One of the biggest draws to Glacier National Park is the namesake glaciers. These masses of ice and snow once covered much of the Earth. Today, however, glaciers globally are becoming more and more scarce.
As you travel through Glacier National Park, you’ll be surprised at the size and number of glaciers in the park today. However, the glaciers you’ll see in the park today are just a small handful of glaciers compared to what used to be in the park.
The glaciers in Glacier National Park are rapidly shrinking, and there are some estimates that by the year 2030, there will be no glaciers left in this beautiful National Park.
Many visitors come to the park each year to enjoy the rugged mountain views, lush meadows, and glacier-made lakes. If you are one of those visitors, you’ll want to know about Glacier’s famous glaciers and check them out before they’re gone.
What is a Glacier?
In Glacier National Park, you’ll find two different types of glaciers: ice glaciers and rock glaciers.
- Ice Glaciers are large masses of compressed ice and snow, many of which have been around since the Earth’s last ice age. These masses of ice and snow are so large that they move under their own weight.
Ice glaciers are one of the forces that have shaped the peaks you see in Glacier National Park. As they move and melt, they carve out rock and create glacial lakes. As ice glaciers retreat, they leave behind piles of rock called moraine.
- Rock Glaciers are landforms like ice glaciers, except they are made from piles of large, angular rocks. Rock glaciers may have ice present in between the gaps of the rocks, but you may never see it. These formations work similarly to ice glaciers in the shaping of the mountains within the park.
How Many Glaciers are There in Glacier National Park?
Today, Glacier National Park is home to 25 ice glaciers and around 13 rock glaciers. The number of glaciers in the park has decreased significantly since the late 1800s, in fact, in 1850, the park had a whopping 150 glaciers.
The glaciers that you see in the park today, are remnants of some of the larger, more significant glaciers.
How to See Glaciers in Glacier National Park
Unfortunately, because of the declining numbers of glaciers in Glacier National Park, they aren’t as easy to view as they once were. However, there are glaciers that you can easily experience from your car or by hiking.
- Jackson Glacier – This glacier is the easiest to see, and can be viewed from your car. The Going-to-the Sun Road has a designated pull-off to view the Jackson Glacier. And at this spot you can read interpretive signs about the Park’s glaciers.
- Salamander Glacier – Visible from the road as you enter the Many Glacier area of the park. This glacier sits above Grinnell Glacier and can be seen from your car just as you drive through the park entrance station.
- Grinnell Glacier – This glacier is one that has seen the most dramatic decrease in area since the late 1960s. It is a beautiful view and has a brilliant blue glacial lake. Getting here requires a strenuous, 10-mile round trip hike that starts at the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead.
- Sperry Glacier – The most studied glacier in the park, getting to this one is not for the faint of heart. The 8.5-mile, one-way hike to Sperry Glacier starts at Lake McDonald Lodge and has a whopping 5,000 feet of elevation gain.
Sperry Glacier can also be viewed using binoculars from the Hidden Lake Overlook. This is an easier 1.3-mile hike starting at Logan Pass.
There are, of course, many other glaciers that you can see in the park. However, these are the easiest for most travelers to the park to view or hike to.