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Ilulissat Icefiord – The Blue Trail

It doesn’t get much bigger than taking one of the marked hiking trails along Ilulissat Icefjord. With its floating landscape of giant icebergs of all shapes and sizes, the icefjord is one of the world’s most spectacular natural areas. The fjord is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site with a nature of “outstanding universal value”.

I have walked along the icefjord in Ilulissat many times since I first lived in the town in 2008. It’s almost always an amazing experience and I think the icefjord is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

There is both a yellow trail (3 km) and a blue trail (7 km) that can be walked independently or in continuation of each other. The description and photos on this page are from a hike on the yellow trail in July 2023, when I was there with my family.

The blue trail goes further into Ilulissat Icefjord than the yellow trail. Along with the view of the many gigantic icebergs, you get to experience the special West Greenlandic vegetation with Black Crowberry, Bog Bilberry, the strongly scented Labrador Tea, and occasionally colourful flowers such as Common Bluebell and Red Alpine Campion. Wildlife, on the other hand, is sparse, but there is a chance of seeing Arctic Fox, Arctic Hare and Rock Ptarmigan if you’re lucky.

About the blue trail in Ilulissat

Distance: 7 km
Duration: 3-4 hours (without breaks)
Highest point: 175 m
Lowest point: 5 m
Difficulty: Easy-moderate

The terrain is fairly easy to walk, though hilly in places, alternating between trodden paths and exposed rock. However, there are a few relatively steep stretches, especially through “The Ravine”. The trail is marked with blue marks painted on rocks and cairns.

Click on the map for a larger map.
The boardwalk through the Sermermiut valley down towards Ilulissat Icefjord.

Icefjord and Inuit cultures of the past

The blue trail starts at the Icefjord Centre (see the map where it says ‘Old Heliport’). We took it at a leisurely pace down the 1.5 kilometre wooden boardwalk that runs through the entire Sermermiut valley down to the water. It was a really hot summer day and the sun was shining from a cloudless sky.

The view of the icefjord and icebergs became more and more impressive as we walked. At the same time, we found ourselves in the heart of one of the most important cultural-historical areas in Greenland, Sermermiut, where various Inuit people have lived for millennia (see box about Sermimiut).

At the end of the footbridge near the shore of the Ilulissat Icefjord, a wooden staircase leads up to a rocky plateau with some really great viewpoints. Here we spent quite some time enjoying the view of the fjord’s impressive mosaic of ice giants as far as the eye could see.

We also saw the gorge Nakkaavik, which is Greenlandic for “the place where you fall”. According to legend, this is where elderly people threw themselves to their deaths when they were no longer needed at the settlement. Or if there was a famine, the elderly would choose to sacrifice themselves so that the younger ones could have the scarce food. I don’t know how true this legend is, but it was certainly scary to think about when looking down through the narrow gorge in the rock.

Seqinniarfik hill

After Nakkaavik, we continued eastwards over slightly rugged rocky terrain until we reached the Seqinniarfik hilltop. Here I have previously experienced the annual celebration of the sun’s return. It happens on 13 January, when people gather every year to welcome the sun back after a month and a half of total darkness. From the hill, you can look south and just see the sun rising over the horizon. But on a summer day like the day we were there, the sun was up all day. We took a lunch break with a prime view of the icefjord.

About Sermermiut

The area around Sermermiut has a long cultural history and has been inhabited by many different Inuit cultures throughout the ages.

The Saqqaq people were the first to arrive over 4,000 years ago and lived by hunting and fishing for about 1,500 years before disappearing for unknown reasons.

The Dorset people settled soon after. They differed from the Saqqaq in that they had developed better tools, including the distinctive female knife called ulu, harpoons, fishing spears, and blubber lamps. They lasted for around 700 years, after which they too perished.

After this, Sermermiut was probably uninhabited for up to a thousand years until around 1200, when the Thule people settled.

The various historical peoples have left many traces in the Sermermiut area, including graves and various tools. The footbridge was constructed to protect the many archaeological finds that still exist here, but also to spare the delicate vegetation.

Source: Nature Guide Greenland

Narrow-leaved Labrador Tea in early bloom.
Beautiful views of the giant icebergs seen from Nakkaavik ("Kællingekløften").

Heading towards the ravine

We continued eastwards along the icefjord for about 2 km until we reached the mouth of a rushing river. It was quite warm with that typical strong Arctic sun. So the water in the river was so refreshing, tasted so good and was just great to dip our faces in.

We continued uphill on the terrain on the left side of the river until we reached near the source of the river from the large lake Amitsorsuup Tasia. Here we crossed a rocky outcrop until we reached the bottom of the long narrow ravine or gorge called Qoororsuaq. Down in the ravine it can be quite chilly and there are typically patches of snow until well into the summer. However, we only saw some old snow here and there.

It was a nice climb up through the canyon of about 150 vertical metres before we reached the top. Here we got our heart rate down again before descending again in a north-westerly direction towards the large Narsarsuaq marsh area east of Ilulissat.

We caught sight of Ilulissat town and left the ravine. The last part of the blue trail heads towards an area with chained sled dogs in the middle of a kind of industrial area, also known as the Quarry. On this last stretch we all managed to get our feet soaked because it was quite swampy in several places. But we were happy to take that experience with us after a great hike through some of Greenland’s most beautiful and amazing nature.

The blue trail is also suitable for trail running, but try to avoid running in the middle of the day when there are more people around.

Heading down towards the rushing river that flows into the Ilulissat Icefjord (to the right in the picture). Here we quenched our thirst.
Ilulissat Icefjord with the footbridge through Sermermiut in the foreground. Photos: Bo Normander

About Ilulissat Icefjord

Ilulissat Icefjord – or Kangia – is a 70 km long, narrow, and very deep fjord created by millions of years of erosion from the large Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier. The icefjord is so unique that UNESCO designated the area as a World Heritage Site in 2004, achieving the highest recognition for natural heritage of universal value.

Sermeq Kujalleq is a gigantic glacier with a height of 1 km and a front that is 7 km wide. It calves an impressive 40 to 50 gigatonnes of ice per year, which is equivalent to about 10% of the entire production of icebergs from the Greenland Ice Sheet. If this amount of ice melted, there would be enough water to supply
the annual water consumption of the United States.

The glacier moves at a speed of around 40 metres per day, making it one of the fastest glaciers in the world.

Ilulissat Icefjord is over a thousand metres deep in many places, but at its mouth in Disko Bay, near Sermermiut, the largest icebergs run aground on the Iceberg Bank. Here, the water depth is ‘only’ 200-300 metres due to past deposits of eroded material. It is an amazing sight to stand at Sermermiut or Kingittoq and look out over the grounded icebergs, the largest of which are almost 100 metres high.

The biggest icebergs calving from the glacier have a weight of 1.5 gigatonnes, which in its melted state could supply the population of Denmark with water for seven years. On average, it takes a year for an iceberg to travel the 60-70 km from the glacier front to the mouth of the icefjord and out into Disko Bay.

Source: Nature Guide Greenland

Timelapse from the world-famous Ilulissat Icefjord

The film was produced in 2019 by Casper Rolsted and Bo Normander. See more about the film here.

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It doesn’t get much bigger than taking one of the marked hiking trails along Ilulissat Icefjord. With its floating landscape of giant icebergs of all shapes and sizes, the icefjord...

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