Hiker on Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland
© James O'Neil/Getty Images
Exploration

10 places to go for your first glacier hike

If you’ve never walked on a glacier, you need to add one of these amazing starter spots to your bucket list.
By Will Gray
6 min readPublished on
Glacier hiking is like nothing else on earth. Clip on crampons and rope up tight and you’ll enter a world of towering ice blocks, waterfalls that plummet into caves so deep you can can’t see their end and stunning shades of blue and green like you’ve never seen before. You don’t have to be an explorer to experience all of this – and you don’t have to travel too far either.
Here are the top spots to try it out in Europe and around the world – so pick one and get packing. There’s even a kit list to help choose what to take with you.
Just beware, even if you feel well prepared, if it’s your first time then go with a guide where possible. Not only will they keep you safe, they can tell you so much more about the glacier that you’d miss if you went alone. And keep up to date with the weather conditions in the region – because hot sun and ice don’t mix well...

1. Mer de Glace, France

Person uses ice pick to climb up glacier in France.
At 7km long and 200m deep, Mer de Glace is the largest glacier in France
Where: Chamonix
Translated as ‘Sea of Ice’ this giant glacier is one of the easiest to access in Europe – and it’s not just great for a short trip, it’s so big you can hike on it for days.
A cog train up from Chamonix takes you to the Montenvers, from where you quickly reach ice caves and testing crevasse-filled terrain. Longer three-day trips also cross the Leschaux, Tacul and Talèfre glaciers offering great Mont Blanc Massif views, expedition-style ladders and refuge overnight.

2. Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland

Three people walking on a glacier in Switzerland.
It's considered one of UNESCO’s Greatest Natural Wonders of the World
This magnificent 23km-long snaking glacier is the Alps’ largest and looks just like the giant swathes of ice you’d find in Alaska.
There are single-day options but the classic two-day route is a stunner. It starts by roping up at Jungfraujoch and hiking on snow to the glacier – a different world to the busy tourist area you leave behind. After climbing 499 steps to the overnight stay at the Konkordia refuge, the route follows the west moraine to Märjelensee Lake and Fiesch for the train ride back.

3. Steindalsbreen, Norway

Jagged Lyngen Alps seen covered in snow.
Lyngen Alps
North of the Arctic Circle, in the stunningly jagged Lyngen Alps to be exact, this rapidly retreating glacier is already quite hard to get to – so go quickly before it melts back any further.
It’s a 12.4km return hike to the car park, but it can be done in a day, even out of the nearest big town of Tromsø. If you go deep you’ll find stunning ice canyons, natural ice sculptures and endless bright blue waterfalls and pools.

4. Sólheimajökull, Iceland

Person in glacier crevice using ice picks to climb glacier.
The route will pass stunning rivers, waterfalls and ash mountains
This giant Icelandic glacier offers easy access and plenty of options for different levels of hiking, from moderate terrain to overhanging ice walls.
Located between two volcanoes, it’s part of the greater Mýrdalsjökull Glacier and is spectacularly scenic but lies just 140km east of the capital Reykjavik. It’s a great place to learn the techniques of anchor building, belaying and on-ice communication.

5. Athabasca Glacier, Canada

People walking in a line on the glacier in Canada.
Take in the spectacular landscapes of moraines, millwells and crevasses
This 6km-long glacier is one of the Rockies’ most popular ice destinations, with easy access and well-organised guiding opening up some stunning natural wonders.
Most day hikes visit the lower section, which starts shallow and smooth but ends with large shelves, irregular terraces and icefalls. You can climb seracs and look over into millwells where the water drops deep into ice tunnels. If you’re lazy, you can just take the Ice Explorer snow coach.

6. Mendenhall Glacier, USA

Group of people stood next to helicopter on glacier in Alaska.
Soar over the surreal glaciers for the perfect Instagram shot
If you’ve got cash to splash (US$435 per person), you can chopper onto this glacier, which towers over the nearby port city of Juneau. There are stunning views to be had as you wander around the ice.
There are lots of other amazing Alaska glaciers to walk on, too, including easy access Matanuska, where you can park up and stroll right onto the ice; Remote Root, near Kennicott in Wrangell-St Elias National Park; and undulating Exit, which leads up to the seemingly endless Harding Ice Field.

7. Alerce Glacier, Argentina

Alerce Glacier, Argentina seen with heavy cloud cover.
You'll have lots of time to enjoy the endless natural beauty
Translated as ‘Thundering Mountain’, this volcano gets its name from the sound the ice blocks make as they tumble off the glaciers that surround it – but don’t worry, if you go with a guide you should stay out of trouble.
You can traverse the glacier between the Meiling and Roca huts in a day, enjoying stunning views as you pick your way around deep crevasses. Don’t miss the Black Glacier nearby, which is filled with rock sediment that turns its ice a unique black colour.

8. Glacier Grey, Chile

People walk across glacier towards lake in Chile.
Enjoy a 15-minute zodiac boat ride to reach the west side of the glacier
Deep in the heart of Chilean Patagonia, this is an easy add-on to the already spectacular W-Route hike in Torres del Paine.
The day trip kicks off in James Bond style with a 15-minute buzz on a zodiac boat across Lago Grey. After an hour’s hike you reach the glacier, where you can spend three hours exploring cracks, rivers, lagoons and tunnels, all in astonishing different tones of bright blue. When the sun shines, it’s mind-blowingly beautiful.

9. Perito Moreno, Argentina

People in line walk across glacier in Argentina.
Perito Moreno is one of the world's most accessible glaciers
Most people are drawn to this glacier to see its 70m-high wall of ice calving into the lake below – but it’s also a great place to try out crampons for the first time.
The day trip starts with a boat ride from Puerto Bajo Las Sombras and a short hike through the southern area of the glacier to reach an incredible viewpoint. From there, your perspective changes completely as you enter a world of blue lagoons, deep crevices and breathtaking caves.

10. Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, New Zealand

Enjoy panoramic views of the mountains during a helicopter ride
Enjoy panoramic views of the mountains during a helicopter ride
There’s plenty of ice hiking in New Zealand, and although you can hike to the foot of Fox and Franz Josef you’re going to have to get into a chopper if you want to get the real deal.
Once you land on either glacier, you’re just a step away from dramatic icefalls, which are particularly impressive here because the glaciers move so fast. Depending on conditions, the trek could include roping across crevasses, dropping into a Moulin ice hole or climbing an ice pitch.

Kit list

Go with a guide and they can provide all necessary equipment, including a helmet, harness, crampons, ice axe, rope, carabiners and ice screws.
In terms of clothing, obviously hiking on ice is going to be cold – so you need to kit up warm. Here are some essentials:
Base layer
Synthetic or wool long sleeved shirt and long johns are essential.
Mid layer
A light padded jacket will keep you toasty on the ice.
Shell
Take a breathable light jacket in case the weather turns.
Boots
Firm boots that accept crampons are useful, but you can always hire them.
Sunglasses
Wrap-around is essential when it’s so bright.
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