Series: Types of Glaciers

Cirque and Alpine Glaciers

Eel glacier (Olympic National Park, Washington) is a cirque glacier
The Eel Glacier on Mt. Anderson (Olympic National Park, Washington) is an excellent example of a cirque glacier. In this photograph, the bare ice in the glacier's ablation zone appears bright because it reflects the sunlight much more efficiently than the dull snow around it.

NPS Photo/Janis Burger

Cirque and alpine glaciers originate high in the mountains and flow downslope. 

They are called "cirque glaciers" if they originate in small bowls with steep headwalls (cirques).

From their high elevation origins, alpine and cirque glaciers may flow into ice falls or valley glaciers, or they may terminate in the mountains. Small alpine and cirque glaciers can sometimes be found nestled beneath the highest peaks in Parks in the western contiguous United States today.

Find Your Park: Which Parks Have Alpine and Cirque Glaciers?

Cirque and alpine glaciers can be found in many parks today, including:

To learn more about glaciers, glacier features, and glacial landforms, see the Glaciers & Glacial Landforms Page.