Lake Hood Floatplane Base Walking Tour
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.
- 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.
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: 907−245−1618. 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
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.