Experiencing the best glaciers and fjords is one of the top reasons to take a cruise up to Alaska.

Whether you’re looking for dramatic glaciers or peaceful fjords, these destinations will not disappoint!

Most popular Alaska glaciers and fjords

This guide to Alaska glaciers and fjords helps you decide which Alaska cruise itinerary to take for your next great adventure.

Alaska is home to some of the most beautiful glaciers and fjords in the world, and there’s no better way to see them than on a cruise ship.

Be sure to check how many and which glaciers or fjords are visited on the chosen cruise route.

No matter which glaciers or fjords you choose to visit on your Alaskan cruise, all provide views of the striking natural beauty of the rugged west coast.

Before selecting your Alaska cruise, check out our Alaska Cruise Guide to the best ports of call, top things to do in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan.

And don’t miss a chance to ride on the  White Pass and Yukon Railway one of the most scenic rail trips in the world.

Discover the breathtaking scenery of mountains, glaciers and fjords during an Alaska cruise up the rugged west coast to Alaska. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Discover the breathtaking scenery of mountains, glaciers and fjords during an Alaska cruise up the rugged west coast to Alaska. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Discover the breathtaking scenery of Alaska cruising up the Inside Passage. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Discover the breathtaking scenery of Alaska cruising up the Inside Passage. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Alaska Glaciers Cruises

Here are some of the best glaciers and fjords to visit on your Alaskan cruise as you journey up the stunning coastline of British Columbia and Alaska:

Discover the breathtaking scenery of Alaska wilderness. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Discover the breathtaking scenery of Alaska wilderness. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Mendenhall Glacier

The Mendenhall Glacier is located just north of Juneau in the Tongrass National Forest. It descends from the Juneau Icefield into Mendenhall Lake.

Nearby Nugget waterfall tumbles down the mountain into the lake. Cool, icy breezes blow off the lake and are refreshing on a hot summer day.

The Moraine Ecology Trail is most easily accessed from the paved Steep Creek Trail near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. The easy trail is well worth the time and effort.

We saw spawning salmon, a number of birds and a black bear in a tree.

We combined our most recent tour to Mendenhall Glacier with a whale watching adventure.

If you are looking to explore the ice cave, highly publicized by images all over social media, it no longer exists. This ice cave collapsed years ago.

From the Juneau pier, take a round trip taxi or a shuttle to see this glacier. If you choose to take a taxi, always establish the fare in advance.

Find out more.

Spectacular Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. Discover the breathtaking scenery of Alaska wilderness. Explore top things to do while in port. Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Spectacular Mendenhall Glacier just outside Juneau, Alaska. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Glacier Bay National Park

This world-famous national park is home to more than 1,000 glaciers, including the Margerie Glacier – one of the most active glaciers in Alaska.

Glacier Bay National Park is a designation UNESCO World Heritage Site and has seven tidewater glaciers.

Glacier Bay is one of the largest mammal protection areas and home to otters, seals, sea lions, and humpback whales.

Search the shoreline for black and brown bears, mountain goats and moose.

There are many types of birds to watch for, including bald eagles, hawks and tufted puffins.

The number of cruise ships entering the fjord is restricted and Holland America offers the most visits to this breathtaking area than any other cruise line.

Cruise ships spend a full day cruising the waters (eight to nine hours) and will usually turn the ship for the best views from both sides.

National Park Rangers come aboard the ship to offer more insight into the area that was formed over millions of years.

Margerie Glacier

The magnificent Margerie Glacier has slowly retreated over the years due to ice melt, but it is still massive.

It rises 200 feet above the water dwarfing any cruise ship and stretches 100 feet below the surface.

It is a tidewater glacier.

Viewing Glacier Bay National Park Margerie Glacier from the deck of Holland America. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Viewing Glacier Bay National Park Margerie Glacier from the deck of Holland America. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Magnificent Margerie Glacier is the highlight of Glacier Bay National Park and a main attraction for cruise passengers. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Magnificent Margerie Glacier is the highlight of Glacier Bay National Park and a main attraction for cruise passengers. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Best Fjords on an Alaska Cruise

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier is North America’s longest tidewater glacier. Icebergs are continually calving off this 70 mile/113 km long glacier.

The icebergs, some up to 200 feet/61 metres high become a habitat for pupping and molting harbor seals.

Pupping occurs in late spring. Molting generally happens annually in the summer.

College Fjord

College Fjord in Prince William Sound offers views of eight glaciers all at once.

