Up Where the Alaskan Glaciers Form: Alaska Helicopter Tours

We had a two-hour drive from our hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, to get to Palmer to take our flightseeing tour with Alaska Helicopter Tours around the Knik Glacier valley in the Chugach Mountains.  

We rented a car to get to the helicopter tour. The dealer gave us a new Toyota Camry. Wait! We’ve never had a brand-new car in all our 42 years of marriage. This crisp, leather-smelling car required no key to start it. I made my husband wear the car fob around his neck, terribly afraid we’d lose it somewhere or leave it in the car.

Then the car talked to us. We weren’t used to a female voice coming through the speakers. But she sure helped us navigate the city and find Old Glenn Highway. The road cut around mountains and through forests. A female moose and her baby ate tree leaves and grass right beside the narrow, supposedly two-lane road. We crossed the smooth-as-glass Knik River. Snow-covered peaks painted a dramatic background. Forested mountains filled in the foreground.

We enjoyed tea and coffee at the Raven’s Nest, the little restaurant at the Alaska Helicopter Tours site at the end of East Knik River Road in Palmer. We took the drinks out to the veranda.

Six helicopters sat on pads, ready for flight. Two bigger ones and four smaller ones. Our flight was at 12:30 p.m. We sat in chairs, sipping hot drinks at 10:08 a.m., discussing Alaska and how lucky we were to be enjoying our adventures. The sky had great swaths of blue. No wind. Mild temperatures. Perfect weather.


I became a little anxious. This was our first time in a helicopter. We had quite a few flights for this trip so far. And had many more to take. But in a helicopter, you can see where you are in that big beautiful space called sky. We would be closer to the ground. Surveying it slowly, catching every detail like the eagles who flew around us. We would experience the glaciers rather than just fly high over them.

I nibbled on a protein bar that I stole from UnCruise. Well…they had baskets full of these bars every day for anyone to take. So, I took a few extras. For later adventures in our trip.

Shane was our pilot, when our turn finally came up. He told us not to grab the door as we stepped high to climb into the helicopter. The door wasn’t strong enough to hold our weight. My anxiety swelled. Just a bit. How flimsy was this glass bug that would carry us up into the mountain range and among the glaciers?

We donned headsets to hear each other flawlessly. My husband graciously allowed me to sit up front. Or maybe he just felt safer in the back where he couldn’t see beneath him.

The sky filled in all around me, or rather our helicopter. It’s like the ultimate carnival ride. I felt no pressure holding me back on takeoff. We hovered. We pulled ourselves up alongside of mountains, streams, glaciers, and grasslands. Shane offered information about hanging glaciers, which hung off cliffsides, and terminal glaciers that emptied out into the water.

A hanging glacier off a cliffside.

A mama black bear and her cub browsed the tundra. Some Dall sheep and white mountain goats grazed on almost vertical slopes. A moose drank from a small glacial lake. They didn’t care about our whap, whap, whap.

We landed on the slopes of a mountain to view giant blue icebergs floating in Lake George, which is about three miles across, according to Shane. We heard the crack of a calving glacier, when a slice of glacier ice falls into the milky, pale green water.

Shane flew us along the mountain range and glaciers. Spooky blue crevasses gaped below us, and immediately, I thought of how someone could fall into one of them. And never be found. Until much, much later.

Then Shane told us about a private plane carrying passengers in 1952 crashed up in these glaciers. At the time, no one could find wreckage. Goose bumps rose on my arms under my sweatshirt and raincoat.

The story continued. In about 2015, someone flying over the area started to see wreckage in the glacier. They’ve identified some of the body parts or “souls” as Shane said. These glaciers move about 50 feet a year, he said. I tried to slide down into my seat, but I was buckled in too tightly.

We landed on the side of another mountain. Streams of white-ribbon waterfalls, full of ancient, melted snow, fell from slopes in the distance. Purple lupine dressed the tundra before us.

As we landed atop the middle of the Knik Glacier, I looked out my door.

“Wow,” I told my husband. “Even Shane parks in a puddle.”

The guys laughed. There were puddles everywhere because of the sunshine and temperatures.

We donned ice spikes, or crampons, over our boots to walk the ice. I crunched my way down to the crystal clear, azure-colored melt pool to touch its ice-cold surface and fill my water bottle. A pristine, glacial pool. Refreshingly pure. The landscape, or icescape as it is, changes daily, Shane told us, depending on temperature. 

I learned so much from this adventure. Black dirt dresses the ice from a glacier. This dirt is bits of rock from the glacier scraping down the mountainside. The silt in glacial waters is the debris from the glacier breaking or moving. The toe of the glacier is where the calving happens. It’s the terminal end of the glacier. It recedes up the mountain from which it came. The moraine is what’s left by the receding glacier.

The College Fjord and the Colony Glacier. I can’t even remember all the names of the mountains and lakes and glaciers we’ve seen. A truly exciting adventure in the belly of a glass bug. Well worth the price. We go through life, but once. Don’t be afraid to try new adventures.

4 thoughts on “Up Where the Alaskan Glaciers Form: Alaska Helicopter Tours”

    • Absolutely, Alex. Totally amazing! It’s always a pleasure seeing you here at Camping with Five Kids. Have a beautiful week!

  1. It is very hard for someone to explain a glacier to another person without first seeing one up close. Then it very hard to find the words to express what you saw.
    I can’t encourage people enough to go and see this marvel of nature if the opportunity is presented to them .

    • Perfectly said, William. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here at Camping with Five Kids. Have a beautiful week!


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