Julie United States 2 Comments

Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve is home to some of the most rugged, mountainous, ice-covered scenery in the United States. If you want to see mountain peaks, glaciers, and an immense ice field that stretches as far as the eye can see, consider taking a flightseeing tour from McCarthy, Alaska.

Wrangell Mountain Air, the flightseeing company that operates from McCarthy, offers several different flightseeing tours.

We took two of their tours. Our first experience was the Thirteen Glacier Tour, which flies over the Wrangell Mountains and offers a great overview of the heart of the park.

Since this national park is so massive, we wanted to go farther on our next tour. We booked Wrangell Mountain Air’s 120 minute tour, which can be customized to your interests. In our case, Tim and I really wanted to see the Bagley Icefield and Mount St. Elias, the second tallest peak in the United States.

This flightseeing tour was incredible. I thought it would be hard to beat the Thirteen Glacier Tour, but it did. To see the sprawling, endless line of the Chugach Mountains, fly over the largest icefield in North America, and see Mount St. Elias rising out of the field of ice was unforgettable.

In this guide, get an overview of our route, important planning information, and, most importantly, journey over Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve in photos.

Bagley Icefield Flight Route

From the McCarthy Airport, we flew south towards the Gulf of Alaska. Wrangell – St. Elias National Park is immense. Mount St. Elias is located on the border with Canada, near the Gulf of Alaska. From McCarthy, it is about an 80-mile flight to get out this way and it takes about 30 minutes. 

On this flight, once we got to the Bagley Icefield, our pilot headed east. We could see Mount St. Elias right outside of our windows, before heading back north to McCarthy. On the flight back, we flew over the University Range and the Wrangell Mountains.

The flight lasted 120 minutes. We did this at the very end of June 2021.

Bagley Icefield Flightseeing Map

Map of the flightseeing route

Bagley Icefield and Mount St. Elias Flightseeing Tour in Photos

Our experience started at McCarthy Airport. We met Kelly, our pilot with Wrangell Mountain Air and got situated in the airplane, which coincidentally was the same plane as our prior flight. Wrangell Mountain Air has a fleet of airplanes and they seem to be constantly shuttling people around, either as a taxi service or on flightseeing tours.

McCarthy Airport

McCarthy Airport

 

McCarthy Alaska

McCarthy, Alaska and the Wrangell Mountains

From McCarthy, we flew south towards the coast and the Gulf of Alaska. On the first part of the flight, we flew over numerous river valleys, all of which are fed by the melting of the glaciers.

Chitina River

Chitina River

Before our visit to Alaska, I hadn’t heard of the Chugach Mountain Range. I don’t know why, because it is enormous. If you drive from Anchorage to Glennallen, Valdez, or McCarthy, you will drive right along this sprawling mountain range.

We flew over the Chugach Mountain Range twice on this flightseeing tour and it is impressive. Snow-capped mountain peaks stretched as far as we could see. It was jaw-dropping just how many peaks we saw today…far too many to count.

Chugach Mountains View

Chugach Mountains

 

Chugach Mountains

Chugach Mountains

 Chitina River Flightseeing

Another view of the Chitina River

 

Flightseeing Wrangell St Elias

Tana Glacier

 

Glacier Wrangell St Elias

Granite Range Flightseeing

Granite Range

Beyond the Chugach Mountains is the Bagley Icefield. This is the largest nonpolar icefield in North America. It is 127 miles (200 km) long, 6 miles (10 km) wide, and 3,000 feet (1 km) thick. This icefield feeds numerous glaciers and peeking out of the top of this icefield are jagged mountain peaks.

Bagley Icefield Mount St Elias

Mount St Elias Photo

The Bagley Icefield and Mount St. Elias

 St Elias Range

 

Some of those jagged mountain peaks are among the tallest in the world. Mount St. Elias, at 18,008 feet (5489 meters) is the second tallest peak in the United States and Canada. Just to the east we could also see Mount Logan (19,551 feet, 5959 meters), the tallest peak in Canada.

Wrangell St Elias Mountains

Mount St Elias in June

Mount St Elias is the rocky mountain behind the snow-covered ridge in the foreground.

 Mount St Elias Flightseeing

Mount St. Elias

 

Flightseeing Alaska

Wrangell Air Cockpit

Kelly, our pilot, and Kara in the cockpit

 Alaska Flightseeing

Just beyond the mountains you can see the Gulf of Alaska.

 

St Elias

Another view of Mount St. Elias

 

Mt Logan

Mt Logan

 

Mt St Elias Alaska

Flying north, away from Mount St. Elias

To get back to McCarthy, we flew a slightly different route. Kelly took us through the University Range and then back to McCarthy.

