Flight-Seeing in Alaska

7 August 2009 By Kelly Sanford
Photo by Kara Murphy

The scenery in Southeast Alaska is like no other cruising area, with sky-blue glaciers, glassy fjords, lush forests that rise from sea level almost vertically for thousands of feet and roaring waterfalls that drop hundreds of feet creating the ultimate white noise. The wildlife is equally exciting: bald eagles, bears, seals, whales, sea lions and salmon that seem to boil out of the water. It's breath taking. However, as the cruising season is quickly coming to an end, remember no trip to Alaska would be complete without taking to the skies – this goes for crew who can afford it as well as for owners and guests.


Float plane and helicopter tours are a great way to get up close to the glaciers and ice fields as well improving your odds of spotting whales and bears. Alaska pilots are exceptional, but all flight-seeing activities are weather-dependent as just about the only thing that intimidates a bush pilot is thick fog. Any flight-seeing adventure should be planned with this caveat in mind.


There are helicopter and float plane operators throughout the region who offer sight-seeing flights that culminate in a traditional salmon bake. After viewing the fjords, forests and glaciers from the air, guests are taken to a remote campsite where they are invited to hike along remote rainforest trails while fresh salmon is prepared over an open fire and served with all the trimmings.


Just out of sight, over the horizon, among the snow-capped mountains sit hundreds of pristine glacial lakes. Some of them are chock-full of trout and salmon. Intrepid guests may enjoy taking a float plane with a professional fishing guide to one of these lakes for a fly fishing experience like no other…from the pontoon of a float plane on a lake inaccessible by any other means.


The only thing more memorable than seeing your first glacier is setting foot on one for the first time. There are numerous outfitters throughout Southeast Alaska that offer glacial hiking for all skill levels. Outfitters have all the gear you or your guests will need and transportation to the glacier is always by helicopter.


Ever wondered what the Iditarod teams do during the summer? They set up camp in Southeast Alaska and keep themselves in race shape by offering the Iditarod experience to tourists. The crew of the M/Y Evviva treated themselves to just such an excursion and Bosun Danny said, “It was an amazing experience…you could tell that it was the real deal.” Participants take a short helicopter flight up to base camp and get to go mushing along the glacier.


Want to see the forest from the air without making a carbon footprint? Southeast Alaska is well on its way to earning a title as the zip-line capital of the world. Adrenaline addicts can hike into a mountain canopy and zip along at speeds reaching 60 mph on the longer zip lines. The ZipRider zip line at Icy Strait Point near Hoonah is 5,330 feet long with a 1,300-foot drop it is currently the longest zip line in the world. (Check out

Flight seeing adventures can be spendy. The ZipRider starts at $120 USD. Tours with the premier flight-seeing operations run about $190/per person for a 40-minute group tour and about $1,300/per hour to have a 10-passenger Otter float plane to yourself. Special arrangements can be made for a private flight-seeing salmon bake (with the camp all to yourself) where guests are picked up directly from the yacht while at anchor.

If this all sounds exciting but a little too rich for your blood, try calling the operators to ask for a crew discount. “It’s totally worth it!” says Holly with Wings Airways in Juneau. “I know we’d love to have the crew come check us out and take a trip…. There’s nothing better than a first-hand recommendation. Depending on availability, we can offer discounts or even a complimentary trip if there are seats available. Crew should definitely call us; we’re happy to work with them and make sure they get to enjoy the experience, too.”