Julie United States 2 Comments

One of the best ways to experience the immense size and grandeur of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is to take a flightseeing tour.

This national park is massive…13.2 million acres with only a grand total of 101 miles of roads. Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve also contains the largest number of glaciers and some of the tallest mountain peaks in North America. To really experience this park, you need to see it from the sky.

In this guide, we share what to expect on a Wrangell – St. Elias National Park flightseeing tour. There are several tour options that range from quick overviews of the park to longer trips where you get to venture away from the heart of the park. Get recommendations on which tour to choose, check out our photos, and get answers to what might be the biggest question…is a Wrangell – St. Elias flightseeing tour worth it?

Cool Facts about Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is the largest national park in the United States. At 13 million acres, it is larger than Switzerland, about twice the size of Maryland, and six times the size of Yellowstone National Park.

Two roads head into the park: McCarthy Road (59 miles long) and Nabesna Road (42 miles long). That’s a grand total of 101 miles of road in a park that is larger than the country of Switzerland…another reason why it’s best to see this park from the sky. On land, you only get to see a tiny fraction of this awe-inspiring place.

This national park contains the greatest concentration of glaciers in North America. 33% of the park is covered in glacial ice.

Mount Wrangell is an active volcano. It’s the largest volcano in the US outside of Hawaii.

Four mountain ranges are located in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The St. Elias Mountain Range is the highest coastal mountain range in the world.

Within the park are nine of the highest 16 mountain peaks in the USA. Mount St. Elias is the tallest in the park, at 18,008 feet.

Chugach Mountains

Chugach Mountains

Wrangell St. Elias Flightseeing Tour Companies

Wrangell Mountain Air

Wrangell Mountain Air runs flightseeing tours out of McCarthy. McCarthy is located deep in the park. From here, you are just minutes away from some of the tallest peaks and largest glaciers in the Wrangell Mountains. You can also fly out over the Chugach Mountains, the immense Bagley Icefield, and Mount St. Elias.

Not only does Wrangell Mountain Air run flightseeing tours of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, but they also run an air taxi service to other towns in Alaska. If you don’t have plans to drive to McCarthy, you can fly from Chitina to McCarthy using Wrangell Mountain Air for transportation.

Wrangell Mountain Air can also fly you into the backcountry, where you can go on multi-day trekking and backpacking trips deep into the heart of the park.

We used Wrangell Mountain Air for both of our Wrangell St. Elias National Park flightseeing tours.

McCarthy Airport

One of Wrangell Mountain Air’s  planes and the McCarthy Airport.

Copper Valley Air Service

Copper Valley Air Service is located in Glennallen, so they are easier to get to. Their flightseeing tours include the western end of the Wrangell Mountains.

Their one hour flightseeing tour costs $225 per person and includes Mount Wrangell, Mount Sanford, and Mount Drum. For $650 per person, you can take a flightseeing tour and land inside the park.

Currently, there are no helicopter tours of Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve. If you see a helicopter while you are here, it usually means that someone is being rescued.

Flightseeing Tours of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve by Wrangell Mountain Air

If you have time in your itinerary, I highly recommend driving or flying into McCarthy – Kennicott. It is a gorgeous area with lots of interesting history. On a clear day, you get to see some of the tallest peaks and massive glaciers without setting foot on a hiking trail or stepping onto an airplane. And from this location, there are a lot of great flightseeing options.

Wrangell Mountain Air offers four different flightseeing tours. These range from 50 minutes to 2 hours. The shorter the tour, the cheaper the price. You can see photos and a longer overview of each tour on the official website, and they have a great map that helps you understand where you will be going, but here is a very brief overview of what they offer.

Mile High Cliff Tour: 50 minutes, $250 per person

This is the shortest, cheapest tour of the bunch. See the Mile High Cliffs, numerous glaciers, the peaks of the University Range, the Stairway Icefall, and Mount Blackburn.

Thirteen Glacier Tour: 70 minutes, $300 per person

This tour includes everything in the Mile High Cliff Tour, with the addition of the Sourdough Rock Glacier and Skolai Valley. When we were trying to decide between the tours, this is the one the staff recommended because you get to see a little bit of everything.

This was our first of two flightseeing tours and it was absolutely incredible. We saw Dall sheep, sprawling river valleys, lush green mountains, and enormous icefalls and glaciers. Plus, you get to fly over the Root Glacier and the Kennecott Mine, places that are also well worth the visit while on the ground.

Wrangell St Elias Photo

A view of the glaciers in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park from the Thirteen Glacier tour.

 

Flightseeing Wrangell St Elias Photo

Another view of the Wrangell Mountain range from the Thirteen Glacier Tour.

Bagley – University Range Tour: 90 minutes, $325 per person

With 90 minutes, take your pick between flying over the Bagley Icefield, the University Range, or the Wrangell Mountains.

Jewels of the Wrangells Tour: 120 minutes, $395 per person

With two hours, you can work with your pilot to custom design your flightseeing tour in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. This tour gives you enough time to fly out to Mount St. Elias if you want to see the highest peak in the park.

This is the second tour that we took. Tim and I really wanted to see the Bagley Icefield and Mount St. Elias, which is the tallest mountain in the park and the second tallest peak in the USA. We flew over a huge chunk of the national park on this flight and also got to see just how large and expansive the Chugach Mountain range really is.

