Flightseeing Denali and Wild Alaska
By Candyce H. Stapen
From our helicopter at 10,000-feet, Ruth Glacier in Denali National Park spread out below us as a massive river of blue ice. The glacier, slit with crevasses and dotted with turquoise pools, seemed to run on forever. Craggy cliffs and rugged brown slopes towered on either side.
The closer we flew to Denali—the Great One, as North America’s highest peak is known in native languages—the more jagged, menacing and majestic the mountain became. Suddenly, within two miles of Denali’s summit, the clouds parted and Denali’s sharp, snow-covered pinnacle split the sky.
We took this glimpse of the top of the world as a great gift and a good omen. On our return flight through Denali State Park, we spotted a family of grizzlies loping across the frozen tundra. This was the Alaska we had traveled so far to see. With glacial ice fields, pristine lakes and dense rain forests, Alaska harbors some of America’s last, great wilderness.
The good news is that you no longer have to rough it—unless you want to—in order to access these special places. From upscale but remote lodges and on day outings from luxury cruise lines you can encounter wild and natural Alaska.
Among the experiences: walk on ancient glaciers, paddle a sea kayak through bays populated with porpoises, seals and Steller sea lions; take a float trip on rivers famous for bald eagles and watch brown bears swipe at salmon in rushing streams. Board a helicopter or a float plane to extend your reach into Alaska’s remote regions.
These excursions, while pricey, are likely to be the most memorable of your trip as they conveniently connect you with Alaska’s pristine backcountry, places that otherwise remain inaccessible or take days of hard hiking or long boat rides to reach.
To explore Denali, we disembarked the Alaska Railroad at Talkeetna, a three hour trip from Anchorage. Since we knew we could depart on a flightseeing tour to the mighty mountain from this funky Alaskan town, the gateway to Denali State Park, we opted against staying on the train four more hours to reach Denali National Park, especially because at this point, we craved out of vehicle leg-stretching walks.
We checked into the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, a 70-minute bus ride from Talkeetna. Located on the banks of the Chulitna River in Denali State Park, the lodge’s main deck faces Denali. However, every time we stared from the hotel, clouds shrouded the mountain. That made our glimpse of Denali’s peak from our helicopter even more special.
Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Holland America are among the lines sailing Alaskan waters. Book these popular cruises in advance.