Remote Alaska Airport Runways
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
If you're looking for a wild adventure, visit any of these isolated Alaska airport locations. Some of the landings can be amazing, others might make you cringe. Alaska is arguably the least-connected state in America in terms of a viable road system. Aviation touches nearly all aspects of life in the Last Frontier, as it is estimated approximately 90% of the state is not served by roads. With only a small fraction of the state being accessible via personal vehicle, it only makes sense that flying would be a major part of The Alaska Life. In fact, Alaska has roughly six times as many pilots per capita and 16 times more aircrafts per capita, in comparison to the rest of the United States. To add, the Alaska Airports Association reports that Alaska has 287 total public use land-based airports, 44 heliports, and approximately 735 recorded landing areas throughout the state. When you visit an Alaska airport or runway in the middle of nowhere you’re sure to see some amazing scenery. But, the scenic sights also come with a plethora of risk factors. When Alaska's infamous storm systems roll in off the mountains or the sea, you'll look at those tiny slivers of runway in a whole new (terrifying) light and cringe. But as the saying goes, "To experience the real Alaska, you've gotta get off the road system first." Check out some of the most wickedly wild runways in the Last Frontier, and be sure to hold onto your seat...
1 – Sitka, Alaska Airport Credit, ElJet’s Aviation Blog Flickr, Pat Groves Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport is a state owned, public-use airport located on the west side of Sitka. It has been ranked as one of the top 10 scariest airports in the U.S. by ABC World News. Although the views of the Tongass National Forest are undeniably beautiful, it's impossible to fly in here without being on the edge of your seat! The airport has an elevation of 26 feet above sea level and has an asphalt surface measuring 7,200 by 150 feet.
2 – Kotzebue, Alaska Airport Wikimedia Flickr, Travis In the Northwest Arctic Borough, Kotzebue is the largest community and economic hub in the area. Kotzebue lies on a gravel spit at the end of the Baldwin Peninsula in the Kotzebue Sound, and the airport landing strip is enough to make you close your eyes until you're safely landed on the ground. In town, a view of the airport (which has a runway that parts a lake) can be seen from the southwestern end of the cemetery.
3 – Dutch Harbor (Unalaska), Alaska Airport Flickr, NOAA Photo Library Flickr, Tom Doyle Anyone who has ever worked hard in the commercial fishing industry, has likely been to Dutch Harbor (aka 'the rock') a time or two. The runway itself measures roughly 4,100 by 100 feet. Talk about a tight squeeze. Oh yeah, and when the wind is blowing - YIKES! Hang on tight! This Alaska Airport will make you cringe.
4 – Ketchikan, Alaska Airport Pinterest, Mally T Flickr, Rocky A This gorgeous city facing the Inside Passage is enough to 'wow' even the most seasoned of travelers in your crowd. Take the 'bridge to nowhere' (aka a short ferry ride) from Graviana Island, where the Ketchikan International Airport is located, into the actual town of Ketchikan. Flying into this narrow runway is an incredibly scenic and unique experience.
5 – Adak, Alaska Airport Flick, Paxson Woelber Pinterest, Kiley Located in the Andreanof Islands group, Adak is a remote town (and island) in the Aleutian Islands that was formerly the location of U.S. Army and Naval military bases. The town has a unique history, and with an airport which has an elevation of 18 feet above sea level and measuring 7,790 by 200 feet, it provides a fair share of “screeches and squeals” from guests on board landing aircrafts.
6 – Valdez, Alaska Airport Wikipedia Flickr, Total Heliski It's impossible to visit Valdez without falling madly in love with the towering mountains that surround the small city. Combine that with the views overlooking Prince William Sound, and you'll probably never want to leave. The airport has an elevation of 121 feet above mean sea level with one asphalt paved runway which measures 6,500 by 150 feet.
7 – Nome, Alaska Airport Wikimedia, Sir Mildred Pierce Credit, J. David Rogers’ Military Service Located on the southern Seward Peninsula coast, getting into Nome is quite the wild adventure! Approaching over Norton Sound in the Bering Sea can be pretty spooky when the weather is rough, but the views sure are wide-spread and beautifully unique. The elevation of the airport is 38 feet above mean sea level, and there are two runways with asphalt surfaces: one is 6,000 by 150 feet and the second is 6,175 by 150 feet.
8 – Cordova, Alaska Airport Credit, Van’s Air Force Forums This charming town located near the mouth of the Copper River is filled with breathtaking scenery. As you fly in over the head of Orca Inlet on the east side of Prince William Sound, you'll be speechless as you observe the beauty of Cordova. The Cordova Municipal Airport has one runway that measures 1,800 by 60 feet with a gravel surface. It also has one seaplane landing area that measures 8,000 by 3,000 feet.
9 – Kodiak, Alaska Flickr, Ann Barker Alaska's Emerald Island of Kodiak is the second largest island in the United States, located in Southcentral Alaska. The island is separated from the mainland of Alaska by the Shelikof Strait. The Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport is a public and military use airport which has three asphalt-paved runways measuring 7,533 by 150 feet, 5,400 by 150 feet, and 5,010 by 150 feet.
