The Top 10 Largest Glaciers in the World to Hike

Discover the Biggest Glaciers in the World and Conquer New Heights

Milda Varniene

|September 26, 2019

Milda is a content writer with a particular interest in philosophy and nature. She is passionate about wildlife and all the nitty-gritty details of travel.


Tired of sunny beaches? Try your next adventure hiking on the largest glaciers in the world instead! Trade touristy beaches for epic glaciers and see the world from new heights.


You don’t need to be an expert hiker to conquer a glacier, but you need to act quickly. The latest studies show many glaciers melting 100 times faster than previously thought. Climb them while you still can!

What is a Glacier?

Simply put, a glacier is a giant mass of ice that moves slowly over land. They form than more snow piles up than melts, allowing huge amounts of snow to collect over time. And these masses of ice are constantly moving. That's why glaciers are called slowly moving rivers of ice.  

As you might guess, it’s an incredibly long process and Earth’s glaciers formed over thousands of years — so every glacier you’ll encounter is an ancient creature. 

Here are the top 10 largest glaciers in the world to hike

1. Vatnajökull Glacier National Park

  • Location: Iceland
  • Area: 3,100 sq mi (7,900 sq km)
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Road to Vatnajokull Glacier National Park

Feels like entering another planet

At the top of our list is Iceland, known for having some of the largest and most impressive glaciers in the world. Presently, 11% of the land area of Iceland is covered by ice.

One of the best glaciers for hiking is Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe.

Being here is like standing at the edge of the world. The vast ice world is both silent and shocking. As you trek on 1,250 ft (380 m) thick ice, gaze across blue crevasses, chasms, and rugged ridges.

At the foot of Vatnajökull Glacier ripples the dramatic Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Take a boat ride and gape at the brilliantly white icebergs that sluggishly drift on their way to the sea. More often than not, seals bask on top of the icebergs, greeting visitors with soft grunts and “humphs.”

 

Hvannadalshnjukur Iceland Vatnajokull

Highest peaks make us feel alive

Vatnajökull is also home to Iceland’s highest mountain, Hvannadalshnúkur, rising 6,920 ft (2,110 m) above sea level. Back in July 2019, Vatnajökull was named a Unesco World Heritage Site.

On our Vatnajökull Glacier Hiking Expedition, an expert guide will strap you into special glacier-walk gear and carefully lead you across the ice. 

2. Aletsch Glacier

  • Location: Switzerland
  • Area: 31.5 sq mi (81.7 sq km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate


Aletsch Glacier from Eggishorn Alps

No cars, ONLY hikers allowed

Aletsch Glacier is the largest ice cap in the Alps and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 14-mi (23-km) long Aletsch Glacier stretches out like a frozen six-lane highway. The mammoth glacier curves around the mighty Aletschhorn, rising up 13,757 ft (4,193 m). 

With every step on the ice giant, discover new rock forms and deep holes formed by meltwater. The route ends at Lake Märjelensee, a small yet lovely stretch of water.

3. Columbia Icefield

  •     Location: Canada
  •     Area: 125 sq mi (325 sq km)
  •     Difficulty: Easy
Athabasca Glacier in Canada

Boy oh boy, it's going to be an awesome day!

Columbia Icefield is the largest and most accessible ice field in the Rocky Mountains. At times, Columbia Icefield seems like a fantasy land brought to life. The ice in the area dates all the way back to the last ice age. Walk the glacier and get an idea of how the place looked 12,000 years ago. 

The Icefield has six major outlet glaciers. Of these, Athabasca Glacier is the biggest and most popular. Surrounded by imposing peaks, visitors can touch glacial ice that is hundreds of years old!

On our Cycling Tour Along the Icefields Parkway, opt for an expert-led glacier walk on Athabasca Glacier. Or discover more on our Canadian Rockies Camping and Hiking Tours.

4. Perito Moreno Glacier

  • Location: Argentina
  • Area: 97 sq mi (250 sq km)
  • Difficulty: Easy
Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

The whole new world. Will it make your heart beat faster?

Perito Moreno holds the world’s third-largest reserve of freshwater and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the Los Glaciares National Park, the jagged glacier rises 240 ft (73 m) above Lake Argentino. Expect to hear the sound of large ice chunks as they plummet into the turquoise water.

 

Unlike most glaciers, Perito Moreno grows each day.

Nobody knows the exact reason why this massive ice floe doesn’t seem to care about rising temperatures. However, one thing is for sure — the glacier is alive and kicking.

5. Mýrdalsjökull Glacier

  • Location: Iceland
  • Area: 230 sq mi (595 sq km)
  • Difficulty: Easy
Sólheimajökull Mýrdalsjökull Glacier

Making discoveries, seeing something for the first time

The fourth-largest glacier in Iceland, Mýrdalsjökull is an incredibly special place. The glinting ice sculptures and scenery are overwhelming.

“The immense number of colors and sensations that are experienced climbing a glacier are innumerable,” said seasoned glacier guide Pietro D’Arca at Solheimajokull Glacier, while preparing glacier-walk gear for his group.

"Climbing a glacier gives you the mental freedom to alienate yourself from the world and find peace."

Sólheimajökull Glacier, one of Mýrdalsjökull’s icy outrunners, is the easiest glacier to reach from Reykjavik. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, Sólheimajökull will give you a sense of real adventure.  

Experience the glacier up close and see Iceland’s most popular highlights on our Sólheimajökull Glacier Hiking & South Coast Tour. Glacier hiking tours on this glittering ice cap operates year-round.

