Columbia Glacier, Alaska

Get a close-up look at Alaska's fast-moving Columbia Glacier.

We live in sunny Florida, so it's only natural that Alaska is our favorite destination–we've been there five times.

One of our most exciting day trips there began in Valdez, where we boarded the Glacier Spirit for a cruise through Prince William Sound to the mighty Columbia Glacier.

We boarded shortly after breakfast, and the next few hours flew by as we watched for sea lions, whales, eagles and waterfalls along south-central Alaska's beautiful shoreline.

But we weren't prepared for the immense icebergs. They suddenly made our comfortable boat seem much smaller!

As we approached the Columbia Glacier — a 6-mile-wide hunk of ice the size of Los Angeles that extends into the Gulf of Alaska — we saw what looked like floating snowdrifts, creating a “river of ice”.

The floating chunks of ice got bigger and bigger. A crew member told us some icebergs extend 300 feet below the surface of the water.

But as our captain slowly pushed aside yet another beautiful blue iceberg, we focused on the awesome glacier itself. We learned that the Columbia, named by explorer Captain James Cook in 1890, is Alaska's largest tidewater glacier and the world's speediest, moving up to 40 yards a day!

We spent about an hour cruising among the icebergs and photographing them. We were glad we'd dressed in layers of warm clothing to ward off the 40° glacier chill–although we could've watched comfortably from the boat's heated interior as well.

As we cruised back to Valdez, caught up again in the pristine mountain vistas along the shore, we agreed this excursion is the coolest cruise in Alaska.

Before You Visit

The Columbia Glacier lies about 30 miles out of Valdez, which is on State Highway 4, about a 300-mile drive east of Anchorage.

Several companies offer Columbia Glacier tours from Valdez or Whittier. Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises operates the Glacier Spirit, offering 6-1/2- and 9-1/2-hour tours daily from mid-May through late September.

The shorter tour, which includes a light meal, costs $85 per adult and $42 for children ages 3-12. Some boats are fully wheelchair-accessible. To learn more, call 1-866-867-1297.

More to See

Valdez is located at the end of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The area boasts hiking, kayaking and flightseeing opportunities, as well as a downtown museum chronicling the town's gold-rush era, the pipeline and the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill and recovery efforts.

For details, call the Visitor and Convention Bureau at 1-907-835-2984.

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