The largest of the eight, is Harvard Glacier. These tidewater glaciers are named after top Ivy League universities.

Exploration tours usually leave from the town of Whittier to view the glaciers and the abundance of marine life.

Feeling more adventurous, try kayaking or jet skiing.

Glaciers and icebergs In Prince William Sound. Photo: State of Alaska/Chris McLennan©

Glaciers and icebergs In Prince William Sound. Photo: State of Alaska/Chris McLennan©

Glaciers and icebergs In Prince William Sound. Photo: State of Alaska/Chris McLennan©

Glaciers and icebergs In Prince William Sound. Photo: State of Alaska/Chris McLennan©

Endicott Arm Fjord

Travel along Endicott Arm Fjord up the 30-mile-long narrow inlet to view steep granite cliffs and spectacular Dawes Glacier at the end of the fjord.

Dawes Glacier is actively calving and is a half-mile/0.8 km wide and 600 feet/183 metres high.

Endicott Arm has a large harbor seal population during breeding.

Tracy Arm Fjord

Tracy Arm Fjord is a narrow, deep fjord with many waterfalls tumbling down its steep cliffs.

The Twin Sawyer Glaciers, North and South Sawyer, are found here. Only smaller cruise ships can navigate this area, but you can also access this breathtaking wilderness though sightseeing tours from Juneau or take an excursion.

Sometimes there is so much ice in the water that ships are unable to access the entire area.

The ship I travelled on at the end of May was unable to completely enter the area. As a guest experience, a piece of the iceberg was brought on to the ship to see it up close.

The pristine beauty of Tracy Arm Fjord. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

The pristine beauty of Tracy Arm Fjord. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

At Tracy Arm Fjord a piece of an iceberg brought on to Princess Cruise ship to allow guests to experience the ice. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

At Tracy Arm Fjord, a piece of an iceberg brought on to a Princess Cruise ship to allow guests to experience the ice. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

The pristine beauty of Tracy Arm Fjord on an Alaska Cruise. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

The pristine beauty of Tracy Arm Fjord on an Alaska Cruise. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

The pristine beauty of Tracy Arm Fjord on an Alaska Cruise. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

The pristine beauty of Tracy Arm Fjord on an Alaska Cruise. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

The pristine beauty of Tracy Arm Fjord on an Alaska Cruise. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

The pristine beauty of Tracy Arm Fjord on an Alaska Cruise. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Misty Fjords National Monument

Misty Fjords is located 22 miles from Ketchikan. The picturesque area of wilderness is a nature preserve with coastal wildlife, waterfalls and steep vertical cliffs of granite rising 3,000 feet.

The fjord can be explored by air or sea.

Scenic views of the Misty Fjords National Monument while flightseeing with Seawind Aviation. Photo: Travel Alaska©

Scenic views of the Misty Fjords National Monument while flightseeing with Seawind Aviation. Photo: Travel Alaska©

Fast Facts About Alaska Glaciers and Fjords

What is a glacier?

Glaciers are masses of snow and ice made from fresh water that compress in layers and are formed over thousands of years.

These continually moving and changing ‘rivers of ice’ are pulled by gravity. As snow melts or accumulates, it will retreat or advance.

Due to climate change, glaciers are melting at a faster pace then predicted by glaciologists.

See images of retreating glaciers in Glacier Alley at Patagonia on the southern most tip of South America at the end of the article.

Breathtaking Alaska wilderness as view on an Alaska cruise

Discover the breathtaking scenery of Alaska wilderness. Explore top things to do while in port.

Why is glacier ice blue?

Glaciers can appear icy white or icy blue due to the light it absorbs, transmits and scatters. If the light travels a long distance through the ice it appears more blue.

Here is the scientific reason why.

Notice the the blue color in the glacier. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Notice the blue color in the glacier. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

What is a tidewater glacier?

A tidewater glacier starts in the mountains and ends at the ocean.

As more and more snow accumulates and compacts, the glacier is pushed down the mountain out to the ocean.

When chunks of the glacier breaks off along the edge, icebergs are born.

Climate change is rapidly causing these masses to melt, causing rising sea levels.

Learn more about tidewater glaciers.

This tidewater glacier stretches from the mountains to the ocean. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

This tidewater glacier stretches from the mountains to the ocean. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

This tidewater glacier stretches from the mountains to the ocean. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

This tidewater glacier stretches from the mountains to the ocean. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Breathtaking Alaska wilderness scenery on a cruise to Alaska

Discover the breathtaking scenery of Alaska wilderness. Explore top things to do while in port.

