The unforgettable experience of flightseeing and landing on a glacier

banner alaska2

I had imagined that landing in a little plane on a glacier would be bumpy and scary, but it could not have been more smooth as we touched down and the sled-like contraptions on the wheels helped us glide to a stop. Soon, all was calm as our group of 12 passengers got out and looked around at the incredible landscape of mountains, valleys and glaciers sprawled around us.

My trip with Talkeetna Air Taxi was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had while traveling.

panorama glacier

As its name suggests, Talkeetna Air Taxi is based out of Talkeetna, the quirky town you’ll definitely want to visit while you’re in Alaska. The company offers daily flights into Denali National Park and around the summits of the big peaks – check out the route map. I had the pleasure of taking the Grand Denali flight to see Mt. McKinley (also referred to as Denali), the highest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet.

This was my first time ever on a smaller plane. I was slightly nervous, but logic put those fears to rest. These guys do this every day, after all. And for some reason, hearing about a pilot’s wife and kids is always reassuring. Oh, he has a family, he’ll be careful so he can go back home to them!

Boarding flightseeing plane

All the readings in the cockpit look good to me. Not that I’d know if they weren’t.

cockpit

Getting into the air was a thrill. Everything was so green and wide-open. I pictured the bears and caribou and moose frolicking through this endless, person-less land. Maybe they don’t really frolic, but I like that visual image.

Alaska from the air

Before long, we started to approach the mountains and everything turned to white. Through the fog, we saw the first peaks peeking out.

Peaks peeking through clouds

Some of the ponds were a brilliant bright aqua color. I suppose that’s how water looks when it’s thousands of years old and surrounded by snow.

Aqua glacier lakes

It was snowy all around, with an endless array of stunning views.

Mountains from plane

And then it came into view. Mt. McKinley. It was too cloudy to see McKinley all three days I camped in Denali National Park, so the view from the plane was my first and only glimpse of the great mountain.

Mount McKinley from plane

The pilot circled a few times to make sure passengers on both sides of the plane got clear views of McKinley. The view coming from this side is a bit different than the typical view Denali visitors see from inside the park.

Mount McKinley view from south

Then it was off to the home of the Ruth Glacier: the Don Sheldon Amphitheater, a valley with a snowy landing strip perfect for stopping to let tourists take in the beautiful surroundings. Victory is mine!

Yay flightseeing

The sled wheels were fascinating. I wonder well how this thing would stop without them…

Plane snow wheels

Standing on the glacier, I could hear rockslides on a nearby mountain, but otherwise it was mostly calm and still. It was such a magical feeling to be surrounded by this much snow and ancient ice, especially when my friends back home in Chicago were dealing with 100+ degree temperatures.

glacier view

There’s a cabin on one of the hills (the Don Sheldon House) that you can rent by the night. How amazing would it be to get flown in by plane, hike up and spend the night in the middle of this setting, in complete isolation?

glacier cabin

Basics of flightseeing in Alaska

Flightseeing is one of the coolest activities you can do in Alaska. Given that the overwhelming majority of the state is inaccessible by road, you have to get up in the air to truly take in the beauty of this place.

Flightseeing trips can cost a few dollars, but there are a number of different options available for various budgets. Prices range from a few hundred dollars for a glacier landing and trip around the summit of McKinley to shorter trips in the Anchorage area in the $100 range. And many companies offer online specials, so keep your eyes open.

air taxi image

A number of different flightseeing companies do business in Anchorage, Talkeetna and elsewhere. Based on my research, Talkeetna Air Taxi seemed to be the most reputable and most popular. They’ve been around since 1947, so they know what they’re doing, which is critical. If you’re landing on glaciers, you want someone you can trust, who’s been there, done that.

If Alaska is in your budget, you really should splurge for a flightseeing trip. It’s an incredible life experience.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Talkeetna Air Taxi. You can find them online at www.talkeetnaair.com and on their Facebook page.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Facebook Comments

comments

About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

33 comments on “The unforgettable experience of flightseeing and landing on a glacier

  1. Flying over glaciers was absolutely one of our best memories of our trip to Alaska. I was a little nervous too but you get over it quickly. It’s amazing how noisy it is if you take off your headphones! We had seen the glaciers from the sea on our cruise ship but seeing them from the air was a completely different experience and different perspective. I recommend it to everyone!
    Jan Ross recently posted..Tall Ships Challenge 2012, Savannah, Georgia

    • I bet working in aviation insurance would greatly affect your view of all types of flying. I think I’m probably better off not knowing what you know 🙂

  2. Just Awesome!! Those views that you got from up above, the endless greens, the aqua blues and the snowy peaks towering above the skies… The stuff dreams are made of…
    Glad that you are having such a wonderful time, I am enjoying my virtual journey too. Keep them coming.
    Wish you a nice day Scott:)

  3. I’d never heard of flightseeing before, but it looks like a cool experience. What incredible views of Alaska.
    He’s got a wife and kids….Isn’t interesting the little things we latch on to to reassure ourselves when we’re feeling nervous? Glad your flight turned out lovely. What an experience it must have been!
    InsideJourneys recently posted..New York for Kids

    • Wow, how lucky you are! That sounds like an incredible experience. There was one passenger seat available in the cockpit of our small plane, but it was already taken. Maybe next time!

    • Good question about the cabin – I’d have to look up the price. At least you wouldn’t have to worry about bears out there, I assume. It’s so high up and there’s nothing around except rock and snow.

  4. Not sure when you went but, Don Sheldon, the pilot who built the “Don Sheldon mountain house” back in the day’s before TAT. His daughter has a flying service too now, she used to fly on to Denali as a kid with her dad, and hang out with climbers travelers in Talkeenta as well as on the mountain. Anyways check out Sheldon Air Service too if you want to fly with local history.

  5. Scott, this was such a fun post to read!!! I absolutely have this on my list of must-do in this lifetime! The pics are awesome. I love what you said about the pilot mentioning his wife and children. I ALWAYS think about that very thing. I wish my Dad were still around to be able to read this as he was a private pilot and would have loved it. Thank you for sharing! 🙂
    Mike recently posted..My Outward Bound Trip To Northern British Columbia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.