Flying High in Alaska
Few Alaska archetypes are more iconic than that of the Bush pilot. It’s easy to see why: In Alaska, 80 percent of the communities are not connected by road to anywhere else, so the arrival of a bush plane toting food, supplies and mail – not to mention news from friends and family – is literally a lifeline for residents of remote communities.
Early Alaska pilots reached these communities in terrible weather, without access to maps and topographic information taken for granted today. Due to their bravery and skill, pilots took on a mythical status, and in 2013, Alaskans will recognize their role in shaping the state through a series of celebrations and events celebrating the 100th anniversary of aviation in Alaska.
Visitors will be able to take part in several of these events, but perhaps the best way to understand what makes flying in Alaska so special is to book a flightseeing adventure and get a look at Alaska’s grandeur from the air. Whether you want to search for wildlife, cross the Arctic Circle, land on a glacier, reach a remote fishing spot or access a quiet public-use cabin, small planes are a great way to get there.
Almost all Alaska communities have flightseeing or charter air services available, and given the size and scale of Alaska’s topography, it is often the best way to get a true sense of where you are and what surrounds you. From the air, visitors get a great perspective on the geologic action of the ancient glaciers that carved Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan. The monument features long, saltwater fjords with sheer rock walls that climb 3,000 feet directly from the water’s surface; crashing waterfalls; ice-blue glacial lakes; and the towering spruce of the surrounding Tongass National Forest. For example, Near Juneau,’s flightseeing tours soar over Mendenhall Glacier is spectacular from the ground, and an excellent visitor center run by the U.S. Forest Service presents photos and maps of its source, the Juneau Icefield, which is the source of dozens of glaciers in the area, including one of Alaska’s most popular – Mendenhall Glacier. But flying Flying over the icefield in a small plane or helicopter provides a sense of perspective you just can’t get on the ground. is a whole different experience : the unearthly blue color of the ice, the sheer size of the icefield, the number of other glaciers it produces and the way glaciers shape the surrounding landscape are all evident when you see them from above. Similarly, you can’t quite comprehend how big Mount McKinley is without seeing it from the air. The highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet, Mount McKinley is without a doubt a very impressive mountain no matter where you see it from – but circling its peak in a small plane gives you a completely different perspective on its size.
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Tips from an Alaskan
Interested in aviation? Kodiak’s Bob Stanford is the perfect guy to show you the state and introduce you to its aviation tradition. A Kodiak-based pilot for more than 30 years, Stanford is the owner of Island Air Service, a flight service that offers trips from the town of Kodiak to communities elsewhere on Kodiak Island along with bear viewing trips, sport fishing and hunting.
Read more about Stanford's favorite things to do and see around his hometown Kodiak.
With so much to see and do in and around the city, you shouldn’t rush your visit to Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage. This itinerary offers seven days worth of suggestions and ideas for a fabulous visit to the Southcentral region with Anchorage as a hub. With access to highways and rail, the itinerary incorporates day trips to Girdwood, home of the famed Alyeska Resort; Seward, the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park; and Denali National Park and Preserve, home to North America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley. The itinerary is rounded out with some of Anchorage’s best cultural facilities, including the Anchorage Museum, the Alaska Native Heritage Center and Eklutna Historical Park.
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