An Alaska cruise is one of the best ways to see the majestic beauty Alaska has to offer, especially its famous fjords home to some of the most famous glaciers. One of the most beautiful areas not as frequently visited by all the major cruise lines is the College Fjord in Prince William Sound.
Situated in the northern sector of Prince William Sound, the fjord is home to five tidewater glaciers, five big valley glaciers, and heaps of tiny glaciers, most named after famous colleges.
In 1899, the Harriman Expedition led by John Muir and other notable scientist explored the area aboard the George W. Elder. The expedition, which was funded by several Ivy League colleges, took inspiration and named all the glaciers in the area after various schools.
As you travel into College Fjords, travelers will notice that all the glaciers on the left were named after women’s colleges while those on the right were named for men’s colleges. Some of the most famous glaciers names include Amherst, Bernard, Smith, Vasser, Yale, Columbia, and Harvard. Rumor has it the explorers purposefully snubbed Princeton from the list of names.
The Harvard Glacier is the second largest tidewater glacier in the area, but the most visited and viewed by those traveling by cruise ship. Measuring 1.5 miles wide and about 300 ft thick, the Harvard Glacier covers 120,000 acres of Chugach National Forest.
However, the most prominent tidewater glacier in College Fjord is the Columbia Glacier, not only is it the largest one, but it’s also the second-fastest moving glacier in the world. Traveling at about 80 feet per day, it discharges 2 cubic miles of ice into the water every year and measures about 34 miles in length and more than 3,000 feet thick in some areas.
The College Fjord actually goes through the Chugach Mountains at the north end of Prince William Sound, and it’s the only spot in Alaska that has three neighboring slopes with glaciers, five of which end at the water. There is even a spot in College Fjord where visitors can see eight glaciers at once.
Best Ways To See Prince William Sound And College Fjord
For those interested in visiting the area via cruise ship, Holland America, Princess Cruises, and Seabourn are a few of the major cruise lines that offer Alaska cruise itineraries that include scenic cruising through the area. The Alaska cruise season usually runs from May to September, with the lines offering up a variety of Alaska itineraries.
Those sailing on an itinerary that includes the Prince William Sound will get to retrace a portion of the Harriman Expedition and witness the very same glaciers they did in 1899.
If you’re not interested in see the area via cruise ship and hope to get a closer view, it can also be reached via a small boat tours and kayak excursions that depart from a number of small neighboring towns, including Whittier, Valdez, and Cordova.
From Anchorage, you can drive or take the Alaska Railroad south to Whittier. From there you can take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system across the Sound to either Valdez or Cordova. Depending on the type of adventure you’re looking for, you can either book a glacier cruise or kayak adventure tour with one of the local tour companies.
Regardless of what you decide to go with, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, specifically for Humpback whales and porpoises. Wildlife abounds in the area with more than 220 species of birds, 30 species of land mammals, and at least a dozen marine mammal species calling the area home.
Along the western side, black bears can be normally seen on narrow beaches, while to the east brown bears can be found in the lowlands around Montague and Hawkins islands fishing for salmon. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for moose and mountain goats, so make sure you pack binoculars and a camera.
Whether you decide to explore Prince William Sound’s College Fjords by cruise ship or a local tour company, one thing is for sure: the area’s beauty will certainly leave you in awe. The combination of the majestic glaciers and the abundance of wildlife in the area will make the trip unforgettable.