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Athabasca Glacier

Jasper National Park, Alberta T0E Canada

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“The most-visited glacier in North America”

It's North America's most-visited glacier​ and it's disappearing. Fast. Bill Graveland, of The Canadian Press, reports that Athabasca Glacier, in Alberta's Columbia Icefields, is melting at a shocking rate. Over five meters of ice is melting every year, and, according to a Parks Canada manager, it's feared that the glacier will be completely gone "within a generation." Some background: The Athabasca Glacier is located in the Columbia Icefield. Western Canada's mountains used to be covered by a thick ice mass. As the winter snow melts, it turns into ice and creates glaciers. Athabasca Glacier is located across the Icefield Center,  "its ice is in continuous motion, creeping forward at the rate of several centimeters per day," five meters a year. It's also shrinking.  Because of a warming climate, the Athabasca Glacier has been receding or melting for the last 125 years. Losing half its volume and retreating more than 1.5 kms, the shrinking glacier has left a moonscape of rocky moraines in its wake. The glacier is the largest of Jasper National Park's six ice sheets, which make up the Columbia Icefield. Though 7 meters of snow fall on the glacier every year, it's been melting for over 150 years. "It's astonishing," John Wilmshurst, Jasper National Park's resource conservation manager, said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "Every year we drive stakes five metres deep into the glacier in the fall. We have to return and re-drill them in mid-summer because a lot of those stakes on the Athabasca Glacier, the one that a lot of people go visit, will be lying flat on the ice at that time. The Columbia Icefield is now theorized to be about 220 sq. km. Even though there was a significant amount of snowfall this year, the glacier is still melting five meters, due to warm summers and a prolonged autumn. Scientific reports have named the British Columbia and Alaska glacier melts as significant signs of the effects of major climate change. According to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, we'll continue to watch our glaciers disappear which will impact not only sea levels, but also hydroelectric power production.  The report said glaciers in the region are losing 20 to 30 percent as much as what is melting annually from the Greenland Ice Sheet, which has received far more worldwide attention...it's estimated that the Athabasca Glacier is about 300 metres deep, but it is slowly disappearing. Water from the Columbia Icefields flow into the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans and the landscape will be much different if it is eventually gone. It's believed that the Athabasca glacier could potentially be gone by the next generation. The Athabasca Glacier is one of the six principal 'toes' of the Columbia Icefield, located in the Canadian Rockies.  The glacier currently recedes at a rate of about 16 ft per year and has receded almost a mile in the past 125 years and lost over half of its volume. The leading edge of the glacier is within easy walking distance; however, travel onto the glacier is not recommended unless properly equipped. Hidden crevasses have led to the deaths of unprepared tourists. Athabasca could be the next glacier to fully disappear, within the current lifetime. 

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Reviewed by

  • 3 Reviews
  • 2 Helpful
September 28, 2014
Rated 5.0

Perfect! Just remember to bring a sweater or jacket and proper shoes. I was in flats and stepped through the ice a bit in places, very cold.

2 people found this review helpful

Reviewed by

  • 1 Review
  • 1 Helpful
August 29, 2017

A must see! Just remember to go early in the morning, and expect to have lots and lots of fellow sightseers there with you. You will NOT be alone. And for Pete's sake, stay behind the boundaries.

1 person found this review helpful

Reviewed by
Keith Sorrels

  • 13 Reviews
  • 13 Helpful
July 13, 2015
Rated 4.0

The scenery from Jasper was nice and before too long, I could see a glacier.
I parked and hiked up a hill to get a better view because I wanted to at least touch the glacier. In times past, it was possible to hike up onto the ice. But now, perhaps partly because how the melt river blocks access, only those who pay for the "special glacier adventure", can do that.

1 person found this review helpful

Reviewed by
Tatiana Danger

  • Road Warrior
  • 1,169 Reviews
  • 851 Helpful
August 31, 2014
Rated 3.0

Athabasca Glacier, in Alberta's Columbia Icefields, is melting at a shocking rate. Over five meters of ice is melting every year, and, according to a Parks Canada manager, it's feared that the glacier will be completely gone "within a generation."

1 person found this review helpful

Reviewed by
Joel Schat

  • Photographer
  • 237 Reviews
  • 505 Helpful
July 01, 2014

Did the tour in the middle of summer on a hot day wearing shorts and a light jacket.. big mistake! The wind gets insane up on here so dress warm!

1 person found this review helpful

Reviewed by

  • 28 Reviews
  • 48 Helpful
April 26, 2017
Rated 4.0

Wait an insane thing to be able to walk to a glacier. The hike isn't too long but can get cold and breath taking with the elevation. A definite stop along the icefields parkway. You can't physically touch the glacier but the view is great.

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Athabasca Glacier

Jasper National Park
T0E Canada

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  • Parking
  • Pets Allowed
  • Restrooms
  • Wifi
  • Wheelchair Accessible
  • Credit Cards Accepted
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