A Bird's Eye View
Most visitors will enjoy flightseeing in either Southcentral Alaska or the Inside Passage. In these regions, multiple operators provide fixed-wing and helicopter flightseeing tours. One of the most popular summertime experiences involves landing atop a nearby glacier to hike, ice climb or even participate in the official state sport, dog mushing. Top mushers, who spend the winters training teams to compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race or the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, often run these tours, giving them the opportunity to keep their dogs in racing form while sharing their passion for the sport. Tours also often feature general sightseeing of mountains, glaciers and other scenic highlights.
But flightseeing is a great visitor experience anywhere in the state. Although the Dalton Highway stretches all the way to the Arctic coast from Interior Alaska, flightseeing provides a particularly special vantage of the vast tundra-and-mountain landscape crisscrossed by braided rivers and thousands of lakes. One of the most unique opportunities is to fly above the vast Arctic Ocean and northern coast of Alaska to see polar bears on the ice pack. In winter, these tours can be combined with northern lights viewing and dog mushing at remote lodges. In summer, more of the subtle beauty of the high arctic tundra is on display, and sightings could also include herds of caribou numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
Many of the nearly 500,000-member Western Arctic caribou herd migrate through the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve each fall. Brown and black bears, wolf, Dall sheep, lynx, moose, wolverine and red fox live in the area year round. In the spring, the park hosts migratory birds from Europe, South America, Asia, tropical archipelagos and the continental United States.
It’s hard to talk about flightseeing without mentioning Kodiak, Alaska's largest island and the second largest in the United States. A real treat for bear viewing, the island’s best-known park is the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, a 2,812-square-mile refuge that encompasses two-thirds of the island. The refuge is home to 3,500 bears with males that normally weigh in at more than 800 pounds but have been known to exceed 1,500 pounds and stand more than 10 feet tall. Because the refuge is roadless, bear viewing must be done either by a flightseeing tour or flying into a wilderness lodge. Many excellent outfitters offer visitor experiences in the refuge. Also not to miss from Kodiak is a flightseeing excursion to Katmai National Park and Preserve, one of the most famous and wildest bear viewing areas in Alaska. A few carefully managed viewing areas offer guided guests the opportunity to watch as grizzly bears fish salmon out of crashing rivers and play with their cubs. This heart-stopping display is something most visitors will never forget, and the professionalism of the guides and management by the National Park Service ensure the experience is safe and fun.
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