Like most visitors, Dale and I took a floatplane to Brooks Camp, which is in Katmai National Park and can only be reached by air or water.
Dale had been on a floatplane before, but this was my first time on such a unique form of transport, and it was very, very cool. When the experience starts out with a photo-op like this, it’s gotta be great, right?
Floatplanes, a type of seaplane, have pontoons installed under the fuselage to produce buoyancy. Not surprisingly, they’re ubiquitous in Alaska, where water is abundant and many destinations are off the road system.
Because the floatplanes going from King Salmon to Brooks Camp had very specific weight limits, all cargo, including the passengers, had to be weighed. Each of us went through the process of standing on a large scale in the King Salmon airport, our weight displayed for the entire terminal to see.
Once everything was processed, we were escorted to our plane. The passengers were carefully arranged across the five available seats so that our weight was dispersed evenly. Because I’m short, I got to sit up front with the pilot both coming and going. I sat very close to the instrumentation, which was a little nerve-wracking; one wrong move and I could’ve sent us awry. Needless to say, I kept my movements to a minimum.
The pilots on both the outgoing and return flights were exactly as I’d imagined a bush pilot would look—rough around the edges with an air of cocky confidence. They made me feel slightly better about riding in what was little more than a tin can on skis!
I was full of questions and desperately wanted to ask these men about their experiences flying in Alaska, but the noise inside the plane made conversation impossible. I wore earplugs and also motion sickness wristbands because the ride was a bumpy one.
We were flying over the Alaska Peninsula, an arm of land in southwestern Alaska that extends from the mainland to the Aleutian Islands and separates the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean.
The Aleutian Mountain Range, which is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and one of the world’s most active volcanic regions, covers much of the peninsula. It’s here that Novarupta, the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, took place. (See this post for more on that fascinating event). Many of Alaska’s largest lakes—Iliamna, Becharof, Ugashik, Naknek, and Lake Clark—can also be found on the peninsula.
The area contains only a scattering of small communities, and much of the peninsula is protected in the form of wilderness areas. These include Katmai and Lake Clark National Park and Preserves as well as Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, and three national wildlife refuges (Becharof, Alaska Peninsula, and Izembek).
The flight, while short and covering only a small part of the Alaska Peninsula, allowed us to appreciate just how pristine and beautiful it is:
As we neared Brooks Camp, we got a view of the scenery that would dominate our lives for the rest of the week—Naknek Lake, the mouth of the Brooks River, the Point and spit, and the infamous bridge, site of many epic bear jams. (See these posts for more about our destination: Brooks Camp and Brooks Camp Campground.)
And when we landed, one of Brooks Camp’s most famous ambassadors was there to greet us, sort of (she was asleep on the job):
- If you ever get a chance to take a ride on a floatplane, go for it! Consider wearing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones, and if you suffer from motion sickness, you may want to bring wristbands or whatever remedy helps you to cope.
- Here’s a blog post from BallandBuck.com that goes into great depth about Alaska’s float planes: “Floatplanes of Alaska.”
- Incidentally, this was my first flight on a prop plane as well. Here’s the PenAir prop plane that we took from Anchorage to King Salmon and back: