See mainland Europe’s largest glacier in the beautiful Jostedalen Valley
WALK, BOAT, PADDLE OR HIKE ON THE ICE AT THE NIGARDSBREEN GLACIER BRANCH
Spend a half-day or more in the scenic Jostedalen Valley, home of Norway’s Jostedalsbreen National Park. The star here is the pretty blue ice of the Nigardsbreen glacier, an arm of the larger Jostedalsbreen. Breen means glacier in Norwegian and this is the largest on the European mainland. There are many ways to explore and enjoy this gorgeous area. We boarded a little boat and were shuttled across a grey-green glacial lake to get a closer peek at the ice.
Beginning in the town of Gaupne on the lovely Lustrafjord, take Norwegian country road 604 as it follows the grey-green glacial river through the evergreened forests and red barned farms that line the Jostedalen Valley. In about 30 to 40 minutes, you’ll find signs to the Breheimsenteret or Glacier Center. Here you will get your first gasp-inducing views of Nigardsbreen. It even impressed our hard to please teens.
Breheimsenteret Glacier Center
The visitor center is the perfect place to start exploring and get more information about guided tours and extended hiking in the area. A small museum offers interactive displays with in-depth information about how glaciers are formed and the ways they impact the landscape. Learn about local cultures and how they have lived with the ice over the millennia. Most important for visitors today, the portion of the exhibit that presents the growing environmental concerns about climate change and what it might mean as the glaciers continue to melt.
I will admit our teens weren’t takers and were more eager to get to the glacier itself. The center does have a café with lots of outdoor seating with some seriously epic views. From here it is only 3.5 kilometers to the Nigardsbreen parking lot. Note that there is a tollgate at the top of the road that accepts cash or cards and costs NOK 80-/car.
6871 Jostedal, NO
Open daily 09.00 – 18.00
Adults | NOK 85-
Children, Students, Seniors | NOK 55-
Children under 10 | Free
Nigardsbreen Lake Parking
Along the Nigardsbreen lake, you can park your car and use the facilities before you head out. At this point, you have multiple options to get to the ice. You can take one of the shuttle boats that ferry back and forth across the lake. It a quick trip to the boat drop-off point and a 30+ minute walk to the viewpoint. It’s a perfect option for those with less time. And you have the customizable option to go by boat or hike one or both ways.
The shuttle boats run daily in the summer months from 10.00 – 17.50 and no reservations are required as they shuttle on-demand. We purchased our tickets with a credit card from an employee perched at a picnic table at the end of the parking lot. If they aren’t present the day you visit, you can purchase from the captain directly on the boat. New safe distancing protocols offer hand sanitizer at the dock before you board and ask that passengers only come to the boat when the captain calls. We lucked out with private rides for our family of five and enjoyed plenty of space to soak in the scenery.
SHUTTLE BOAT PRICES:
Adults | 1-way NOK 40-, roundtrip NOK 60-
Children | 1-way NOK 20-, roundtrip NOK 40-
Hike to the Nigardsbreen viewpoint
From the dock, follow the trail markers to the glacier viewpoint. It’s good to know that without hiring a guide or taking a guided tour, you will not be able to get directly up to the glacier itself. You can sign up for these back at the center or through local tour groups. (Sharing more below.) But remember you’ll need warm layers, waterproof outerwear plus hats, and gloves. If you’re just walking on the rocks, sturdy shoes and a water bottle should do.
Small wooden trail markers with light blue triangle tops let you know where the path is safe as you hike. You might see red T’s or dots on the rocks that also delineate the way. The landscape seems stable enough, but you’ll want to steer clear of falling rock, breaking-off ice, and frigid rushing glacial water. Stick to the calmer eddies along the edge of the lake to look for chunks of ice as they float downstream.
From the lakeshore part of the path, you’ll climb up some wooden steps and across a rocky landscape to get to the glacier up close. Here you can see, and feel, the incredible power and chill of the melting runoff rushing down the mountain. In the last ten years, the Nigardsbreen has retreated over 500 meters and over 90 meters in 2019¹ alone. Volunteers near the viewpoint ask visitors to take a survey regarding their 2020 summer COVID travel plans and how growing climate concerns might impact future experiences here. How far would you hike to see the blue ice?
