Norway’s Natural Wonders: Mountains, Fjords, and Glaciers
On Norway’s west coast, we visit rugged mountains and deep fjords shaped by glaciers 10,000 years ago. We hike up the Nigardsbreen glacier, tour the narrow Nærøyfjord, and take an exhilarating boat ride with stunning views.
Complete Video Script
Norway is long and skinny. It stretches nearly the length of America’s west coast. We'll zero in on the scenic west — along the biggest of the fjords, Sognefjord, with stops in Jotunheimem, the Jostedal Glacier, Solvorn, Flam, Balestrand, and Bergen.
This is Jotunheim or home of the giants — a high plateau that feels like the top of the world. These are northern Europe's highest peaks and they're steeped in Norse legends and folk lore.
This is the land of Thor and Odin whose spirits still inhabit the misty peaks.
For centuries villagers trekked across this pass to reach the coast. It was an arduous journey. But, today crossing it's a pleasure. At 4,600 feet, the Sognefjell road is Norway's highest pass. At this latitude, even these modest altitudes take us high above the tree line with snow through the summer.
Norway's lunar-like mountain-scapes and deep fjords were shaped by glaciers that covered most of the Continent 10,000 years ago. Europe's largest surviving glacier, Jostedal is still hard at work. It covers 180 square miles and — though shrinking — is still mighty.
Of the many tongues of the glacier, this one — called Nigardsbreen — offers the best visit. The valley comes with a quintessential glacier view. The approach includes a cruise across the glacial lake. The scale is enormous and blue cliffs of ancient ice dwarf awestruck visitors. Park guides lash on crampons and rope up adventurous travelers in preparation for an icy hike.
While there are more demanding Nigardsbreen routes, I'm joining a family hike — just an hour, but offering a unforgettable experience and bringing you face to face with the power and majesty of nature.
While tentative at first, hikers soon gain confidence in their crampons as they climb high onto the glacier.
75 years ago, this glacier filled most of this valley. Guides teach a respect for nature and any visit heightens one's awareness of the impact of climate change.
Rivers of ice like this carved huge valleys creating the defining feature of Norway's landscape — the fjords.
Those glaciers — as much as a mile thick — spent eons carving up western Norway as they worked their way to the sea. Slowly, they gouged u-shaped valleys that later filled with water. The distance from seabed to mountaintop around here is as much as 9000 feet — nearly two vertical miles. Dramatic waterfalls continue to cut into the mountains.
This viewpoint makes sure car hikers get out and appreciate the view. Sognefjord is Norway's biggest and that's the one we're exploring. Of its many arms, the most scenic is called Nærøyfjord.
Rain or shine, traditional ferries offer a relaxing yet thrilling fjord experience. These ferries, while popular with tourists, are the lifeline of many fjord-side communities. Some remote farms are connected to the outside world only by ferry. Mail is dropped and visitors come and go by request.
And the visual highlight of this ride, Nærøyfjord is ten miles long and breathtakingly narrow — as little as 800 feet wide.
Guide: So we ready to go?
Rick: Let’s go!
For an exhilarating alternative, we're suiting up for a much speedier tour with the Fjord Safari company.
Survival suits keep everyone cozy and comfortable at thrillingly high speeds. Our guide, Rune, knows all the interesting stops.
Man: Long way down.
Rick: Long way down!
Guide: So this is what \makes this fjords in Norway so special, cause it’s steep, steep walls down in the fjord everywhere. And this glacier’s a very big glacier. And this is only a little part of the glacier so it continues 100 meters down, it’s very deep there.
This western region is important to the people of Norway. After four centuries of Danish rule, the soul of the country was nearly lost. Then with independence and a constitution in the early 1800s, there was a national resurgence and people from the cities celebrated their Norwegian-ness by coming here to fjord country.
Along with those first tourists came artists. Romantic painters and writers were inspired by the mountains plunging into the fjords and by the dramatic light. Paintings romanticized both the nature and the traditional folk life it fostered.