So You Want to Fly to Alaska


David F. Rogers

Copyright © 2002 David F. Rogers. All rights reserved.

Flying to Alaska is easily accomplished one leg at a time. I've done it in my E33A Bonanza and in a Cessna 182. I've been as far north as Point Barrow. It takes some flight planning, a well maintained aircraft and patience. Get the right paper charts and study them. Take a hard look at the aircraft and do all those little maintenance items you have been putting off. Change the oil - you are going to put 40-50 hours on the aircraft. Take the time to do this right. If you think it will take 10 days, then allow at least two weeks. Don't absolutely have to be back on a particular day. This is an adventure, enjoy it.

From the east coast your gateway to Alaska and the Alaska Highway is Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada. But, how to get there? From the New England and Mid Atlantic areas head for the Buffalo/Rochester area for your first refueling stop - bring your lunch to save time. After refueling cross into Canadian airspace via the Toronto area, continue north up the pennisula via Wiarton and Sault St. Marie. If you need to refuel at Sault St. Marie, be sure to land on the US side of the border. From Sault St. Marie head almost directly west along the south side of Lake Superior towards the Duluth area. A second fuel stop east of Duluth around Marquette, MI is probably in order. From around Marquette it is about 500 nm into Winnipeg for your overnight stop. On the way to Winnipeg you can stop in International Falls, MN, refuel and call Canadian customs (1-888-CAN PASS) and hop over the border and clear customs at Fort Frances, ON. Alternatively, you can call CAN PASS from your fuel stop in the Marquette area and clear customs in Winnipeg. Be prepared to give them a good estimate of your arrival time in Winnipeg. Don't be afraid to land at the international airports in Canada, they really are not that busy. On one trip we landed in Winnipeg and parked at the Esso Avitat. They took very good care of us, with customs on their ramp, a commercial rate at the Fort Hotel, and transportation to and from the hotel. Total distance is about 1250 nm in three hops. At a ground speed of 150 kts that is a little over eight hours of flying. You will sleep well.

From Winnipeg it is about 400 nm to Saskatoon which is a good refueling stop. From Saskatoon it is about 300 nm to Calgary and a bit less than 300 nm on to Edmonton. Winnipeg direct to Calgary is about 650 nm which is a bit of a stretch flying west into the wind. If you're worried about fuel then stop in Medicine Hat which is about a 125 nm short of Calgary. From Winnipeg west, and especially from Saskatoon west, you will be flying over the Canadian prairie. The Canadian prairie is wonderfully interesting, if a bit sparsely settled.

Do go to Calgary, layover a day, rent a car and drive up to Banff in the Canadian Rockies. It is spectacular. It is not far and by this time you will need a rest from flying. Besides this is suppose to be fun and not a marathon. You did that on the first day!

From Calgary fly 125 nm north to Edmonton and land at Edmonton International. This is another overnight stop because you want to go see the West Edmonton Mall. We have twice used the Esso Avitat and The Edmonton Inn which is right across the street. They have provided super service. After you are settled, call a cab and go to the Mall. This place is amazing - a roller coaster inside the Mall, submarine rides inside the Mall, a swimming beach with a wave maker inside the Mall and more shops than you can imagine. The Mall, which is the largest in North America, has 57 entrances and covers 48 city blocks, all under cover. Hey, it gets really cold here in the winter.

From Edmonton your next stop will be on the Alaska Highway which officially begins at Dawson Creek. (There is a chart of this route at that you can download. Click on Flying Adventures.) Make sure you have an Alaska Highway chart (published by the Canadians) with you. From Edmonton head northwest via Whitecourt, Grande Prairie and Dawson Creek, where you will pick up the Highway. Continue along the Highway via Fort St. John to complete the just under 500 nm trip into Fort Nelson for lunch. You might want to bring your own.

You definitely will want good VFR weather for the bit from Fort Nelson, where the Highway turns west and a bit south, through the Rocky Mountain Foothills along the shore of Muncho Lake and the Laird River past Watson Lake (a good over night stop) and along the shores of beautiful Teslin Lake. At the northwest end of Teslin Lake The Highway makes a sharp left turn to the southwest and then in a few miles a sharp right turn along the shore of Marsh Lake and on into Whitehorse. Be aware that the Whitehorse airport sits up on a table top mount above the town.

