Adventure lovers should add “glacier landing” to their Alaska itinerary; a flight from the small town of Talkeetna will likely be the highlight of the trip and well worth the splurge.
These breathtaking flights offer a glimpse (on a clear day) of towering Mt. McKinley and an awe-inspiring experience when the ski plane touches down in the snow on one of nature’s most majestic creations.
Talkeetna is a train stop on the Alaska Railroad that's about three hours from Anchorage (2.5 hours driving), and it's a hub for scenic flights, glacier landings and transport for climbers to the base of Mt. McKinley.
Touchdown on the glacier — Photo courtesy of Talkeetna Air Taxi
When planning a glacier flight, reserve it for your first day in Talkeetna and allow a couple days in the town (to reschedule) in case the weather doesn’t cooperate. Talkeetna has several outdoor adventures and restaurants to entertain visitors as they await the glacier experience.
Talkeetna Air Taxi is a well-established flight operator that boasts more glacier landings than any other in the world. There are four glaciers in the area that they frequently land on: Ruth, Kahiltna, Pika and the Eldridge glacier. However, they are not limited to those four.
Weather conditions will play an important role in determining what glacier the pilot decides to land on (and in Alaska, the weather changes constantly).
A glacier melt water pool during the summer — Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan
The glacier landings take place in DHC-3 Otters, a single-engine, high-wing aircraft designed for short landings and take offs. Most planes have about 11 seats, each with a viewing window and personal headset, so passengers can hear the pilot’s information about the scenery as they point out areas of interest.
The skilled pilots navigate through narrow valleys and passes to get the best possible views of mountains and glaciers. Passengers may be surprised how close they can be to towering rock walls as well as melt water pools that are other-worldly shades of blue.
Those lucky enough to catch a glacier landing on a bright and calm day can hear ice calving in the distance, as the crisp, slight chill of the air feels worlds away from Talkeetna. If you can, ask the pilot to call for a moment of silence while on the glacier to truly hear the sounds of nature; it is a surreal experience.
Then, it’s time for photo ops and glacier snow angels! There is no such thing as "too many photos” on this flight, so make sure to bring extra batteries and memory cards. Sunglasses are a must, since the glacier snow can be extremely bright.
Lastly, although flights take place year-round, the summer months are extremely busy. Advance reservations are highly recommended.
Travelers celebrate landing on the glacier — Photo courtesy of Talkeetna Air Taxi