What to Expect Flying in Alaska Bush Planes

January 18, 2024   12 Comments »

What to Expect Flying in Alaska Bush Planes

April 14, 2016 12 Comments »

As the largest, but least densely populated state in the US, Alaska poses a few challenges when it comes to seeing the entire state. Most of it is unreachable by road or boat. In fact 20 percent is reachable by roads, 20 percent by waterway, and the remaining 60 percent is only reachable by air. Which is why I spent a lot of time taking photos from bush planes while I was in Alaska.

Alaskans Love Their Planes

It’s no surprise then that 1 in 78 people own their own plane in Alaska, and 1 in 61 are pilots. You can begin flying solo as a licensed pilot at 14 years old and can carry passengers at 16 years old. That means that in Alaska, teenagers can fly before they can drive. I’m not talking about big planes like what you see at the Boeing Plant tour in Seattle – no, Alaska only has a couple of big airports. I’m talking about small bush planes.

Why is it Called a Bush Plane?

You’ll find small, dirt airstrips all over Alaska; in backyards, parks, and mountains, and there are even planes that land on glaciers. Bush planes get their name because ‘the Bush’ is a word used for describing the wilderness area in Alaska (and Australia). When you are in the Alaska Bush you are in the middle of nowhere. Bush pilots fly their small aircraft from one small place in the Bush to the other.

These were the smallest planes I’ve ever flown in, and the first time I ever saw cans of bear spray duct taped to the wing; Bush flights in Alaska are an adventure!

Tips for Flying in an Alaskan Bush Plane

During my 3 weeks traveling to remote Alaska towns, I flew in a number of Alaska bush planes and met a number of pilots – all equally amazing (and hunky). It never ceased to amaze me how incredibly laid back the pilots were. Be aware of these few things that are essential to know when you take Alaska Bush flights:

  • There are strict restrictions on weight and this isn’t a situation where you simply pay more money and take on a larger bag. There really isn’t room.
  • Since you are in back country don’t be surprised if there are guns on the plane. On my flight from Wrangel St. Elias National Park, there were a couple of people who had rifles as part of their luggage. They went in the back storage compartment just like any other luggage.
  • Many people carry bear spray in Alaska, and that is a big no-no on a small plane. So if you are carrying bear spray, make sure you let the pilot know and they will duct tape it to the outside of the plane for safety reasons.
  • You will get a set of headphones to wear where you can communicate with the pilot and hear any of his/her instructions. The planes are quite loud so headphones are necessary.
  • Be prepared to be in a small space with no legroom or overheads. Whatever you carry on is placed in your lap. Don’t worry – the flights are short.
  • Always know where the barf bag is!

Things to do in Anchorage in the Summer or Winter

Alaska Flightseeing

One of the best ways to see the vastness of Alaska is from above. My one carry-on was always my camera as I spent most of my time shooting pictures out of the window at the amazing scenery. Getting to and from some of these remote places was many of my favorite moments traveling in Alaska.

Alaska flightseeing
Water is everywhere in Alaska and it’s best seen from above.
alaska flightseeing
My first bush flight from Coodfoot camp to Fairbanks on Air Arctic

Talkeetna Bush Flight  – K2 Aviation Flightseeing

If you don’t have time to hike into the heart of Denali National Park, you can take a plane, land in Denali on a glacier or lake, and then hike from there.  I used K2 Aviation out of Talkeetna with Pilot Chip. Chip was a bush pilot in the summer and a ski/snow junkie in the winter. He was also a free diver, remote rescue worker, and all-around good guy. Chip explained the plane to us and all of the ‘safety info’ – but like his laid-back personality, the float plane also seemed rather laid back. He described it as an old pickup truck that just lumbered along.  And that was an accurate description – I felt as if I were in my Grandpa’s old farm pickup.

Alaska bush flight talkeetna
talkeetna alaska flightseeing

Learn insider tips for experiencing the Northern Lights in Fairbanks

Alaska flightseeing Denali
alaska bush flights
Alaska flightseeing

Wrangle St Elias National Park Bush Flight – Wrangell Mountain Air

Wrangell Mountain Air was my smallest flight yet.  Our pilot, Austin, didn’t even ask our names as we boarded! I think he figured if we made our way all the way there to the gravel airstrip and the numbers jived with the total they were supposed to take then why bother with paperwork?

Chasing Autumn in Alaska – where to find Fall color!

It was a beautifully clear day, with the fall colors just coming out. I let out gasps as we flew by mountain peaks at 18,000 feet and Austin would even tip the wing to show us something more clearly.  We also flew over the top of glaciers and saw the old abandoned copper mines perched on the mountainsides.

alaska bush flights mccarthy air
Alaska bush plane
view from alaska bush plane
Kennicott Copper Mine
view from bush plane
alaska bush flight wrangell mountain air

How to avoid freezing to death in Alaska – my winter packing list for extreme temperatures

Take Alaska Bush Flights and See Alaska From Above

Air Arctic  Fairbanks and above the Arctic Circle
K2 Aviation Flightseeing in Talkeetna
Wrangell Mountain Air to Wrangel St. Elias National Park


I was a guest of Alaska Tourism during these trips, however all opinions are my own.

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