6. Jostedal Glacier

  • Location: Norway
  • Area: 188 sq mi (487 sq km)
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Jostedal Glacier - Fjordane Norway

The blue of your dreams

Jostedal is the largest ice cap in continental Europe. Covering almost half of Jostedalsbreen National Park, Jostedal is a wonderland of ice-carved crevasses and oddly shaped pinnacles. Best of all, you’ll be in the fjords area in West Norway, known for its wild natural scenery.

Usually, glacier hiking tours take place on Nigardsbreen Glacier, a glacier arm of the gigantic Jostedal. Hike the blue ice of Nigardsbreen and travel back in time. Scientists believe that the surrounding landscape looks similar to what it did hundreds of years ago.

7. Baltoro Glacier

  • Location: Pakistan
  • Area: 255 sq mi (660 sq km)
  • Difficulty: Challenging
Baltoro Glacier - Pakistan

This is where you refuse to give up

Baltoro Glacier is one of the longest glaciers outside the polar regions. The Baltoro Glacier route leads to the base camp of the terrifying K2, the second-highest peak in the world. While it’s not easy to reach this frozen titan, you’ll be rewarded both mentally and physically. 

Located in the mighty Karakoram Range, Baltoro Glacier is 39 mi (63 km) long. If a 14-day trip doesn’t put you off, explore some of the grandest landscapes on Earth. Gape at peaks that rise up to 26,000 ft (8,000 m) and feel small and humbled. 

If you’re planning a trip to Pakistan, make sure it’s done with a registered tour operator. Currently, most foreign governments advise against travel to many parts of the country.

8. Mendenhall Glacier

  • Location: United States, Alaska
  • Area: 37 sq mi (95 sq km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
Mendenhall Glacier - USA

It's almost heaven

Mendenhall Glacier Hike takes you to Alaska’s most celebrated glacial treasures. Located in Juneau, Mendenhall is part of the fifth-largest icefield in North America. At Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, observe the ice cap from a distance. While most people are content just to be in its presence, others want to get closer to the ice. 

To explore the ice cap, hike or kayak across the tranquil Mendenhall Lake to the base of the glacier. Then strap on your crampons and set foot on the frozen sea. Surrounded by Alaska’s vast wilderness, escape completely from the modern world. 

9. Pasterze Glacier

  • Location: Austria
  • Area: 7 sq mi (19 sq km)
  • Difficulty: Easy
Landscape view on Glacier

Despite all you've seen, you'll still feel the urge to hike it

The longest glacier in Austria and Eastern Alps, Pasterze Glacier is a high-alpine fantasyland. Pasterze Glacier lies at the foot of Austria’s highest mountain, Grossglockner, rising to 12,461 ft (3.798 m). 

The most spectacular point of the Pasterze Glacier Trail is Hufeisenbruch, where the majestic towers of ice reign supreme. Go back in time and marvel at ice formations frozen thousands of years ago. Prettier than a picture, Pasterze is the peak of many hikers’ dreams.

10. Franz Josef Glacier

  • Location: New Zealand
  • Area: 8 sq mi (20 sq km) 
  • Difficulty: Moderate
Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand

It's time to push the boundries of adventure

Located on New Zealand’s South Island, Franz Josef Glacier sits high on many hikers’ bucket lists. Franz Josef Glacier walk starts with a thrilling helicopter ride above ice falls. It can be pricey, but it's totally worth it for the chance to walk on terrain that's otherwise hard to get to. 

Once the helicopter drops you off in the middle of the ice, you might just freeze in awe at the icy expanse in front of you. The glacier is ever-changing, meaning no single trip to Franz Josef is the same. Named after Austrian emperor, Franz Josef is about 3 mi (5 km) from the town of the same name.

For Badass Glacier Hikers ONLY

Now you know what are the world’s biggest glaciers that you can hike, but what about Lambert Glacier, the largest glacier in the world? 

Lambert Glacier covers more than one million square kilometers and flows from the Antarctic ice sheet. So, is it possible to hike this giant? Yes, but it requires a very long journey and it isn’t cheap. According to Lonely Planet, just one or two tourist ships come here a year.

Another ice cap of immense size is Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram Range of Himalayas. It’s the world’s largest glacier outside the polar regions. The Indian Army organizes annual expeditions on the ice cap for selected civilians. If you really love extreme adventure, go for it!

Glacier Hiking Tips You Need to Know

What to wear on a glacier walk?

The right clothing is the key to a pleasant glacier expedition. As the weather on a glacier can change quickly, we advise dressing in layers. Also, keep in mind that clothing might vary, depending on the season. 

The important items for a glacier hike include a waterproof jacket and pants, thermal underwear, headwear, and gloves. Sturdy hiking shoes, of course, are a must. We also suggest bringing sunglasses, especially in summer.  

As glacier hiking is very physical, you might get sweaty. That said, we suggest avoiding cotton, as it holds moisture and absorbs body heat when it gets wet. Quick-drying synthetic fabrics such as nylon are ideal.

What equipment do you need for a glacier hike?

When it comes to special equipment, you’ll need boot spikes called crampons, helmets, harnesses, and ice axes. Usually, tour operators provide you with all the necessary glacier-walk gear. 

Equipment for Mountaineering and Hiking

Preparation is the key

When is the best time to go glacier hiking?

It might seem like winter months would provide better glacier hiking conditions. But that’s not always the case. Some glaciers, such as Jostedal Glacier in Norway or Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan, are not available in winter due to harsh weather conditions. 

It might come as a surprise, but you can also go glacier hiking in the summer. Some glaciers provide a perfect setting for glacier hiking during all four seasons. For example, tours on Vatnajökull and Mýrdalsjökull ice caps in Iceland run all-year-round. 

Is it safe to walk on a glacier?

Trekking on the ice can be dangerous and requires special equipment. It’s highly recommended to have expert guides to help you on your adventure.

Are the world’s biggest glaciers calling to you? Check out our best glacier hiking tours!