Alaska Visitors Guide

For the best views of Alaska, soar above it all on a flightseeing tour

In a large state literally covered with spectacular sights and wild wonders, one of the most exciting and convenient ways to view Alaska’s biggest and best attractions is from rarefied air, high in the sky.

Flightseeing excursions are popular, unique and thrilling for visitors and Alaskans alike, with outings ranging from a few hours to a full day or longer. Destinations are as diverse and iconic as Denali, backcountry lodges, bear and wildlife viewing areas, glacier landings, wilderness fishing spots and national parks.

From a window seat in a small Alaska bush plane or a helicopter, passengers get a proverbial bird’s-eye view and VIP access to parts of the state that most only dream about. This is truly traveling in Alaska fashion. Imagine taking a few circles around the peak of Denali and its massive neighboring mountains in the Alaska Range, sometimes close enough to see mountain climbers. Soar over the epic glaciers, forests and marine magnificence of Kenai Fjords National Park or coast above the endless mass of jagged mountains and sparkling glaciers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Or take the ultimate high road over the untouched landscapes and rugged beauty of the deep wilderness in Gates of the Arctic National Park.

With so many options available, there’s a wide price range for hopping onboard, from around $250 to $1,000 and up depending on the length of the trip, departure point and destination, whether the tour includes a landing along the way and what excursions are part of that landing.

For those dreaming of seeing Alaska highlights and exploring the wildest of wildernesses, flightseeing delivers big-time bang for that travel buck. Most flightseeing companies are longtime Alaska operators, with savvy, safe, experienced pilots who love flying and showing off our state as much as the passengers love taking it all in. A bonus for passengers is headgear that allows them to communicate with the pilot, and hear stories of flying and the landmarks below. Shop around and you’ll likely find a perfect trip that hits your adventure checklist. Don’t see what you want? Call the flightseeing operators and ask: Some will customize their trips as taxis for their passengers to find remote fishing, land at a lodge or whatever you can dream of.

In fact, wherever your travel itinerary leads you, there’s likely a flightseeing business nearby. Among the locales where tours are offered are travel hubs like Anchorage and Fairbanks, along with Kenai, Soldotna, Tok, McCarthy, Homer, Girdwood, King Salmon, Talkeetna, Juneau, Ketchikan, Fairbanks, Skagway, Kantishna and more. Once in the air, you can fly over a seemingly endless ocean of glaciers, blankets of forest and tundra, sunlit lakes and waterways, remote Alaska Native villages, mountains and volcanoes, and even the occasional bear, moose or caribou.

On some flightseeing trips, landing is also a big part of the thrill and journey. Many flightseeing planes are outfitted with traditional landing gear, tires, for beach, gravel bar and rustic runway approaches. Others have floats, allowing pilots to take off from and set down smoothly on inlets and rivers. Some also land on glaciers, where a dog sled team and its driver awaits. Some land on a beach, where bear viewing makes the heart race even more! Others land on lakes that lead to luxurious wilderness lodges, world-class fishing, cool kayaking, backcountry camping and more.


These flights are so much fun, you’ll have your head in the clouds for days. Here are some of the state’s most popular, unique and fascinating flightseeing destinations, tours and packages:

Denali National Park and Preserve

Alaska’s most towering presence is also its most popular travel destination and most-frequented flightseeing tour. Denali National Park is an Alaska treasure, with its namesake standing at 20,310 feet as North America’s tallest peak. The park surrounding it is packed with mountains, wildlife, tundra, glaciers and a range of ecosystems. It is located in the state’s Interior, just off the Parks Highway, a few hours’ drive south of Fairbanks and four hours north of Anchorage — on a clear day, you can see Denali from both cities.

A Denali flightseeing trip is thrilling and humbling; it’s easy to feel small when surrounded by so many mountains, especially one that is so incredibly tall. The trip is perfect for those who don’t have days to explore the park, or for those who crave the most intimate perspective of the peak. Every moment of a flight is exciting, including taking off and the flight there, as Denali gets larger and larger on the approach.

Most outfitters’ flights will include views of Denali’s summit (weather permitting), as well as other notable natural wonders of the park like Ruth Glacier, the Wickersham Wall and the climbers’ Kantishna Glacier basecamp. Some operators land on a glacier, usually Ruth with its well-marked runway. Passengers don’t just stretch their legs here — they get to breathe in the alpine air, feel the chill of the glacier below, and enjoy a snack in the most unique setting. Oh, and take the coolest photos ever.

