Some people joke that Anchorage is “30 minutes from Alaska.” On a Trail Ridge Air flight-seeing trip, you’ll find that Anchorage is really just “5 minutes from Alaska,” as you ascend and quickly begin to see how Cook Inlet, Knik Arm, and the impressive Chugach mountain range look from the air.
If you fly in to Anchorage on a commercial airliner, you’ve gotten just a taste (a small window’s-worth) of what you’ll see on one of Trail Ridge Air flight-seeing trips. And on this trip, you’ll be able to meet your pilot and ask questions about everything you’re seeing. The two-way headsets allow for easy communication, as you hear plenty of stories of the Alaskan wilderness just moments away.
Depending on your schedule and budget, choose from one-hour flights around the Anchorage area or longer flights that take in glaciers, Denali or Lake Clark National Park.
This popular one-hour flight gives you a float plane experience even if your time is limited. And you’ll see a lot! Depending on the weather and your interests, you’ll head either east or west.
Going east, you’ll climb through the Ship Creek Valley with the Chugach mountains straight ahead. As you’re climbing, you may spot Dall sheep, moose or even bear. In the Chugach, you’ll see glacier lakes, and then come out again at Turnagain Arm. You may also see Eagle glacier and the town of Girdwood nestled in one of Alaska’s temperate rainforests.
Views to the west are no less impressive, as you fly across Cook Inlet, which boasts the second-highest tidal range in the world. Watch for beluga whales and seals in the water and Mount Susitna in the distance. Moose, eagles, and black and brown bear frequent the Susitna River delta below, and you may even make it to the base of Mount Susitna, also known locally as “Sleeping Lady.”
Seeing a glacier is at the top of the list for many visitors to Alaska. Luckily, there are three very distinctive glaciers each just a short flight from Anchorage, so you can check that off your list in just a 90-minute to two-hour flight.
Watch for wildlife as you work your way east though the Chugach range on your way toward the Knik Glacier and its neighbor, Colony Glacier. Kids especially love spotting and counting the Dall sheep, but you might also see moose and bear. As one of the largest glaciers in Southcentral Alaska, Knik Glacier is an impressive sight. Fly over the top and on a nice day you might even land on its lake, and taxi around ice chunks as big as houses. When the glacier calves, it’s a rocking experience, even from far away, and is definitely a treat. 90 minutes.
This two-hour trip combines the possibility of seeing abundant wildlife (beluga whales and seals, for starters), along with stunning views of the Triumvirate Glacier, a blue gem situated in the volcanic Tordrillo mountain range 75 miles from Anchorage. You’ll also see Mount Spurr, which erupted most recently in 1992, and land on Beluga Lake for a quick walk around (watch for moose, bear and wolf tracks!).
Harriman Fjord Glaciers
Located in the majestic Prince William Sound, the tidewater glaciers of Harriman Fjord, spill right down into the ocean. These immense glaciers are simply stunning. If that weren’t enough, you’re also bound to see plenty of wildlife along the way – from eagles, moose, sheep and possibly even bear on your flight east through the Chugach mountains, to orca pods and humpback whales in Prince William sound.
Prince William Sound
Dramatic contrasts greet your eyes in this two-hour trip of Prince William Sound. The steep glaciated mountains of the Chugach Range angle down to an intricate coastline, where forested slopes meet blue water. Commercial fishing fleets work seining nets, bringing in tons of fish, while orca pods and humpback whales perfect their own fishing strategies. This flight brings you up through the Chugach Range, where you can see moose, bear, Dall sheep and eagles, and comes out well into the Sound for a better chance at spotting those larger marine mammals. Glacial lakes, fjords, islands and immense tidewater glaciers are the backdrop to this tour, leaving you without much room left on your camera!
When someone tells you “the mountain is out,” don’t delay. Get on Trail Ridge Air’s Denali/Mt. McKinley tour and head north to “The High One.” Often obscured by clouds and rain, Denali is a mind-blowing 20,320-foot sight on a clear day.