Spectacular ruged coastline as viewed on an Alaska cruise

Discover the breathtaking scenery of Alaska wilderness. Explore top things to do while in port.

What is calving?

Calving is when ice fractures off the edge of a glacier and falls into the ocean. There is usually a splitting or cracking sound just before the crevasse breaks away. The sound can be very loud. It is spectacular to witness.

Hubbard Glacier calving in Alaska Photo Bernard Spragg, New Zealand. This photo was taken in September 2012.

Hubbard Glacier calving in Alaska Photo Bernard Spragg, New Zealand. This photo was taken in September 2012.

What is an iceberg?

Icebergs break off of glaciers, either slipping into the ocean or hiding just under the surface showing only its tip.

Most icebergs break away from glaciers in Alaska, Greenland and Antarctica.

These chunks of ice begin their own journey, floating freely through the water pulled by currents and winds. Some will provide important pupping and molting grounds for harbour seals.

The iceberg will eventually melt and disappear when it hits warmer waters. This may take several years.

What color is an iceberg?

The color of an iceberg can tell you many things about its composition, how it was formed and where it is from.

A stripped gray and black iceberg contains masses of sediment and rock called moraine that was swept along as the glacier formed.

Icebergs that break off below the surface of the water take on the appearance of a blackish green.

If an iceberg is thickly packed, it is more blue compared to white one with lots of air bubbles.

Glaciers and icebergs show black and gray stripes of sediment and rock called moraine that was swept along as the glacier formed. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Glaciers and icebergs show black and gray stripes of sediment and rock called moraine that was swept along as the glacier formed. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

How big is an iceberg?

The size of an iceberg varies and it can be massive!

One of the largest icebergs broke away from the Larsen Shelf C in Antarctica in July 2017.  Its gigantic size was compared to the size of the state of Delaware.

In January 2021, the world’s largest iceberg calved into three smaller icebergs and continue to move around the South Atlantic.

How icebergs are tracked?

NASA scientists track icebergs using satellite imaging.

Find out more at the US National Ice Centre or NASA Earth Observatory.

The International Ice Patrol, run by the US Coast Guard, monitors the North Atlantic to help prevent tragedies like the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

The Canadian Ice Service monitors Canadian waters and works in partnership with the above two organizations along with United States National Ice Center.

Smaller icebergs can sometimes be towed out of busy maritime paths.

On June 25, 2022, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship hit a small iceberg during an Alaskan cruise near the Hubbard Glacier. There were no injuries.

South American Glaciers

Spectacular glaciers can also be seen during a South American cruise sailing through Glacier Alley in Beagle Channel in the Chilean fjords.

These retreating glaciers in Patagonia on the southern most tip of South America descend from the Patagonia Ice Field in the Andes.

This stretch of water separates Argentina from Chile.

Spectacular Glacier alley South America 897 123 copy

Journey through the spectacular Glacier Alley. Jagged mountains, retreating ice melts show natures powerful force. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr@

Scenic Cruising Cape Horn Chilean Fjords and Glaciers 1691 103 copy

Scenic cruising around spectacular Cape Horn and through the Chilean fjords passing pristine glaciers. Jagged mountains, retreating ice melts show natures powerful force. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr@

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Be prepared for the trip

Weather can be unpredictable in these wilderness areas. It can be sunny and warm or cold, with rain, mist and wind.

Always dress in layers and wear waterproof, windproof clothing and good, study shoes with slip proof soles.

Compact waterproof binoculars are a must to spot wildlife in the water or along the shore.

These are my must bring items:

Icebreaker Merino wool – hat, gloves, two different weights of long sleeve thermal cold weather base layer T-shirts, two undershirts, wool neck buff.

IceBreaker Merino is super lightweight, soft, non-itchy, non-clammy, warm in the cold and cool in the heat, and has a miraculous ability to resist odor.

Helly Hansen windproof, waterproof jacket. Be very careful when buying a “waterproof piece of clothing”! Does it say fully waterproof or it is actually water resistant? Water resistant is not waterproof.

Merrell Moab waterproof hiking shoe is sturdy, slip proof, comfortable and has great reviews. I feel confident walking in all types of terrain with these.

Keens sports sandal and casual closed toe sandal

These casual closed toe sandals can be dressed up or down. I get so many complements on these. I have them in two different colours. The sports sandal is waterproof and great for water activities like kayaking or walks along the beach.

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