Wrangell St Elias National Park

Flightseeing in Alaska

Wrangell St Elias Photo

The number of mountains is incredible!

 University Range

University Range Alaska

University Range

 

Wrangell Mountains

Wrangell Mountains

Tim, Kara, and I loved this experience. To see the seemingly endless range of mountain peaks, look out over the Bagley Icefield and numerous glaciers, and to fly right past Mount St. Elias was incredible. I highly recommend this tour if want to see some of the tallest peaks and largest stretches of ice in North America.

About this Flightseeing Tour

Company: Wrangell Mountain Air
Cost: $395 per person
Duration: 120 minutes

The cost of the flightseeing tour includes the shuttle service from McCarthy and Kennicott. We also tipped our pilot.

Tips to Have the Best Experience

Wrangell Mountain Air also offers other flightseeing tours of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve. To learn more, read our Guide to Flightseeing Tours of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park.

Arrange your flightseeing trip in advance, because they can sell out. We arranged our flightseeing trip two months in advance and had no issue getting the date and time we wanted.

Flightseeing trips can be cancelled during bad weather. If your flight is cancelled, there is a chance that it can be rescheduled later in the day or the following day, depending on availability. If your flight is cancelled due to bad weather, you will get a refund of your payment.

Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. It gets chilly inside the plane once you get up to 7,000 feet.


If you have any questions about taking a flightseeing tour in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about Alaska

WRANGELL-ST. ELIAS NATIONAL PARK: For a full list of our Wrangell-St. Eilas National Park articles, plus important planning tips, check out our Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Travel Guide.

BEST OF WRANGELL-ST. ELIAS: Top experiences in Wrangell-St. Elias include hiking the Root Glacier Trail, taking a flightseeing tour, and hiking to Bonanza Mine. For the full list, read our article Best Things to Do in Wrangell-St. Elias.

KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK: While in Kenai Fjords National Park, hike the Harding Icefield Trail, cruise the Northwestern Fjord, go ice climbing on the Exit Glacier, or go kayaking in front of Aialik Glacier.

BEST OF DENALI NATIONAL PARK: For a list of top experiences, read our article Best things to do in Denali National Park. We also have a guide to the best hikes in Denali.

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: For more information about the camera gear we carry, check out our Travel Photography Gear Guide. And tips and tricks for taking great photos in our article How to Take Better Photos while Traveling.

NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries.

 

Read all of our articles about Alaska in our Alaska Travel Guide and the United States in our United States Travel Guide.

 

 

Wrangell St Elias National Park Bagley Icefield

 

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Comments 2

  1. Avatar for Mike Hinojosa
    Mike Hinojosa

    Hi there. Your site is great! I love all of the detailed information you provide for all of the different places you’ve been! 3 questions right now:

    1. These photos of the different Wrangell flightseeing tours – are these taken from the plane through the window? It just seems like your photos are incredible and from a plane, I’d expect some sort of glare or window issue, but maybe not. If you could elaborate on that, I’d really appreciate it.
    2. To go along with the first question, what type of camera set up do you use to get these amazing photos? I’m looking to upgrade and I’m very curious to see what you use – especially for the flightseeing tours.
    3. If you had to only pick one flightseeing tour in Alaska, would you choose a Denali flightseeing tour, Wrangell flightseeing tour (and which one) or something else that I’m not thinking of. I’m really just looking to see the most mountains and jagged, snow covered peaks that I can. Any extras are just gravy.

    Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Mike. Yes, all of these photos were taken right through the airplane window. Somehow we got very lucky with glare every time we did this. I did not use a polarizer but I wonder if that would help. For all of the flightseeing tours that we took in Alaska, we had 2 cameras going: a Canon 5D Mark III with a 16-35mm lens and a Canon 5D Mark IV with a 24-70 mm lens. Tim and I swapped cameras back and forth depending on what we were seeing. Looking at the photos, I can’t tell which photos were taken with which lens. With a wide angle, you have more of a chance to catch some of the plane in your photo but you can also get a wider view.
       
      If you have plans to visit Denali NP when the road is closed, a flightseeing tour of Denali gives you the best chance to actually see Denali, since you won’t be able to see much of it while inside the park. But if you want to see the most peaks you can, go to Wrangell St. Elias. I have never seen so many peaks in one flightseeing tour as we did at that park. You will see tons of peaks on both tours. I think most people who only plan to take one tour tend to take the Thirteen Glacier Tour, since you get a nice mix of mountains, glaciers, and flying over Kennicott.
       
      Cheers, Julie

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