North to Alaska (Denali Flightseeing Trip)

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear for our float plane trip to Denali! We arrived at Rust’s Flying Service a little after noon, purchased our tickets, and met our pilot Justin. Flights were coming and going pretty regularly from the Lake Hood Seaplane Base where Rust’s is located–hunters and fishers heading out to remote cabins, backpackers and campers coming back from their wilderness adventures, air taxi customers, and tourists who want a different perspective on the scenery.

Rust's Flying Service
Rust's Flying Service

Rust’s has a fleet of distinctive bright red planes trimmed in brown-and-white with their logo emblazoned on the side; our ride was a De Havilland “Otter” which is a favorite with backcountry pilots . The Otter can hold 10 passengers and all their gear and still come up out of the water as if it had no load at all. In the words of the De Havilland Company, the Otter is prized for its “ability to be flown slow and in tight circles,” making it ideal for flight-seeing.

De Havilland Otter at dock on Lake Hood
De Havilland Otter at dock on Lake Hood

Our four-hour flight-seeing tour left Lake Hood, gradually climbing to about 10,000 ft. There were soft golden fields and small lakes below us, then more and more stands of dark pines. The farther we flew north and west, the thicker the trees and the flatness of the land gave way to rolling hills and ridges flowing toward the feet of the Alaska Range.

Cockpit view of Denali
Cockpit view of Denali

We could see Denali and its towering, snow-capped companions Mt. Foraker and Mt. Hunter long before we neared them. Denali is the original name of this tallest mountain in North America; it became Mt. McKinley after President McKinley visited the state in the late 1890’s to drive in the golden spike that connected both halves of the Alaskan Railroad. (President McKinley never visited the mountain that was renamed in his honor.)

In flight!
In flight!

As we got closer to those incredible mountains, our pilot told us that we’d be able to fly through the “North Passage” that day. He was surprises; he said there were only about three days each year that were clear enough to allow it. (Denali is often shrouded in clouds, even in fair weather.) The pictures that follow tell the story of our trip better than any words:

First up-close view of Denali
First up-close view of Denali
View down into one of the glaciers surrounding Denali
View down into one of the glaciers surrounding Denali
Snow-clad "shoulders" of the mountains
Snow-clad "shoulders" of the mountains
Rocky, knife-edged slopes below the wing of the plane
Rocky, knife-edged slopes below the wing of the plane
Coming in for a landing on Backside Lake!
Coming in for a landing on Backside Lake!
Taxiing to the rocky shore of Backside Lake
Taxiing to the rocky shore of Backside Lake
Otter on the beach
Otter on the beach
Getting ready for take-off (see the large glacier lake rock under my arm?)
Getting ready for take-off (see the large glacier lake rock under my arm?)
Headed back toward Anchorage
Headed back toward Anchorage

I love to fly, so this flightseeing adventure around Denali was one of the biggest highlights of our highlight-filled trip! 

Got back into Anchorage; called Glacier Brewhouse and got a dinner reservation and enjoyed our final evening in the city. Strolled through Aurora Fine Art Gallery and fell in love with whimsical paintings of animals in human situations (can’t remember artist’s name at the moment) and Byron Birdsall’s work, as well.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. angmarieaz says:

    Really enjoyed looking at all of your Alaska pics! I’ve stood there at Wonder Lake in Denali a few times and have never seen the top! I have family in Alaska, but it’s been a few years since I’ve gone. Would love to take my husband some day. Thanks for sharing; brought back some great memories!

    1. Thanks so much for reading my blog; hope you’ll stop by again (I still have to cover Seward and Homer!). I hope you and your husband have a chance to visit, as well–the flightseeing is well worth the trip!

  2. Dian Emery says:

    Glad to see that you made the trip to Alaska, I remember you talking about it when I was in Asheville. What a fantastic looking place!

  3. Hey, Dian!

    I’m delighted that you visited my blog–thanks a bunch! It really was a fantastic trip–we were constantly amazed by everything we saw. Could be a great girlsgetaway someday; seems to be on everybody’s “must see” list!

  4. Zach Sheldon says:

    Looks like Rust’s took you on a great flight.

    1. It was a great trip and Rust’s did a fantastic job. Our pilot (Justin) was comfortable and easy-going and very knowledgeable about the area–it couldn’t have been any better!

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