There is perhaps no stronger symbol of nature’s power than glaciers, the unassuming sculptors of Earth’s most magnificent landscapes. These dynamic ice giants are anything but gentle—collaborating with gravity to quite literally move mountains over millennia—and yet, a profound sense of peace resonates in their presence. That is, until a sudden crackling noise crescendos into the release of a calving iceberg, sending a house-sized chunk of ice into the water with a ceremonious splash!
Glaciers form when hundreds of years’ worth of compressed snow and ice become too massive to stand still, beginning a slow, frozen flow toward sea level, typically traveling just a few feet per day. When their toes reach the water, these crystalline blue behemoths seem even more alive, breathing with the tides. To naturalist John Muir, glaciers were not simply animate; they bordered on divine—and to experience one was to leave with a renewed sense of being. Of Alaska’s Glacier Bay, he wrote, “We turned and sailed away… and our burning hearts were ready for any fate, feeling that, whatever the future might have in store, the treasures we had gained this glorious morning would enrich our lives forever.”
Though the Antarctic ice sheet harbors the majority of the world’s glaciers, it’s far from the only place where you can come face to face with their chilly thrills. From the stark coastline of Patagonia to the lagoons of Iceland, here are five regions where colossal glaciers and their captivating charisma are on full display.