World's Most Beautiful Glaciers to See Before They're Gone

Famous Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina


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Thwaites Glacier
Wikimedia Commons

Slip Sliding Away

The Earth’s glaciers are a stunning sight, but if they’re on your travel bucket list, the clock is ticking. In nearly all cases, they're melting at an alarming rate because of climate change. Up to half of the world's mountain glaciers could disappear by 2100 even if the most ambitious climate change goals are met, according to a study that uses satellite data to model climate change scenarios. The world got a preview of what that might look like this past weekend when a "glacial outburst" prompted evacuations and sent buildings tumbling in Juneau, Alaska.  Here are some of the world's most beautiful and most visited glaciers, which are worth seeing before they potentially disappear forever.   

Mountain goats and glaciers in Alaska
Jaime Espinosa de los Monteros/istockphoto

Exit Glacier


One of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers, Kenai Fjords National Park’s Exit Glacier is a short drive from Seward. Visitors can hike right up to its face, past markers that show just how much the ice has retreated over the years. A more strenuous trail rewards hikers with a sweeping view of the ice field, or visitors can sign up with professional guides to get out on the ice itself.   

Athabasca Glacier, Jasper National Park, Alberta,Canada

Athabasca Glacier


One of North America’s most-visited glaciers is also one of its most vulnerable. Athabasca, in Alberta’s Jasper National Park, is retreating about 16 feet every year and could disappear in the next 100 years, leaving only an alpine meadow, experts say. Stone markers show visitors just how much the mighty ice field has shrunk in the past century. 

Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park
Dean_Fikar /istockphoto
Aerial View of Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand
Matt Palmer/istockphoto

Franz Josef Glacier

New Zealand

Adventurous visitors can traipse around Franz Josef after being dropped onto the ice by helicopter, but years ago, they could walk right onto it. A major attraction in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Franz Josef plunges into a temperate rainforest. Though it has advanced and retreated over the years, the trend tips toward retreat. It has shrunk about 2 miles over the past century.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Perito Moreno Glacier


Though most of the earth's other glaciers are shrinking, Patagonia’s Perito Moreno continues to grow. Why? Scientists aren’t exactly sure, though they guess its very steep angle may be helping, according to National Geographic. A particularly well-timed visit may allow you to witness the collapse of an icy arch into Lake Argentino, a phenomenon that happens every two to four years.

Vatnajokull Glacier
Stanson/ istockphoto



The largest glacier in all of Europe is Vatnajokull, a UNESCO World Heritage site that spreads across 8% of Iceland. Under its surface are volatile volcanoes, and the glacier’s ice caves are a stunning sight for winter visitors. But even this massive ice cap isn’t immune to climate change, and according to the New York Times, it’s retreating by the length of roughly three football fields in some spots each and every year.

Beautiful view of the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland

Aletsch Glacier


The largest Alpine glacier is almost as big of a tourist draw as the nearby Matterhorn, and it holds a staggering 11 billion tons of ice. The region draws not just glacier hikers, but skiers, mountain bikers, paragliders, and other daredevils. But if you want the best view of the ice, go soon: Scientists say that even under the best climate conditions, Aletsch will still likely lose about 50% of its ice by the end of the century.

Approaching Columbia Glacier in Prrince William Sound,,Alaska

Columbia Glacier


One thing is for sure: This mass of ice in Prince William Sound, often visited by cruise boats, isn’t retreating at a glacial pace. Researchers say it has shrunk about 12.5 miles since 1980, and if that isn’t dramatic enough, consider this: It’s dumping 4 gigatons of ice into the ocean every year. Cruisers who are lucky enough to dodge massive icebergs to get close to the glacier’s face can stare in awe at sheets of ice up to 400 feet tall

Cavell & Angel Glaciers in Jasper National Park

Angel Glacier


So named because of its icy “wings,” Angel Glacier clings precariously to Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park, not far from Athabasca Glacier. Its shape continues to change as it melts, so hikers shouldn’t count on angelic views for much longer. You can watch part of the glacier collapse and pour off the side of the mountain in a YouTube video.

Liberty Ridge, Mount Rainier

Carbon Glacier


The longest, lowest glacier in the continental U.S., Carbon Glacier stretches about 5 miles down the side of Mount Rainier. Rocks and other debris tumbling down from the summit shield the ice, helping make Carbon the mountain’s thickest and most resilient glacier, and giving its lower reaches a dirty appearance. 

Sea of Ice
Massimo Merlini/istockphoto

Mer de Glace


This long tongue of Alpine ice, the largest glacier in France, was just a few steps from a cable-car stop near Mount Blanc in the late 1980s. Today, visitors must trek 580 steps down to the glacier to visit an ice cave that’s dug every year. The cave may also be in danger — diggers have recently hit rock instead of ice.  

Bergsetbreen Jostedalsbreen Glacier, Norway



Norway’s famous fjords were carved by glaciers, and visitors can find continental Europe’s largest glacier in the Scandinavian nation. Jostedalsbreen covers about 188 square miles, and scientists have been slowly mapping the thickness of the ice in order to predict how the warming climate may affect the glacier in the future. One possibility: The massive ice sheet may split into several smaller glaciers. 

Grey Glacier,Patagonia, Chile,Patagonian Ice Field, Cordillera del Paine

Grey Glacier


A spectacular tourist draw in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, Grey Glacier attracts hikers, kayakers, and boaters to Patagonia. It made the news in 2017 when a giant iceberg, roughly 1,200 feet long, broke free and floated into Grey Lake, raising questions about the effects of climate change. Satellite images from NASA show just how much Grey has shrunk in only a 20-year period.

Pasterze Glacier, Grossglockner mountain, Austria

Pasterze Glacier


Pasterze, Austria’s biggest glacier, continues to be a major Alpine tourist attraction even as it shrinks at a rapid clip: It has lost about half of its volume and retreated about 2 miles in the past century. Still, it’s worth a visit to see this impressive sea of ice, which can be explored with a certified guide. There’s also year-round skiing, a glacier cable car, and plenty of other mountain activities.

Iceberg, Greenland, Ilulissat Icefjord
René Lorenz/istockphoto

Jakobshavn Glacier


Remote though it may be, Greenland — itself about 80% ice — should be on any glacier lover’s bucket list. The Jakobshavn Glacier in western Greenland is a whopping 40 miles long and a mile thick, plus it’s a prolific source of icebergs, including the one that doomed the Titanic. Visitors can get a taste by exploring the rapidly retreating glacier’s terminus at the Ilulissat Icefjord, the northernmost UNESCO World Heritage Site. Scientist now believe the melting of Greenland's ice sheet may have been underestimated by  200%.