Some companies fly out of Anchorage, though many operate a few hours’ drive north of Anchorage in Talkeetna, a small, quirky town that has tempting views of Denali in the distance. A few even take off from Denali National Park, of course. Helicopter flightseeing offers an alternative. Enclosed in Plexiglas with no wings to peer over, even trips as short as 30 minutes provide exciting and exceptional views.

Bear viewing

You won’t believe how quickly a small plane can get you from Alaska’s largest urban setting, Anchorage, to some of the world’s wildest bear viewing experiences. At only 290 miles, the relatively short but pretty flight across Cook Inlet gets passengers to Katmai National Park and Preserve. (Other flights leave from Homer, Kodiak, Dillingham, King Salmon and other locations.) These are big bear hot spots, where the famous grizzly/brown bears romp and roam around, mostly hunting salmon, chomping on salmon, sleeping or jostling for fishing positions.

Each location has different, but safe, viewing experiences. Katmai’s Brooks River, Brooks Falls and Brooks Camp are well-known and popular — a series of viewing platforms are strategically set for the best viewing and safest experience, keeping visitors as close as 50 feet from the bruins. Day trips out of Anchorage run between May and September, with passengers on the ground for around 10 hours, plenty of time to gaze in wonder at these big bears. Katmai has lodging as well for folks who want more time in this most special of places.

Lake Clark also has numerous areas for bear viewing, and operators that fly folks to get the best views: Chinitna Bay is the most popular with humans and bears, though Crescent Lake is a place where humans and bears both chase some world-class salmon fishing. Same with Silver Salmon Creek.

Flights from Kodiak Island take passengers to see the island’s famous bears at the Kodiak Brown Bear Center & Lodge, complete with lake landing. Other flights out of Kodiak reach different areas and different bear viewing experiences in Katmai National Park: Frazer Lake along the Katmai Coast, Hallo Bay or Geographic Bay. Whatever you’re hoping for, there’s a flight time and bear tour that will work with your itinerary, from day trips to multiday stays.

Glacier landings with dogsledding

As if flying around the state isn’t exciting enough, imagine taking a pit stop on one of Alaska’s grand and glamourous glaciers. Then, after landing, meeting a team of sweet sled dogs and their musher, and hopping into their sled basket or grabbing the sled handle for a cruise around the glacier. That’s a lot of iconic action in one trip, and there are many opportunities to make it happen.

Knik Glacier in the Chugach Mountains is among the most popular and convenient places to do it all. It’s a short drive from Anchorage to the Mat-Su, where most passengers take off in a helicopter for the full flight-and-dog experience.

Similar trips to different glaciers are available across the state, from Skagway and Juneau in Southeast Alaska, to the skiing hamlet of Girdwood an hour south of Anchorage, to Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. Each route has its own take on the trip, but the one constant is that you’ll be overwhelmed by the beauty, the magnitude of the glaciers and the speed (and cuteness) of the dogs.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the nation’s largest national park at 13 million acres, and it’s home to 14 of North America’s 20 tallest peaks. For mountain lovers or those looking for a dramatic landscape, this is the trip for you. On and around the mountains, you’ll see glaciers and raging rivers and maybe even some park wildlife (bears, caribou, migratory birds and sheep, of course), as well as remnants of the area’s copper-mining past.

Kenai Fjords National Park

While the area around Seward is best known for its boat trips to see glaciers and marine wildlife, a flightseeing tour of the area covers more mileage and fjord fun. The area is jam-packed with glaciers, including the incredible Harding Icefield, which you really have to see to appreciate.

“Flightseeing is one of the best ways to get a sense of the vastness of the Harding Icefield. Soaring over this expanse of ice broken only by isolated mountain peaks, or nunataks, is like traveling back, over 12,000 years ago, to the Pleistocene,” the National Park Service writes on their site. Some outfitters even land on the ice field. And be ready to also see the famous fjords’ wildlife, coves and more.

Columbia Glacier

The Valdez area is a backcountry haven for skiers and snowboarders, with its steep peaks and deep snow coverage. It’s also visually epic for visitors, who will see those mountains, as well as impressive waterfalls, glaciers, wildlife and pretty Prince William Sound. The sound’s Columbia tidewater glacier is the top attraction for flightseers, complete with glacier overflights or landings and exploration on the glacier.


Alaska’s capital city is a scenic gem. Several companies offer helicopter tours that fly around or land on a certain glacier (Mendenhall, Taku, Norris and Herbert Glacier) for different adventures, including dogsledding, rafting and glacier exploring. This is also a unique flightseeing trip that gives you some Southeast sights like a view of cute Juneau, the Tongass National Forest, the Mount Roberts Tramway, the cruise ship port and more.