Nigardsbreen is one of the easiest accessible glaciers in Norway hence it makes a perfect first glacier experience. Its long tongue reaches almost to the shores of lake Nigardsbrevatnet, at 284 masl, and great news is – you can actually drive to the lake’s head and take a short hike (or take a boat) to see the glacier up close!
Although Nigardsbreen is only a part of Jostedalbreen (the largest glacier in Europe) it’s very popular with walkers due to its accessibility, hence for the best experience you have to plan your visit smart.
Continue reading to find out how to enjoy Nigardsbreen Norway without crowds!
Nigardsbreen glacier hike fact sheet
- Height: Nigardsbreen tongue reaches down to approx. 350 masl
- Total time: 1,5-3 hours *
- Total distance: 3-10 km *
- Parking: car park at Breheimsentret visitor centre (directions) or alternatively dedicated car park at lake Nigardsbrevatnet (directions) *
- Level of difficulty: 2/5 – easy walk, some rocky and slippery sections (Norwegian standard GREEN – easy)
- Nigardsbreen weather: weather forecast for Nigardsbreen
* total time and distance depend on chosen starting point (see below)
How to get to Nigardsbreen Norway
Nigardsbreen is located in Jostedalbreen National Park in Western Norway, somewhere half way between Bergen and Alesund. Unfortunately it’s a bit too far for a day trip if you’re based either of the two towns, (approx. 5 hours drive), but makes a very good stop if you’re on a longer road trip, especially when flying to/from Bergen.
Conveniently, Jostedalbreen National Park is in relatively close proximity to Jotunheimen National Park (home to the highest mountains in Norway) and just across the road from Breheimen National Park, so it can be easily included if you have hiking plans already.
Nigardsbreen glacier walk – pick your option
You’re probably wondering why we put Nigardsbreen walk total time and distance in such great brackets? We did it simply because there are a couple of options for visiting the glacier. So let’s have a closer look at them, shall we?
OPTION 1 – the shortest
If you’ve limited time and want to see the glacier up close on a quick visit, you can do so within approximately 1,5 – 2 hours. Drive to the dedicated car park at lake Nigardsbrevatnet and start the hike from there. Keep in mind that road to the car park is private (between Nigardsbreen Campsite and the lake) and you’ll come to a barrier where you’ll have to pay charge to continue (60 NOK in summer 2018).
Once you’re at the car park, you can choose to take a boat, to skip the 1.5 km walk along Nigardsbrevatnet (60 NOK per, sailings every 30 mins – summer 2018). Alternatively, follow a marked path along the lake towards the glacier, and then continue over large boulder ribs to Nigardsbreen lowest tongue.
OPTION 2 – the longest (avoiding private road charges and boat)
If you’re not in a hurry or want to avoid paying charges for driving on a private road to Nigardsbrevatnet, you can leave your car at the car park near Breheimsenteret visitor centre and walk towards the glacier. For the first 600 metres you’ll have to follow the paved road, once you’re past the private road barrier you can take the path (parallel to the road) or continue an easy walk along the road (gets busy in the summer!) Having reached the large car park at Nigardsbrevatnet (6.7 km from visitor centre), continue along the lake for another 1.5 km to the glacier. This option would take approximately 3-4 hours.
OPTION 3 – the smart one (recommended)
So, if Nigardsbreen is such a busy attraction, how did we manage to enjoy it on our own, without crowds of other hikers? We applied a bit of strategy to the Nigardsbreen visit (actually the same strategy worked well for visiting another busy attraction in Western Norway – Preikestolen)… Sounds interesting? Continue reading, we’re sharing it below!
Hike to Nigardsbreen glacier in Norway – our experience
After a whole day of driving along Norwegian narrow, winding roads in pouring rain, we were eager to finally arrive to Jostedalbreen National Park. Having arrived to the visitor centre near Gjerde, we were puzzled – it’s called Breheimsenteret, and ‘Breheim’ is name of the other national park nearby. However when we came in, we found that all the information and exhibitions are dedicated to glaciers and Jostedalbreen National Park. Hmm, a bit confusing!
We were really keen on hiking to Nigardsbreen glacier, but wanted to ensure to have dry weather, ideally some sunshine and to be able to enjoy the glacier without being disturbed by crowds. Therefore, we decided to wait until evening, and for the moody weather to pass; Norwegian summer days are long and it’s OK to go for a short hike even in the evening, enjoying last rays of sun and quiet trails.
Also, we had to think about overnight stay spot, and the nearest campsite seemed to be ideally located – only 3 km away from Nigardsbreen trail head! Hence, without hesitation, we checked in at the campsite and eagerly kept looking thru our camper window, awaiting weather to settle. We were fortunate, only a couple of hours later we spotted rays of sunshine shyly peeking from behind heavy grey clouds. In a heartbeat, we were ready to hit the trail and stand eye to eye with the largest glacier in Europe!
