A Walk Inside Rhône Glacier

 

There's a few things in this world that truly fascinate me — this is one of them. How many of you can say you've walked inside a glacier before?

Behold Rhône Glacier. 

Rhône Glacier, Valais, Switzerland — Something Swiss

Nestled within the Swiss Alps, Rhône Glacier is the source of the river Rhône, which travels from Switzerland through France and into the Mediterranean Sea. It passes through Lake Geneva along the way.

The canton of Valais is home to many glaciers including Rhône Glacier, the Matterhorn Glacier and Aletsch Glacier, which is the largest glacier in the Alps and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It's a warm summer day. As we make our way through the snow to the entrance of the glacier, I think to myself — what a great way to cool off.

A wooden boardwalk winds into a blue ice cave, which has been freshly carved out of the glacier each year since around 1870.

The view inside is spectacular. 

Rhône Glacier, Valais, Switzerland — Something Swiss

With every step we take, the light of day disappears. Everything glows blue.

I stop to take a closer look.

Rhône Glacier, Valais, Switzerland — Something Swiss

It's exhilarating to stand at the heart of a glacier that's at least 11,500 years old. There are moments in history frozen all around me — it's a real glimpse back in time.

We're 3 km (1.86 mi) beneath the Furka Pass, a high mountain pass through the Swiss Alps, which provides the most direct route between Swiss cantons Valais and Uri. The Furka Pass was famously featured in the 1964 James Bond film, Goldfinger.

The path inside isn't very long. After 100 m (328 ft), we reach the end of the tunnel and find ourselves inside an ice chamber where a Swiss flag is prominently displayed.

Rhône Glacier, Valais, Switzerland — Something Swiss

The ice chamber is relatively small, but we take our time inside and so do many others, who stop to enjoy the beauty of their surroundings.

Finally, we turn around and begin to make our way back.

Rhône Glacier, Valais, Switzerland — Something Swiss

As I head to the mouth of the ice grotto, the light of day grows stronger. Water drips more quickly around me.

I can hardly bring myself to leave — or say goodbye. After all, it won't be long until Rhône Glacier is gone forever.

Melting at an increasing rate, Rhône Glacier will be nearly gone by the end of this century. To slow the melting process, it has been covered in blankets.

Rhône Glacier, Valais, Switzerland — Something Swiss

The glacier moves at least 30 m (98 ft) downstream during the course of one year and melts more rapidly during the summer. On a particularly hot day, the glacier can lose up to 12cm (4.7 in) of thickness.

Soon, this will give way to a new lake at the base of the glacier where tourists can view Rhône Glacier by boat.

It's sad to think that future generations won't be able to enjoy Rhône Glacier the same way I have. It's possible my grandchildren will even catch the last glimpse.

I'm glad there will be photographs and paintings to remember it by.

Rhône Glacier, Valais, Switzerland — Something Swiss

Ready to visit?

As far as I know, there are no guided tours through Rhône Glacier and thankfully, because it would be difficult to fit large groups inside the small tunnel.

It's easy to see Rhône Glacier on your own. When you arrive at the visitor center, walk through gift shop to find the ticket counter at the back. 

Rhône Glacier, Valais, Switzerland — Something Swiss

After exiting the gift shop, you can view the glacier from a distance. Walk down the short path until you reach the end.

There is short walk through the snow to the glacier's entrance. Be sure to bring shoes that keep your feet dry and prevent you from slipping.


Opening Times

You can visit Rhône Glacier from early June to mid-October. During this time, visitor hours are daily from 8:00 to 16:00 and extend to 19:30 in the middle of summer.

Entrance Fees

7 CHF for adults (discounts on request for groups larger than 15 people)

5 CHF for students & young adults up 18 years old

3 CHF for children 5-12 years old

Directions

Rhône Glacier is best accessible by car, but also via public transport.

If arriving by public transport:

You can book your journey through SBB to "Gletsch, Post." From "Gletsch Post," it's a 2 minute walk from the Rhône Glacier visitor center. Depending where you're traveling from, you can make your connection through Brig or Andermatt.

Rhône Glacier, Valais, Switzerland — Something Swiss

It's a bit of a windy road along the Furka Pass to Rhône Glacier. 

If arriving by car:

Once you reach Lake Lucerne, take A2 to Gotthardstrasse in Göschenen. Merge onto the A2 and take exit 40 toward Göschenen / Gotthardpass / Furkapass / Oberalppass/ Andermatt.

Take the 1st exit onto Route 19 heading to Furkapass/Realp. Your destination will be be on your left.

When you arrive, park your car outside Hotel Belvédère, which is directly across from the Rhône Glacier visitor center.

We like to stop in Grimsel and visit the Marmot Park along the way. It's a 20 minute drive from Rhône Glacier.