Whitehorse is a good overnight stop. Check with the Shell dealer to see if any of his rooms are available. If so, we recommend staying with him. You can take the local bus into town for dinner (and to buy breakfast). Make sure you check the time of the last return bus. You might very well see (and park next to) F15s on the ramp. I won't tell you about the wonderful windsock at the airport. You need to go see that one for yourself.

After Whitehorse continue west past Haines Junction and along the southwest shore of beautiful Kluane Lake past Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek and on into Northway, AK where you must land and clear customs. Be sure to call customs before you leave Whitehorse with an estimated time of arrival. You have now flown to Alaska!

At this point you have some choices. You can continue northwest to Fairbanks or turn southwest for Anchorage. I recommend on this first trip you head for the Anchorage area. In any case from Northway you must first continue northwest to Tok Junction where just past the airport hang a hard left onto the Glenn Highway southwest through Gulkana and into the Anchorage area. Here I suggest that you bypass Anchorage itself and turn north for Talkeetna (get an Anchorage VFR Terminal Area Chart and use it). Talkeetna is where you are going to have the thrill of your life.

When you get to Talkeetna go to Hudson's Flying Service (907-733-2322) and book a flight in one of their Cessna 185s equipped with retractable skis to fly up to and land on the Ruth Glacier. The flight up to the glacier is spectacular and the landing and take off from the glacier is rather interesting. I have done it twice. It is not cheap but worth every penny and you will never forget it.

After Talkeetna you can continue north-northeast to Fairbanks or trace your route back to Anchorage. If you go towards Fairbanks up the Parks Highway (and along the railroad) you will have spectacular views of Denali (Mt. McKinley) on your left as you pass a half dozen glaciers. If you are adventuresome you can stop at either the gravel field at McKinley National Park (INR) or the paved field at Healy River (HRR). Neither is attended and both have interesting comments in the AFD and/or the AOPA Guide so read before you go. I have not been into either one.

If time is a consideration then at Fairbanks you can turn back southeast for Tok Junction and Northway and retrace your route back into Edmonton. If time permits, on your way back take a side trip to Glacier National Park, Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park before continuing east. We have seen more wildlife in Custer State Park than anywhere else in our travels.

With adequate time you can continue north from Fairbanks for Kotzebue and then on to Pt. Barrow. Kotzebue is a true Eskimo (Inuit) village that has no highway access. Here you will see the true High Arctic. Pt. Barrow is a bit more developed than Kotzebue. One of the aviation interests in Pt. Barrow is the Will Rogers/Wily Post Memorial. In 1935 Rogers and Post crashed and died just a few miles short of Pt. Barrow.

From Kotzebue you can head back south through Nome and Bethel (a good fuel stop). Homer on The Spit is famous for salmon fishing and is a reasonable overnight stop but be careful if the salmon are running - it will be crowded - the fishermen stand shoulder- to-shoulder along The Spit. Continue on to Anchorage where you can either retrace your route up the Glenn Highway and back along The Highway through Edmonton or attempt the flight down the Inland Passage to Vancouver and Washington Stare.

If you attempt the Inland Passage be very careful of the weather. A good fuel stop if you miss Anchorage is Yakutat. Juneau and Ketchikan are good overnight stops. On the way into Juneau fly up Glacier Bay which is spectacular. The approaches into Juneau and Ketchikan are both rather interesting and are best first attempted in good VFR weather. For example, the approach from the north into Ketchikan is along and below a high mountain ridge to your west!

If you go to Pt. Barrow one interesting return route is to fly across the top of Alaska through Deadhorse and into Canada at Inuvik and thence south along the McKenzie River.

So there you have it, your first Alaska Adventure. There are many more details along with over 200 images and chart pieces on the CDs.

After Alaska, how about trying the Canadian High Arctic above the Arctic Circle, or maybe the Caribbean or across the North Atlantic? Check out the CDs.

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Copyright © 2002 David F. Rogers. All rights reserved.