Unfortunately, our good luck didn’t last long! After about 15 minutes walk, we felt raindrops gently hitting our faces, which soon changed to constant drizzle. But we were too excited to turn back, therefore, dressed in waterproofs we continued along the road to Nigardsbreen dedicated car park at lake Nigardsbrevatnet.
To our relief, the car park was rather deserted! Yay, we thought, going for a hike in the evening, we ensured to skip the daytime crowds! It was totally fine to hike to Nigardsbreen in early evening – the round walk from campsite is only 9 km, most of it along a paved road, therefore very easy even if we had to return after dusk (yep, we did have torches with us, just in case!)
Only having passed the large dedicated car park, we took a marked path along the lake. We could already see Nigardsbreen glacier in the distance!
Already totally soaked, we started feeling cold as we approached the glacier. For a moment we weren’t sure whether to continue or turn back, but we just couldn’t be bothered to walk all the way again the next day. So we pushed on…
A couple of words about the path between car park and Nigardsbreen glacier
We were a bit surprised how rough it was. Despite being well marked, we sometimes struggled to keep to it. Couple of sections (directly at the lake) were submerged due to high water level – result of days of rain and heat of ‘summer of the century’ melting the glacier at record speed.
Further, as we left the lake behind and started final, gentle ascent to the glacier’s tongue, we walked directly over massive ribs of rock, smoothly polished by glacier thousands of years ago. In wet weather they were rather slippery and we progressed slowly and cautiously. From time to time we spotted red trail marks giving us the general direction, but we didn’t follow them too closely.
Finally, only a couple of hundred metres before the majestic glacier, cold and soaked, we realised that maybe WE WERE fortunate after all! Looking up to the sky, we spotted a lot of ‘blue’ and before we knew it, rain stopped, giving way to warm sunshine!
How exciting! How lucky! Due to timing (I guess the bad weather helped too) we were directly in front of the blue Nigardsbreen ice, alone!
Nigardsbreen, eye to eye with the sheer power of nature
Taking advantage of weather improvement and also the fact that we could enjoy the glacier totally undisturbed, we took all the time in the world to have a close look at the majestic blue tongue of ice.
Glacier’s colour was incredible, deep blue, even from the distance it seemed to be glowing. As much as we loved the sight of it, we knew the reason of that amazing colour and felt some regret. Having previously been to Iceland, we learned that the most intense blue colouring occurs in places where the ice has just broke off, or is rapidly melting. Glowing blue of Nigardsbreen was a result of many days of hot weather, melting the ice at mad speed. It was also weakening the glacier, so more and more ice broke off and the glacier rapidly withdrew.
In fact, while we admired Nigardsbreen’s beauty, couple of large ice ‘bergs’ fell off the main glacier body, into the roaring rapid river of melt water. It was very scary to watch, as it made a huge splash. If we stood closer to the river, we would easily be ‘affected’ in a way, we don’t really want to think about… and taken all the way to the lake. Grrrr, scary thought!
We have to admit, that standing eye to eye with such a wonder of nature as glacier, makes a great impression. We both felt humbled, astonished and incredibly happy to be able to come at such close proximity to Nigardsbreen. We never imagined to watch raw power of glacier from distance of only a couple of metres. It’s one of these experiences that stay with you for life…
What we loved about visiting Nigardsbreen glacier in Norway
Nigardsbreen is accessible on a relatively short, easy hike, and it makes it very popular. However, we managed to enjoy the glacier on our own, on an evening walk from nearby campsite. Experiencing raw power of nature, coming so close to blue glacial ice makes an unforgettable impression. If we ever visit Nigardsbreen or Jostedalbreen National Park, we will do it exactly the same!
Walk to Nigardsbreen, hiking map
Wild camping near Nigardsbreen Norway and nearest campsite
Wild camping is allowed and widely accepted in Norway. By law, everyone is allowed to stay overnight at any spot at least 150 metres from nearby buildings. However, finding a wild camping spot near Nigardsbreen can be tricky as the ground is very rocky, and further – nearer the village camping is forbidden (as there is a campsite). Unfortunately, we didn’t spot too many suitable parking bays along the main road either, especially south from Gjerde, as the road follows a river and is walled.
Nearest campsite, the one we stay at, is called Nigardsbreen Camping. It’s a very basic, 2* campsite, with only 1 shower. Prices: 150 NOK for a tent, 160 NOK for a camper (summer 2018).
There is another campsite nearby Gjerde, Jostedal Camping, which seems more modern, however it’s pricier and much further from the trail head.
*Level of difficulty explained: 1– easy walk, mostly flat 2– easy hillwalk, good path 3-moderate, possible some steep sections 4-long hillwalk, possibly some scrambling involved, possibly pathless 5-difficult, possibly pathless, long, requires technical skills
NORWEGIAN DIFFICULTY LEVEL EXPLAINED: GREEN – easy , BLUE -moderate, RED – demanding, BLACK -expert