Mt. St. Elias

Mount St. Elias

Wrangell – St. Elias National Park Flightseeing Tour: What to Expect

Since we used Wrangell Mountain Air for both flights, here is what to expect if you book your flightseeing tour with them.

A half hour before our scheduled flight time, we were picked up at the Kennicott Mountain Lodge by Morgan, one of the staff members with Wrangell Mountain Air. It is a five mile drive on a gravel road to get from Kennicott to the McCarthy Airport. The shuttle service is included with your tour cost.

The McCarthy Airport is basically one gravel runway. No airport control tower. No TSA. No long lines to check your bags. Just awesome mountain views and a covered outdoor waiting area.

Wrangell Mountain Air has quite a few planes, ranging in sizes and chosen based on your group size. Our plane was just large enough to hold four adults: the pilot, Tim, Kara, and me.

Tim and I climbed in the back and Kara was the “co-pilot” in the front. We wore seatbelts and headsets so that we could all communicate once the plane was in the sky. The engines are loud so these headsets are necessary to be able to talk to one another.

Our pilot taxied to the runway and just 10 seconds later we were in the air. Here we go!

Throughout the flight, our pilot pointed out mountains, river valleys, glaciers, and other notable sights. It can be a bit of a bumpy ride with small pockets of air turbulence, but in our case, it was nothing more than what you might experience on a commercial airplane. 

Kara in the Cockpit

View of the cockpit of the airplane.

My favorite part of the flightseeing tour was when we were at our highest, at about 7,500 feet. At times, we were so close to the mountains that it looked like I could reach out and touch them. To look out across these peaks was amazing!

Landing on the gravel runway was smooth and uneventful. After our tour, Morgan drove us back the Kennicott Glacier Lodge.

Wrangell – St. Elias Flightseeing Tour Photos

Click here to see photos and for more information about the Thirteen Glacier Flightseeing Tour (the 70 minute tour) by Wrangell Mountain Air.

Click here to see photos and for more information about 120 minute tour that included the Chugach Mountains, Bagley Icefield, and Mount St. Elias.

Wrangell Mountains

A view of the Wrangell Mountains from the Thirteen Glacier Tour.

Is a Wrangell – St. Elias National Park Flightseeing Tour Worth It?

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is larger than Switzerland, but there are only 101 miles of road in the entire park. Unlike Yellowstone or Death Valley, it is almost impossible to experience this park from land.

Since this park is so large, has so few roads, and is covered in glaciers and mountains, the best way to see it is from the sky. So yes, a flightseeing tour is worth it, in my opinion.

Tim, Kara, and I were absolutely in awe of what we saw on both of the flightseeing tours. To look down at the glaciers, as they flowed between the mountains, to soar past the icefalls and jagged peaks, spot Dall sheep on the cliffs, and to be able to see the massive Bagley Icefield was unforgettable.

Taking a flightseeing tour of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park is one of our favorite national park experiences.

Bagley Icefield

The Bagley Icefield and Mount St. Elias

Which Tour Should You Choose?

If you are trying to spend as little as possible, the 50 minute tour with Wrangell Mountain Air is a great option. On this flight, you get to see the second largest icefall in the world (the largest icefall in the world is the Khumbu Icefall in Nepal), fly over Kennicott and the Root Glacier, and see many peaks in the Wrangell Mountains. It’s a great overview of the heart of the park.

If you want to explore farther, the 70 minute tour adds in a river valley and a better chance to spot Dall sheep.

Beyond the 70 minute tour, the more time you add, the deeper you get to venture in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Wrangell Mountain Air recommends the 70 and 90 minute tours, because you get to see a little bit of everything inside the park.

We did the 70 minute tour (the Thirteen Glacier Tour) and the 120 minute tour (to see Bagley Icefield and Mount St. Elias), on two separate days. Of the two, the 120 minute tour was our favorite. It is mind blowing just how extensive the Chugach and University Mountain Ranges are. And to see the mountain peaks rising up out of the Bagley Icefield was like nothing we have ever seen before.

Wrangell St Elias Glacier

One of many glaciers in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve.

When to Go

Flightseeing tours are offered by Wrangell Mountain Air from May 15 to September 15, when the road McCarthy is open. We visited Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve at the end of June 2021.

Tips to Have the Best Experience

Arrange your flightseeing tour 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.

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

Alaska Flightseeing


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: Thirteen Glacier Flightseeing Tour
WRANGELL – ST. ELIAS: Bagley Icefield and Mount St. Elias Flightseeing Tour
DENALI: 5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Eielson Visitor Center in Denali
DENALI:  Top 10 Hikes in Denali National Park
KATMAI: 8 Amazing Things to Do in Katmai National Park
KATMAI:  The Complete Guide to the Brooks Falls Trail & Viewing Platforms
KENAI FJORDS:  Ice Climbing on the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park
VALDEZ: Columbia Glacier Kayaking Tour: The Complete Guide
ANCHORAGE TO VALDEZ: Driving from Anchorage to Valdez: Best Things to Do, Map & Photos

Are you planning a trip through the United States? Read all of our articles about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.

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Wrangell St Elias National Park Flightseeing

 

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Comments 2

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience and providing the detailed information about flightseeing. I am adding this item to my bucketlist.

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