When TEMSCO launched in 1958, its mission was pretty straightforward. An acronym for Timber, Exploration, Mining, Survey, Cargo Operations, the Ketchikan-based helicopter company was founded to provide support and rescue capabilities for the lumber, fishing and mining industries, since its aircraft could reach places that fixed-wing planes couldn’t—namely, by landing on ice.
Great Views, Unparalleled Access
In the 1980s, TEMSCO added tourism to its repertoire, offering travelers both amazing views of the mountains, glaciers and vast, untouched landscapes, as well as unparalleled access once the helicopter lands. TEMSCO’s eight tours—based out of Juneau, Skagway or Petersburg—give you the chance to walk on glaciers, see wildlife and even take the reins of a dogsled. Here are their tours:
Walk on Mendenhall Glacier
The Mendenhall Glacier by Helicopter and Guided Walk tour (1 hour) TEMSCO’s most popular tour—perhaps because Mendenhall Glacier is such a popular destination, but also because TEMSCO offers unique access to it. Once featured on Good Morning America, this tour takes you over rain forests, ice spires, and meltwater pools, and past the 7,000-foot-high rock sentinels called the Mendenhall Towers. Once you land, you get almost half an hour of exploration time on the glacier, which is part of the National Forest lands. This is great photo-op tour—beyond the geological wonders, you might also see wildlife such as bald eagles, mountain goats or wolves.
Ride with Sled Dogs
The Juneau Dog Seldding/Helicopter Tour (1 hour, 30 minutes) covers much of the same terrain as the Mendenhall Glacier Tour, except this time when you land, you’ll be at a local dog sledding base camp. Meet the mushers, take pictures with the dogs, and then either take a sleigh ride or try a turn driving the sled yourself.
Let the Pilot Choose
Even world travelers who’ve seen it all rave about the Pilot’s Choice tour (1 hour, 20 minutes), which takes you over terrain that perhaps only you and the wildlife themselves have ever seen. Your pilot has the flexibility to discern the ideal spots given the condition of that day and then takes you on an amazing tour, past spots such as Wonderland, Glacier King, the Mendenhall Towers and Devil’s Paw. Then, you have the time to land in two different locales for walking and up-close exploration. You’ll see ice fields, high alpine lakes, “ice falls” hanging off of cliffs—vast panoramas that your camera will be challenged to capture. This is a landscape that you have to see in person.
Denver Glacier Plus Iditarod Dogs
As if a helicopter ride over a glacier weren’t thrilling enough, the Dog Sledding and Glacier tour (1 hour, 30 minutes) offers perhaps an even bigger thrill on the ground. After landing on the Denver Glacier, you’ll visit a dog camp, where pooches and their pro mushers are training for the Iditarod. You can take a ride on the sled and even learn the basics so that you can take the reins yourself. People who go on this tour often “track” these same dogs online when the Iditarod starts months later.
Glaciers, Waterfalls and More
The Glacier Discovery Tour (1 hour, 20 minutes) starts at Skagway’s historic waterfront, and you’ll fly past any number of amazing tableaus, depending on which ones the pilot feels are best suited to the day’s viewing conditions: sheer mountains, waterfalls, the jagged peaks towering over the Chilkat Glacier, or the “river of ice” known as the Meade Glacier.
You’ll spend equal time in the air and on the glaciers themselves. Once you land, you can hike the glacier—a sensation people have compared to walking on the moon—and learn more about how these icy marvels work.
Heli-Hiking on Glaciers
Putting the word “heli” in front of anything is often intimidating to travelers, but worry not: the Glacier Hiking Quest: Heli-Hiking tour (about 5 hours) is not extreme hiking. In this tour co-produced by Packer Expeditions, you’ll fly over mountain peaks and land a in a remote canyon where you’ll strap on crampons to scale the glacier up close, looking above to glittering hanging glaciers overhead. Rather than fly back, you’ll take a scenic train ride—the "White Pass & Yukon Railroad," built for gold prospectors a century ago—back to Skagway. For more on this trip see Packer Expeditions or call (907) 983-2544 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ice, a Nordic Village—and Whales
Petersburg is fishing village with a Nordic bent, as well as lots of humpback whales, and you get an eagle’s eye view of its natural wonders when you take the Patterson Glacier Helicopter tour (1 hour) over the Stikine Icefield. First you’re passing over forests, and then gliding past ice spires as you descend onto the valley glacier of Patterson for a casual walk around.
Even John Muir was Impressed
Even John Muir himself was dazzled by the LeConte Glacier in this part of Southeast Alaska, calling it the “most imposing” he’d ever seen. On the Stikine Icefield and Patterson Helicopter Tour ( 1 hour, 20 minutes) tour—a little longer than the other Patterson tour—you’ll see the icebergs and jagged crevasses of LeConte and the Stikine Icefield, and then get time to explore, on foot, Patterson Glacier, which is North America’s southernmost active tidewater glacier.
There are no age or physical requirements for TEMSCO tours, other than the ability to get on and off the helicopter and to be able to stand or walk around for about half an hour.
How TEMSCO Trips Work
For each tour, allow about 45 extra minutes for transportation to and from the helicopter dock, as well as a safety briefing. TEMSCO can arrange to pick you up at downtown Juneau hotels, from Juneau’s airport or ferry terminals, or from the Mt Robert Tramway, which is a short walk from the cruise ship port. TEMSCO tours are conducted under the Tour Operators Program of Safety (TOPS), a stringent safety management program. Flight routes and landing sites may vary due to weather and glacier conditions. TEMSCO also complies with the flightseeing and wildlife viewing practices adopted by the Alaska Visitor’s Association, in order to insure the continued viability of area wildlife.