Talk about dramatic scenery: This glacier in the eastern part of Prince William Sound has been in a “catastrophic” retreat since 1982, a phenomenon predicted to stop by 2020.

Indeed, every day, 13 million tons of ice break off the face of it, leaving chunks in the water that are often twice as big as the boat you’re riding. That means that just getting close to this glacier can be tricky.

Tour boats leave from Valdez to see the Columbia, and tours tend to be about seven hours long, with wildlife viewing along the way. If the boat can get close to the glacier, you’ll be within one mile of its face, and you’ll get a 270-degree view of glacier ice that’s 200 to 400 feet tall. (Otherwise, you might be no closer than 12 miles.)

Columbia glacier is located in Prince William Sound. At over 550 meters thick at some points and covering an area of 400 square miles, this glacier is a sight to behold, whether from a boat or the sky. It snakes its way 32 miles through the Chugach Mountains before dumping into the Columbia Bay, about 40 miles by boat from Valdez. You can see Columbia Glacier on a day cruise from Valdez.

To get a preview of this dramatic glacier, check out this really great time-lapse video of the Columbia Glacier recorded by Extreme Ice Survey, or this aerial video, filmed by’s Bob Kaufman from his airplane.

A Glacier In Rapid Retreat

Columbia Glacier has shed miles of its length in the past decade, precipitated by climate change and exacerbated by glacier dynamics, explained in this 90-second video. Another timelapse video shows the glacier melting catastrophically over a 5-month period in 2004.

To give you a sense for how much ice is being lost, this 15-second sequence shows the glacier losing ice the equivalent of 1.5 trillion liters of water over the summer of 2007 alone. How much is that? 44 times the entire annual consumption of bottled water in the United States!

Getting There

Latitude: 61.13962
Longitude: -147.093
Driving Directions