10 – Yakutat, Alaska Flickr, Peter Flynn The beautiful community of Yakutat is located at the very tip of Southeast Alaska with an isolated location along the Gulf of Alaska. The Yakutat Bay is actually known for having some of the best surfing waves in the United States. But first, you must get there to enjoy all the fun. The airport in town has two runways: one is 6,475 by 150 feet with a concrete surface and the second is 7,745 by 150 feet with an asphalt surface.
11 – Homer, Alaska Flickr, chuck t Alaska's “halibut fishing capital of the world” on the Kenai Peninsula is a true recreational paradise. But if you decide that making the trip via personal vehicle takes too long for your liking, consider flying to the city of Homer, Alaska. The elevation of the airport is 84 feet above sea level and has one designated runway that measures 6,701 by 150 feet on asphalt pavement. There is also a facility for floatplanes to fly in on nearby Beluga Lake.
12 – Bethel, Alaska Flickr, Travis Located in Western Alaska, Bethel is the main airport on the Kuskokwim River and it also serves as the main administrative and transportation hub for the outlying 56 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. This community is only accessible via air or river. In town you will find three runways: the first measures at 6,400 by 150 feet with an asphalt surface; the second measures at 4,000 by 75 feet with an asphalt surface; and the third measures at 1,858 by 75 feet with an asphalt/gravel surface.
13 – Seward, Alaska Credit, Experimental Airplane Although Seward Alaska is on the road system (and is also a very popular cruise ship port), sometimes driving just takes far too long, so flying is the best alternative. The state-owned, public-use airport sits at 22 feet above sea level and has two asphalt paved runways: the first measures at 4,240 by 100 feet and the second measures at 2,279 by 75 feet.
14 – Nunapitchuk, Alaska Flickr, Travis Located in the Bethel Census Area with a population of around 496 residents, the village of Nunapitchuk has an airport with one runway that measures at 2,040 by 60 feet with a gravel surface.
15 – Kasigluk, Alaska Flickr, Travis This tiny village with less that 600 residents is home to the Kasigluk Airport. The state-owned public-use airport has one designated gravel-surface runway that measures at 3,000 by 60 feet.
16 – Akun, Alaska Flickr, Tom Doyle Located in the Aleutian Islands, Akun Island is part of the Fox Islands subgroup. The Akutan Airport located on Akun Island has an elevation of 133 feet above sea level with one designated runway that has an asphalt surface measuring 4,500 by 75 feet.
17 – Ambler, Alaska Credit, Alaska DOT & PF The remote village of Ambler is located in the Northwest Arctic Borough and has a population of roughly 289 year-round residents. The Ambler Airport is a state-owned public-use facility with an elevation of 334 feet above sea level. It has two runways with gravel surfaces: the first measures at 2,400 by 60 feet and the second measures at 3,000 by 60 feet.
Looking for more where that came from? If you are intrigued by Alaska's flying culture, be sure to check out this wonderful article; The Master Pilot - Surviving Against The Odds. While you're at it, enjoy this lighter read that will have you bursting at the seams with laughter; Alaska Tourist Quotes - 12 Quotes From The Last Frontier.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if we left any of your favorite jaw-dropping Alaska airport locations off the list. If you're a pilot or an avid traveler who frequently flies to Alaska's many remote airports to enjoy the beauty that The Alaska Life has to offer, we want to live vicariously through you! Share your favorite Alaska flying moments with us on our Facebook page by clicking HERE, and they might just end up being featured in one of our next blog posts.
Written by Courtney Dowd-Stanley
Hi Anna, I remember working with you. They forgot to mention Whittier.
I flew Alaska in mid 90s, I remember taking fully loaded Cherokee 6s out of Eek on the 1300’ runway. It was full power to the last 50’ then pull full flaps to pop the airplane into ground effect. Book says the 6 needs about 3000’ feet of runway….Used to land on the river when ice would get thick enough to support the weight. Eek is permanently etched in my flying memory
I worked for Wien at Deadhorse as a ground crew leadman from early 1975 through 1977.
On a flight to Anchorage the 737 made a turn over Fire Island. I was seated on the left side in the farthest row forward in a window seat. During the turn a wind shear caused the plane to violently flip on it,s side with the left wing pointing straight down. The engines were throttled back in preparation for landing. The plane began falling. When the plane flipped over to the left my drink fell straight to the window without spilling on me. The stewardess had. Just arrived to pick up drinks. She fell into the lap of the passenger to my right. The pilots throttled up immediately but jet engines response is slower than reciprocating types thus it really didn,t look like we would make it. As the plane got close to the runway it began to level out but it didn,t look good. When the plane got the runway it bounced a couple of times and I noticed the left wing almost hit the runway surface. The pilots hit the brakes hard and the plane swerved to each side with the smell of burning rubber being quite noticeable. The plane was close to the end of the runway when it finally stopped. The passengers gave the crew an ovation and then most of us went to the Upper One bar for drinks.
