If you’re considering a Denali flightseeing tour and not sure whether it’s worth it, the short answer is a resounding yes! You’ll be picking your jaw up off the floor more than once on this amazing scenic flight, especially if you add on a glacier landing. The long answer follows with photos, various considerations and a couple of alternatives.
It’s hard to believe now, but we almost didn’t take a Denali flightseeing tour! We had booked a combined helicopter-glacier trekking excursion in another location instead. Then less than 48-hours before take-off, we got the call. Our pilot had come down with the dreaded C-word (the 5-letter, 2-digit one) and our tour had to be called off. We rallied, made a bunch of calls and turned lemons into limoncello served ice-cold on a summer’s day on a breezy terrace in Sorrento (i.e. something really good!)
Denali flightseeing from Talkeetna and other locations
There are several companies offering Denali flightseeing tours from Talkeetna—an old gold rush town and mountaineer mecca halfway between Anchorage and the National Park entrance. It is also a stop on the Alaska Railroad if you are taking the train.
For those travelling to Denali National Park from Anchorage, this makes it an easy stop along the way. Alternatively, if you are short on time and can’t make it all the way up to the Park (four hours drive from Anchorage), you can easily drive to Talkeetna and do a flyover instead.
There are three companies offering scenic flights from Talkeetna. In addition, there are two operators flying Denali flightseeing tours from just outside the National Park entrance and another out of Anchorage. Here they are with links to their websites for more details:
Weather, cancellations and Denali visibility
Of course, flightseeing is at the mercy of Alaska’s weather and most companies will refund or reschedule any tour cancelled due to adverse conditions (check before booking).
You should also know that even if your flightseeing tour goes ahead, you are not guaranteed to see Denali (aka Mt McKinley) as it is often obstructed by cloud. There is an often-touted statistic in Alaska, that only about 30% of visitors see Denali during their trip. I couldn’t trace the source or science behind that number but I suspect it has to do with the fact that Alaska experiences clear skies an average of one out of three days.
Of course, this is an average, so some months see more blue sky than others. Denali National Park’s clearest months are January to April, while the cloudiest month is July. Due to the Mountain’s immense size, it creates its own microclimate, so that’s about as scientific as it gets for predicting visibility at any given time (in a way that you could plan your trip around).
We travelled in late May and had near-perfect visibility, so the photos you see in this post are absolute optimum conditions. If you want to see photos from a not-so-perfect day, check out #denaliflightseeing on Instagram for a variety of images under different conditions.
Denali flightseeing with glacier landing
The company we flew with landed on Kahiltna Glacier which is also the location of base camp for climbers attempting the Denali summit. This amazing spot gave us spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, including the three tallest peaks in the range: Mount Foraker, Denali and Hunter. If this is your once-in-a-lifetime trip, don’t cut this corner! The 20-minutes we spent on that glacier is some of the most memorable minutes of our entire trip and we did lots of cool things in our 10-days in Alaska.
Additional tips for your Denali flightseeing tour
- Planes can experience turbulence even on fine weather days. If you get motion sick, take your favourite pre-cautions whether it’s where you like to sit on the plane, a natural remedy or a pharmaceutical.
- Dress in layers. Wear long sleeves and pants even on sunny days as it gets cold on the plane and is highly changeable on the mountain.
- Between the altitude and reflective snow/ice, you may be highly exposed to the sun. Make sure you apply sunscreen and take sunglasses too.
- The partial closure of Denali Park Road will make flightseeing even more attractive over the next few summers, so make sure you book ahead to get your desired date and time.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,