Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park is not the largest nor the oldest glacier in Alaska, but it’s arguably one of the most famous. The landscape is captivating and it has become a symbol of the environmental impact of climate change. It’s also an important and favorite stop on our Glaciers & Grizzlies Adventure tour. Which is why we’d like to share with you some fascinating facts about the small glacier that’s made a big impact on travelers and environmentalists from all over the world!
1. Glaciers make up about 10 percent of the Earth’s surface.
During the last Ice Age, however, they covered nearly one-third of the planet. This means that around 15,000 years ago, ice encased most of North America and extended as far south as California’s San Bernardino Mountains.¹
2. Over 100,000 glaciers exist in Alaska today, covering nearly 28,000 square miles.
Most of them remain nameless, but a few, like Exit Glacier, have become popular tourist destinations.²
3. Not just any chunk of ice can be called a glacier. There is a size requirement.
They have to be at least 25 acres or the equivalent of 19 football fields. Exit Glacier easily makes the cut measuring about 14 square miles.³
4. Glaciers have been around for longer than you think.
Scientists have found an ice field in Antarctica which they estimate to be 1.5 million years old!4 Exit Glacier is young by comparison. It’s part of the Harding Ice Field, which has only been around for about 23,000 years.5
5. Do you know how glacial ice gets to be so blue? It’s because it’s so dense.
Years of falling snow are compacted tightly into sheets leaving no room for air. When the light hits these sheets, it absorbs all the other colors on the spectrum except for blue light, which has a shorter wavelength.
6. Exit Glacier is just one of 35 glaciers that make up the Harding Ice Field in the Kenai Mountains of Alaska.
In 1968, an expedition successfully crossed the ice field for the very first time. At the end of their journey, they exited the ice field by descending a glacier they later named “Exit” to commemorate the event.
7. While Exit Glacier is not the oldest or largest glacier in Alaska, it is the most accessible.
It is a 10-15 minute drive from Seward, Alaska, and only a 15-20 minute walk from the parking lot to the toe of the glacier. The path is also paved for wheelchair and stroller access allowing travelers of all ages and ability levels to get up close to the glacier.6
8. The Exit Glacier isn’t the only sight to see in the area.
It’s part of Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park and home to a wild variety of animals and birds including mountain goats, bears, moose, eagles, and marmots.
9. Exit Glacier has become an icon of climate change.
Starting in the 1800s, markers have been posted along the trail as a visual reminder of the glacier’s retreat. It’s been melting at a rate of roughly 162 feet per year since 2010.7
10. Visiting Exit Glacier was on President Obama’s bucket list.
In 2015 President Obama made the hike to the Exit Glacier before giving a speech addressing climate change at a conference in Anchorage. He called the glacier itself “spectacular” and expressed his hope that it would still be around for future generations to visit.8
¹Baehr, Leslie.”A Terrifying GIF Of An Ice Age Ripping Through The US,” Business Insider. ²Leibowitz,Elissa.”Ten Interesting Facts about Glaciers.” World Wildlife Fund. ³Rosen,Yereth.”Retreating Exit Glacier has become an icon of climate change.” Anchorage Daily News. 4Glumac, Tamara. “Scientists discover Antarctic ice sheet believed to be 1.5 million years old.” ABC News. 5“The Harding Icefield.” National Park Service. 6“Visit Exit Glacier.” Alaska.org. 7Yore, Linda Malys. “15 Things To Know Before Visiting Exit Glacier Alaska (Safety, Packing, & Hiking).” Linda On The Run. 8Mufson, Steven. “Obama visits receding glacier in Alaska to highlight climate change.” The Washington Post.