Ric Sparrevohn is my Brother and I can confirm that Sparrevohn AFS was named after our dad, not our grandfather.
You’re right Joy. Alaska Airlines pilots ARE the best. I triained then for 14 years, and I was trained by the best. What we do now is different than on the 737-200, but still challenging. On a beautiful day, Dutch Harbor was easy with 3900 ft of runway. It is the weather that makes it a challenge, in all the Alaska Airports. I only have 20 months left before I’m 65, and I’ll miss the flying thru SE Alaska.
Flew in and out of Juneau on Alaska Airlines and on a small plane from Haines. Never was I scared.
Stony River and Lime Village
Wow! My husband worked in Sparrevohn, interesting to know the background on the name. Thanks.
I spent 27 months there and flew all over Alaska in the mid 50’s in a Taylorcraft, stripped down ( including communications) for bush strips. We managed to escape unscathed 3 times while over shooting the small bush strips. On one fishing trip we hit a down draft, nosed over and damaged the prop. We waited for three days before being sighted by a military air crew. I laid out an S O S out of rocks on the strip, they parachuted us a radio and relayed the message back to Fairbanks. Another bush pilot picked us up, we had him take us back with a new prop. The craft had skin damage so we stripped it and reskinned and had the engine checked out while it was down. Getting it back in the air, we headed for Eagle River for moose hunting, unfortunately the A&E neglected to safety wire the throttle control. It shut down near Anchorage with my friend picking up a retired general after dropping me off at the cabin. The passenger was unharmed and my friend only suffered a broken arm. A USAF chopper picked me up at the hunting cabin, they told us no more rescues, I guess we went over our limit! I never made it back after leaving in 1957 so many good memories.
I, too, am surprised that the Juneau airport was not included. Some of these suggested additions may be beautiful but I thought we were looking at difficult and scary. I was on the Alaska Air that went off the runway in Ketchikan in the 70’s. I’ve also been on many of the others but Juneau has scared the wits out of me more times than I can count! You know it’s not good when the pilot gives you a “heads-up” before taking off and/or landing!!
I spent 30+ years working for the State of AK as an aviation specialist. I landed at most of these multiple times and dozens more, including St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea. It was a challenge most of the time and sometimes you wondered why you were doing this.
The Supplement says “go-around unlikely,”
flew to Ketchikan in the 70s and the runway was the water landing in a "Grumman Goose!!
Why not Shemya?? Small island with runway along the ocean. Always high winds. Rained and snowed sideways. Spent four years there. Air Force base only thing on the Island.
Yeah, Wrangell can be just as hairy as Ketchikan.
Kotzebue did not mention how many runways in Kotzebue, nor the length or width and the type of surface. I am also surprised that Kivalina was not mentioned either which is close to being washed out by the yearly fall storms!
I hauled the old bowling alley out of there 25 years ago…
Don’t forget about Rohn. https://www.flickr.com/photos/alaska48/2252264746/in/photolist-35WgS1-4Fdc4N-35RDQ8-35WgLS-4ALfH5-35REzH-35RF7e-35REci-4AVQU9-4r2rQN-4qXbFc-4Fdd7J-4r9dxH-4qXaQX-4r2o2y-4qX4Kz-4k1w1W-4Ayb4b-4r2jzL
We landed once in Scammon Bay sliding in under the cloud base which was at the same height as the bluff.
Wrangell’s airstrip can be fun to land on as well :)
Strange, I’ve landed at several of these airports but the scariest landing I ever experienced was landing at ANC (Ted Stevens) … coming across the inlet we hit a down draft just before the sea wall. Never knew a 737 could climb so fast! We managed to clear the sea wall but the touch down was right at the edge of the runway.
We are hoping to get this airport between here an port grhm !! Hopefully they will get it started meaning we will share a airport with PG but still the same
With the list I understand the limitations of listing all of the beautiful Alaska airports, but still disappointed that Wrangell’s airport isn’t on it. Flying in and out of that town one observing stunning views of the Stikine River, its delta, but also upper Sumner Strait, Mitkof and Zarembo Islands to name a few more superlative views.
I would also nominate my hometown of Petersburg’s airport as well. Entering and leaving that airport there are outstanding views of the Coast Mountain Range, Thomas Bay and Devil’s Thumb which also demarcates the U.S./Canada boundary. The flights there includes some outstanding views of the Stikine River Delta and Leconte Glacier the most southern tidewater glacier to the south and to the west Frederick Sound and beautiful Kupreanof Island the land of the Kake Tlingits. Kake’s paved airport has some similarly stunning vistas as well.
So many wonderful airports to see in Alaska.
Me, too. My father was senior VP for Enstar, and he once told me that if both he and the president needed to fly to Juneau they’d go on different flights. Just in case.