Even on an overcast day, this flight showcases the dramatic landscape of Denali National Park and Preserve, and offers the chance to see wildlife. The 3-hour tour takes off from Lake Hood, working up the Susitna River and on into the Great Gorge. If there weren’t any ice here, the gorge would be deeper than the Grand Canyon (just one more awe-inspiring fact to take in on this trip). Fly into the Ruth Ampitheatre, surrounded by mountains with so much vertical to them that snow won’t even stick.
Circle base camp on the south face of the mountain, where climbers begin their Denali summit, and then fly down to Mount Foraker (still pretty impressive at 14,000 feet) while descending down the Kahiltna Glacier. The return trip follows along the Kahiltna River, where you should keep an eye out for bear and moose.
Weather permitting, you’ll land at Chelatna Lake, long lake with white sandy beaches. Stretch your legs, eat a snack, and pose for some great photos with these serious landmarks as your backdrop.
Dick Proenneke Cabin, Lake Clark National Park
Surviving in the wilderness takes skill, adventure and a penchant for hard work. Dick Proenneke, an amateur naturalist, did it for thirty years in the Twin Lakes area of the remote and magnificent Lake Clark National Park.
Trail Ridge Air pioneered this 4- to 5-hour flightseeing tour to the cabin Dick Proenneke built, which is now a featured landmark at Lake Clark National Park. Whether you know Mr. Proenneke’s story or are hearing it for the first time, you’ll be impressed with his ingenuity, the craftsmanship of his cabin home and how he documented the land and nature that surrounded him.
This tour highlights some of the prettiest country in Alaska, in one of the least visited national parks in the country. On the way there, you’ll fly through Lake Clark Pass, threading through mountains and glaciers on either side. Land at the cabin and learn about Mr. Proenneke from volunteers who personally knew him and can answer all your questions. Hike above the tree line into a glacier valley that begs to have its photo taken, from all angles! On the flight back, if weather permits, your pilot will take a different route through another pass so you can see even more.
About Trail Ridge Air Incorporated
Trail Ridge Air is a locally-owned, family-run air taxi service that specializes in getting you out to experience Alaska’s incredible scenery from on high, either on a flight-seeing trip or packaged in with bear viewing, fishing, a float-trip or something entirely custom that fits into your dream vacation.
Since 1999, Jim and Loree Jensen have been running Trail Ridge Air out of Lake Hood, the busiest seaplane base in the world. Along with their team of pilots (some of whom are also family), they maintain a beautiful fleet of aircraft:
- Two classic 1950s-era DeHavilland Beavers, a quintessential bush plane that seats 6-7. Ruggedly functional, the Beaver still offers a comfortable ride. Fewer than 1,700 Beavers were ever made, so it’s quite a treat to ride in this aircraft that evokes a sense of nostalgia in those who understand its place in Alaska history.
- A Cessna 206. This 5-seater is known for its load-carrying capacity, so is a common sight in Alaska. It’s a bit smaller, and also faster, than the DeHavilland.
- A Piper PA-12 Super Cub. Trail Ridge Air is the only water taxi service operating a Piper PA-12 out of Lake Hood. The 1940s-era Super Cub seats two passengers in the back. Its small size and rugged construction allow for short landings on rough terrain, making it perfect for those custom flights headed into the back country.
Piloting those Trail Ridge Air seaplanes are staff committed to safety, customer service and showing off Alaska – and that garners a lot of repeat business. Pilots are experienced, safety-conscious, knowledgeable about the area, and take pride in what they do. “We aren’t the oldest pilots out there, but we do make up for that by being personable,” laughs Trail Ridge pilot Casey. “You won’t find any cranky pilots here.” Casey started out in the business working on the floatplane docks and soon developed a passion for small aircraft and bush flying. “It brings me joy knowing my passengers are having as much fun as I am up there.”
And Jim and Loree still meet every flight with a smile, waiting to hear passenger comments about jaw-dropping glaciers they just saw or a pod of beluga whales they spotted.
Customization is another big part of the Trail Ridge Air philosophy. If you’re planning an Alaska vacation, give them a call so they can help you put together the puzzle pieces of your itinerary to get what you want out of your trip. Even if you only have an hour, you can get up in the air for incredible views and an insider’s chat about wild and wonderful Alaska.