so-called "Little Ice Age", which occurred between 1350–1850 A.D. You can see it if you climb to the summit of Mount Moran, or just enjoy its runoff, which feeds the crystal-clear Leigh Lake.
The Rocky Mountains are loaded with glaciers as well. Tyndall Glacier, on the north side of Rocky Mountain National Park's Hallet Peak, is a fun one for an ascent. You'll need all of your icy mountain climbing gear, but it's good for beginners and pros alike. Fun fact: it's named for John Tyndall, a scientist, inventor, and poet who was almost the first man to conquer the Matterhorn and who helped discover the effects of greenhouse gases. Ironic, no?
Did you know that there's a glacier in Nevada? It's true; Great Basin National Park protects mountains in the Snake Range, and that's where you'll find Wheeler Peak and, in turn, the Wheeler Peak Glacier. Incredibly enough, this glacier is still leftover from the first Ice Age, although it might not look like much now. This is another place where you can get a good look at how glaciers have carved and shaped the landscape; moraines, lakes, gulches, and rock formations on the mountains are sure signs of glacier activity.
We can't forget the glaciers of the Sierra Nevadas, either. You'll find one on Mount Conness, right on the edge of Yosemite National Park. It's great practice for alpine climbing, and it offers incredible views of Tuolumne Meadows and the rest of the mountains.
Banner Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. -John Lubbock