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
Alaska airline pilots ARE the best…..sadly the best of the best are retiring?. Juneau is not on this list, & is in my opinion the scariest, yet our state government insists we keep our capital in this city????
Add tiny strip at Kivalina to this list as well.
Are there any sources (maps) for remote air strips? I was trying to find Kavik River Camp, 100 miles SSE of Deadhorse, AK, site of Sue Aiken’s remote airstrip (portrayed in National Geographic’s LIFE BELOW ZERO). It’s gravel but takes big planes too. GPS was 69.4 N by 146.54 W, but I don’t even know if I wrote those correctly.
I worked with a Rick Sparrevohn at Raytheon in SoCal, says that site was named for his grandfather
How about the 400’ gravel runway on Fire Island? Just a couple of miles out from Anchorage in Cook Inlet. Runway narrowed into a squirrel trail that ran up a cottonwood tree at the upper end. Landed there in 1973 in back seat of a SuperCub.
Cape Newenham LRRS was sister station to Romanzof. Runway ran uphill into what looked like an ancient blown-out volcano shell. Like Sparrevohn, either land properly or crash…no room for fly-around. Downhill take-off was easy…a 100’ drop-off at the end of the runway.
At Sparrevohn I seem to remember a crash where they flew up an adjacent dead-end canyon in fog. Think that was 1970. Haven’t been able to locate record of that crash on internet, but I think I recall that we lost an electrician in that crash. But perhaps I just imagined it. Otherwise FAA would have a record. In any case, I landed on both EHM and SVW on same day in February 1972 (as passenger, NOT pilot). My company was White Alice contractor.
Me too. I remember my first time landing in Juneau. I thought we were going to clip the mountain with the wing. Very scary.
ABSOLUTELY THE BEST EVER!!!!✈️✈️
It has been beautiful and sunny these past few weeks here in Fairbanks. Trees haven’t greened out yet but people are wearing summer clothes and there’s still canoe on the ground. Mosquitos are out already.
How about the runway at Kako, near Russian Mission? It runs UP the side of a mountain, and is bow-shaped. Exciting.
Homer is an international airport compared to Seldovia or Port Graham!
I was surprised that Gambell airport wasn’t included.
You forgot the trickiest landing in Nanwalek, Alaska!!!
I returned to Eek, Alaska with my adult sons in early June 2013 in celebration of my retirement from 40 years of teaching. Their dad and I taught in Eek in 1977-1981. I remember how frightening the extremely short runway was back then for this rural Minnesota girl. I was very impressed with the new runway and so glad my sons could experience a day in the village and meet many of my Eek family.
When I was a little kid in the late 70’s, my mom and I and a bunch of women who worked for the Lower Yukon School District were flying back to Hooper Bay on SW Alaska Bering Sea Coast in middle of winter when weather turned for the worse. We had make a landing at the now closed Cape Romanzof LRRS, a cold war radar station on the side of Towak Mountain in the Askinuk Mountains off of the Bering Sea. Normally, the airstrip was low and close to sea level. The airstrip was icy. And a winter ice strip was plowed on the side of the mountain because it was closer to base. We touched down rough and careened to a stop after slip-sliding down the runway and almost sliding OFF the side of the mountain. The whole plane was screaming. Once we deplaned and we all were hurrying into the small airstrip building to wait out the blizzard on the ground, the pilot, a well seasoned bush pilot who frequently flew and made miraculous landings in the Bering Sea inclement weather…shakily walked a little ways off to throw up. When he secured the door and took off his trapper hat inside what was basically a shack where we were huddling together to wait, his hands were shaking so bad and his hair was plastered to his forehead because he had sweat so much. Scariest landing I’ve ever experienced. And I’ve flown a lot in small planes in Rural Alaska.
How about Tatalina LLR radar site and Indian mountain radar site !!
I have landed at both!
Me too! I’ve flown to a lot towns in Alaska and my Grandfather had an Airline based out of Nome in the 1930’s. The scariest landing ever was in Juneau!
Can you get us a photo of Yakutat??
Thank you for the wonderful pictures and the many memories!
Enjoyed the “flight”. One comment, the airport at Ketchikan is on an island across from the city and you have to take a ferry across to get to the town. Ketchikan is not connected to the airport. Hence the need for “the bridge to no where”. If you lived there you would understand.
My husband Chuck Yates worked for National Weather Service we were in Cold Bay Ak King Salmon and Yakutat and back to Cold Bay a second time loved Alaska and miss Cold Bay
Having worked for Alaska Airlines for 32 years,I flew in n out of about everyone of yhese airports.You left out Wrangel,Petersburg and Juneau,also very challenging.Sitka was always my favorite as I sweat at 50 feet,you think youre going into the drink!!Then runway border appearsThey Alaska Airline pilots are the BEST!!
Anaktuvuk Pass! Extreme landing!
Been in and out of most of those sites. A crazy runway exists at Indian Mountain radar Site (runs up hill) and the one at Tin City Radar Site can be a little testy.
You missed the banana-shaped strip at Nunwalek/English Bay. It’s been a few years, perhaps they finally fixed it. There’s always a wind and there’s no room for error, jutting right into the bay. Crabbing in sideways to a curving runway can be a bit hairy, to say the least. My hat is off to all the skilled pilots who fly remote.
I would really like to see what Fairbanks airstrip looks like. Flew in there last July in the middle of a horrific storm, couldn’t see a thing other than clouds and rain before touch down.. Scariest landing ever.