Lake Hood Floatplane Base Walking Tour

Lake Hood  (:57)

Lake Hood History

Lake Hood Seaplane Base started out as two smaller lakes: Lake Hood to the west and Lake Spenard to the east. Back in the 1970s, the state began dredging out a canal in between the two to create seaplane takeoff and taxi lanes. Today, Lake Hood is host to nearly 200 daily operations and has become the largest and busiest seaplane base in the world.

Possible Routes

  • 1 hr or less: From Spenard area hotels, head southwest (left when facing the water) along the south shore of the lake. Stop at the Takeoff Lane as well as the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum, then return back the same way you came.
  • 2 hrs or more: Head north (right when facing the water) and walk the full 4.2 miles around the lake, starting on the north side, then wrapping back around to the south side and back to your hotel.

Show Map

Walking Tour Points

Due to its unique archi­tec­ture, this has been called the Upside Down Build­ing.” Notice how the pipes on the out­side sup­port the invert­ed struc­ture. The float­plane take­off lane is right in front of the build­ing, and there’s pub­lic park­ing, mak­ing this a con­ve­nient place to watch planes take off and land.

The tow­er you see was decom­mis­sioned in 1977; since then, the Inter­na­tion­al Airport’s con­trol tow­er has over­seen Lake Hood as well — more than 800 flight oper­a­tions every day! You can hear some of the unique vocab­u­lary used by the con­trollers and the pilots when you lis­ten to the Lake Hood weath­er report over the phone: 9072451618. Pilots inter­na­tion­al­ly use a pho­net­ic alpha­bet to avoid con­fu­sion. A = alpha, B = bra­vo, etc. 

Along this road, you’ll find a num­ber of air­plane main­te­nance hang­ers. Hav­ing an air­plane here isn’t cheap. FAA reg­u­la­tions require pilots to get their planes inspect­ed annu­al­ly, which can cost any­where from $500 to $5,000 (or more)…and that’s before spend­ing an hour in the air. Of course, fuel adds to the cost as well. Most sin­gle-engine planes, like the ones you’ll find here, burn 8 – 20 gal­lons per hour. With fuel at $5 – $6 per gal­lon, the…  ...more

Make sure to look both ways before cross­ing the street. Wheel planes use this road to taxi over to the grav­el strip locat­ed on the north side of the map. This road is pri­mar­i­ly for access to hang­ers, wheel plane park­ing, and the rest of Lake Hood.

Locat­ed along­side Air­craft Dri­ve at the Grav­el Strip, the auto­mat­ed gates were installed to pre­vent cars from dri­ving out onto the run­way. Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, they allow for a nice pho­to oppor­tu­ni­ty of a plane taxi­ing to the run­way. How does a pilot open a gate? They dial their avi­a­tion radio into a spe­cif­ic fre­quen­cy and click the micro­phone five times.

Right in the shad­ow of the Inter­na­tion­al Air­port and the float­plane water­way is a strip for small wheel planes, which you’ll notice is grav­el, not paved. That’s because many bush planes have over­sized tires, and grav­el — because it’s a more for­giv­ing sur­face in high cross­winds — inflicts less dam­age on the tire.

Alas­ka is one of the world’s avi­a­tion hotspots, and the Airmen’s Asso­ci­a­tion rep­re­sents the pilot com­mu­ni­ty by pro­mot­ing and pre­serv­ing avi­a­tion in the state. Every May, they host a huge air­show where they raf­fle off a free air­plane. Tick­ets are $100 — they sell out quickly.

In order to cre­ate more space for float­plane park­ing on the lake, five tie-down chan­nels were dredged out in 1975. The first of the fin­gers is the Com­mer­cial Fin­ger, which is host to flight­see­ing and air taxi oper­a­tors. The oth­er four fin­gers are open to pilots for tie-down park­ing. Tie-downs are park­ing spots for the planes. Once parked, a pilot must tie the plane’s wings and tails to the ground or dock so if it gets windy, the plane won’t…  ...more

Near­ly 1,000 float­planes are parked all over the lake. Because Lake Hood sees about 200 dai­ly flight oper­a­tions, traf­fic could become rather busy. To pre­vent haz­ards on the water, the FAA has estab­lished traf­fic pat­terns so pilots can avoid inter­fer­ing with oth­er planes.

The float­plane base was orig­i­nal­ly two sep­a­rate lakes: Lake Hood, to the west, was the orig­i­nal base and Lake Spe­nard, to the east, was for bathing and swim­ming. In 1940, the canal was dredged out to expand the water­way and cre­ate one uni­fied body of water. The addi­tion of lights on the island in the mid­dle illu­mi­nat­ed the waterway’s night­time operations.

For a while in the 1990s, planes weren’t the only winged things tak­ing off from the lake. Swarms of water­fowl would inter­fere with flight oper­a­tions in and out of the air­port. A task force in charge of reduc­ing the bird pop­u­la­tion tried many expen­sive options, but final­ly found a sim­ple solu­tion. They put three farm pigs — named Curly, Lar­ry, and Moe — on the island that sep­a­rates the Take­off and Taxi Lanes, to destroy as many nests and devour as…  ...more

Don’t be fooled by the name of this park — you can’t actu­al­ly swim here. The beach was once a place for aquat­ic recre­ation, but now serves as a nice place to enjoy after­noon pic­nics and watch the air­planes take­off and land at Lake Hood, the world busiest float plane base. These float­planes can take you into remotes parts of Alas­ka to expe­ri­ence fish­ing, bear view­ing and sightseeing.