This area is part of the larger Jostedalsbreen National Park that covers 1315 square kilometers of which 800 km² is capped in ice. It’s one of the largest wilderness regions in southern Norway and a beautiful place to spend the day.
See a bit more of the action and scenery in stunning Jostedalen in the video below. Pop over to YouTube and hit subscribe, there’s lots more Scandinavia already on tap and lots more coming up there.
Want to know how to get on the ice?
My friend Kathy, a fellow international in Copenhagen, was doing her own Norwegian road trip this summer and only a couple days behind us to visit the ice. Sharing a peek at Kathy’s own family experience hiking on the ice here at Nigardsbreen:
As part of our road trip around Southern Norway, we discovered that you could do an ice hike up to the Nigardsbeen glacier itself and despite my exercise-hating daughter’s reluctance, I signed us all up. Two adults and two children, aged 10 and 12 for the “Xtra-short Ice hike” with the company Jostedalen Breførarlag.
For our family, it seemed the safest bet as this was a) the shortest hike and b) the cheapest on offer. At NOK 550- for adults and NOK 450- for kids, it wasn’t cheap but we felt worth every penny.
Our tour began at 09.45 taking the little boat across the fjord to start our hike. We were the first group up on the glacier and had it all to ourselves. In retrospect, I would definitely recommend this option as we later saw, there can be up to four groups hiking at the same time – making it a much different experience.
All the necessary equipment was provided and included in the price (crampons, ice axes, harnesses, and helmets). Our lovely Spanish guide made sure we were all safely roped together and we could hike at our own pace. It was a little bit tricky at first learning how to walk with the crampons on our shoes, but we soon got used to it and actually ended up with about an hour on the ice (a little longer than advertised.)
Our guide was very knowledgeable about the glacier’s history and formation including the crevices, marks on the rocks, which areas melt naturally to form icy streams, how far the glacier has retreated and why the color is such a pure blue.
If you have older children, it might be worth booking a longer tour to get higher up the ice than we did. It stretches back for 7 kilometers! As we had a rainy, foggy day and a tired 10-year-old, the total three hours of hiking – including an hour there and back – was plenty for us.
The whole family agreed that it was a really unusual and exciting experience, even my reluctant daughter. A definite highlight of our trip.”
See more of what the Sognefjord area has to offer
This was just one day of our 10-day summer road trip around the southern part of Norway. We started in Kristiansand on the Norwegian Riviera and made our way north to Fjord Norway. The Sognefjord and Lustrafjord were my favorite parts. It was amazing to see the glacier and then get to kayak atop the melted waters once they flow into the fjord sea. Read more in the posts below.
Where to stay:
Jostedal Hotel | Nestled on a hill overlooking waterfalls and the beautiful Jostedal Valley and not far from the Glacier Center. Restaurant and bar on-site.
Luster Fjordhytter | Colorful self-catering cottages and marina with stunning views of the Lustrafjord in Høyheimsvik. Row-boats available for free and SUP to rent by the hour or day. Family run with café on-site for your afternoon Norwegian waffle and coffee fix. (We stayed here and adored it.)
Marifjøra Sjøbuer | Four self-catering little red rorbua, or classic Norwegian fisherman’s cottages right on the fjord.
Walaker Hotel | Classic Norwegian hotel in Solvorn. Where I would stay if I were traveling without kids. Set in a gorgeous garden with a well-regarded restaurant.
Please note | The above recommendations are affiliate links which means if you click on a hotel or lodging link from this page, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog | erin
I adore Norway. And even after four trips to this amazing country, I still feel there is so much to see. Follow along here as I write up more of our summer trip and subscribe by email. Or find Oregon Girl on Facebook and Instagram. I know it’s a weird world out there, but when you can. Come to Norway, she said. Cheers from here. – erin