When it comes to the Alps, the largest glacier in the Alps is undoubtedly the Aletsch Glacier. Located on the way to the Rhone, the Aletsch feeds it with the river Massa.
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The splendour of the largest glacier in the Alps: the Aletsch Glacier
This natural wonder, 23 kilometres long and 900 metres thick, is located on the southern side of Switzerland, in the heart of the Valais in the Rhone Valley. Not only does it offer breathtaking views with every step you take, but it also allows visitors to explore the unique Alpine landscapes it harbours.
Whether it’s a simple walk or a more adventurous hike, the Aletsch Glacier holds incredible surprises for every type of traveller.
Presentation of the Aletsch Glacier
The Aletsch Glacier is an incredible glacial giant located in Switzerland, in the Jungfrau Massif, surrounded by 9 peaks that orientate and overlook it.
The tongue of the glacier covers an area of about 120 km2 and represents an estimated glacial mass of 27 billion tons. Its depth is as impressive as it is remarkable: up to 900 metres at the Place de la Concorde (Konkordiaplatz) where the three névés that feed it meet.
History and origin
The Aletsch Glacier is thought to have been formed in its present configuration around 12,000 years ago at the end of the ice age known as the Würm period. At that time, ice covered the Swiss mountains and what is now known as the Aletsch Glacier flowed as an icefall to the Brig plain.
Since its formation, the Aletsch Glacier has undergone some major fluctuations over time, but its shape has remained in its present form since the end of the Ice Age. Today, one can still observe the formidable glacial sculpture shaped by the glaciers, which extends for several kilometres across this unique glacial valley.
The Aletsch Glacier is the largest glacier in the Alps and measures almost 24 kilometres, advancing at a rate of 200 metres per year but also retreating by 800 metres over the last 30 years.
It begins in the foothills of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains before ending at the edge of the Aletschwald forest and giving rise to the Massa river.
The northern part of the glacier lies between 2,300 and 3,000 metres above sea level, while the southern part is 1,500 metres above sea level. The highest point of the glacier is at Konkordiaplatz, at 3,100 metres, and it is often visited by curious hikers seeking to see the last traces of the Alpine glacial immensity.
The Aletsch Glacier lies close to the tourist resorts of Riederalp, Bettmeralp and Fiescheralp on the south face of the Eiger and Jungfrau mountains.
This area is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch.
Explorations of the Aletsch glacier
The Aletsch Glacier offers visitors a multitude of opportunities to explore the beauty and vastness of the glacier. Whether it’s a simple hike, a glacier trail or a viewpoint to admire, there is always something waiting for the curious traveller, whatever their age and stamina.
Hiking and Glacier Trail
The best way to visit the Aletsch Glacier is to take part in hikes and glacier tours. The hikes can be organised from the tourist resorts around the glacier and are short enough to allow everyone to enjoy the experience.
There are also marked trails that criss-cross the glacier and offer several interesting points of interest such as moraines, glacial lakes and cliffs. In addition, parts of the trail are accessible in all seasons for adventurous walkers!
Points of interest
The Aletsch Glacier offers visitors a spectacular panorama that unfolds before their eyes with every step. The sumptuous landscape includes many incredible points of interest, impressive waterfalls, snow-capped peaks and much more!
Some routes also allow travellers to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Jungfrau and Eiger mountains, a unique opportunity that should not be missed by Alpine peak enthusiasts.
The activities on and around the Aletsch Glacier are numerous and varied: hiking, climbing, trekking in all seasons, alpine skiing or ski touring in winter or cross-country skiing in summer… and all this in an unspoilt and resplendent nature.
It is also possible to take part in guided day trips to the southern part of the glacier, situated at an altitude of around 1500 metres, to explore this immense beauty of the Alps for a short but intense moment.
Impact of the Aletsch Glacier
The Aletsch Glacier plays an important role in the climate system of the region. In particular, it contributes to the water supply of the Rhone River and reflects the sun’s rays to the sky.
However, the changes brought about by climate change are having a major impact on its existence.
Climate change is considered a threat to the Aletsch Glacier. Indeed, it may lead to significant fluctuations in the volume of ice and accelerate its melting over the next few years, with a variation depending on the forecast. According to some scientists, without major changes, this glacier will disappear by 2100 due to the rapid melting caused by current climate change.
Impact on the environment
The impact of the Aletsch Glacier on the Alpine ecosystem is considerable. The continuous block of ice and snow that covers the glacier provides a constant supply of water for the adjoining streams and rivers, such as the Massa or the Märjelen lake located just in front of its glacier tongue.
In addition, the permanent presence of the glacier helps to maintain a certain thermal stability in the area, which is essential for preserving the local biodiversity.
The Aletsch Glacier: maps and webcam
- Interactive map with location, trails, natural and tourist sites:
- Tourist map, lifts and viewpoints on the glacier:
Bettmerhorn’s view point:
- Activities and excursions in the vicinity for a fee
- Cable car: Aletsch Bahnen timetable and tickets
- Panoramic hike on the Aletsch glacier in the Valais, Novo
- Hike to the Belalp-Riederalp suspension bridge, Rando en boucle (French)
- Viewpoints and webcam, Aletsch Arena
- The glacier, Wikipedia
- Geology of the large glacier, GC (French)
- UNESCO World Heritage Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch