Hikers climbing down from Nigardsbreen

7 ice-cold facts about Nigardsbreen Glacier

Strap on your crampons, grab an ice pick and let’s look at 7 ice-cold facts about this world-class, millennia-old sheet of ice.

Its icy blue mass stretching through a mountain pass as if to reach out and touch the aquamarine valley lake below, Nigardsbreen is an awe-inspiring but accessible glacier popular for guided hikes in the Nordfjord region. 

Here are 7 facts about Nigardsbreen Glacier. 

The real Big Chill

Blue ice hiking at Nigardsbreen
Photo: Sverre Hjørnevik | Fjord Norway

Nigardsbreen is big — but not that big. In fact, it’s just one arm of much larger Jostedalsbreen, Europe’s largest glacier, which covers about 800 sq km (310 sq-mi) of the 1,310 sq-km (510-sq-mi), 30-year-old Jostedalsbreen National Park. 

Other glacial appendages stretching out into Nordfjord valleys include Briksdalsbreen, Bøyabreen, Tunsbergdalsbreen, Kjenndalsbreen, Tindefjellbreen and Austerdalsbreen.

Not your grandfather’s glacier

It’s been around a while. Nigardsbreen and its sibling glaciers are thought by scientists to be at least 5,000 years old. 

Pretty old, right? Well, get this: The first locals set up shop in the area about 10,000 B.C., so Nigardsbreen got nothing on the Norwegians themselves

It has been growing and shrinking through history

Meltwater and rocks below the Nigardsbreen glacier
Photo: Santi Rodriguez

Easy come, easy go. The glacier’s moniker comes from a former farmstead that went by the same name. 

Unhappily for its residents, the farm was crushed some three centuries ago when Nigardsbreen grew nearly 3 km (2 mi) in size from 1700 to 1748, thanks to a decades-long cold snap that also took a toll on fruit harvests and honey production. 

But, proving what comes up must come down, the glacier has been more or less shrinking since 1930.

It offers multiple ways to get up close

Have it your way. Want an up-close-and-personal encounter with Nigardsbreen? Take your pick of 2 options. You can enjoy the view from aboard the small boat that departs the nearest parking lot (or from a safe distance on land, after about 2 km [1,5 mi] and 45 minutes on foot). 

Alternately, join a guided walk on the ice — no previous glacier-hiking experience or expertise necessary! Kids as young as 8 are welcome.

There is a glacier fed lake by its foot

Boat headed for Nigardsbreen glacier
Photo: Sverre Hjørnevik | Fjord Norway

By any other name … The glacial lake at the foot of Nigardsbreen that you might find yourself exploring by boat is called Nigardsbrevatnet. That means “the Nigardsbreen Lake,” of all things, and it measures around 2 km (1.5 mi) in length and up to 400 m (1,300 ft) wide. 

The lake is fed by melt from the glacier, whose edge sits just 500 m (1,640 ft) away, and is therefore rather frigid year-round. The bluish color of the water is said to be due to small particles scratched off of rocks by glacial ice.

Powered by nature

It’s not all fun and games. Glaciers like Nigardsbreen play an outsized role in Norway’s culture and economy. For example, glacial melt water not only feeds serene and scenic lakes; it’s an important natural energy source in the form of generating hydroelectric power. 

And those lakes, and the scenic valley and fjords the glaciers carved out of rock eons ago, have left Norway with a natural heritage that has inspired generations of artists and writers to create.

But…always play it glacier safe

Ease of access aside, glaciers are no joke. It’s dangerous to get too close to the ice without a guide. Nigardsbreen can move, causing avalanches, so pay attention to signage and heed barriers. 

Chunks of falling ice have injured or killed at least a half-dozen visitors who ignored safety warnings over the past 35 years.

Glacier hike at Nigardsbreen

Group of people climbing the glacier

Short Blue Ice Hike

Get roped together and experience Nigardsbreen Glacier on a guided hike
From NOK 795
Family with kids on the glacier

Family Friendly Blue Ice Hike

This Nigardsbreen glacier hike is perfect for parents and sporty kids
From NOK 795