ONE OF THE MOST THRILLING EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE
I can truly say without exaggeration that my floatplane excursion over 5 Alaskan glaciers to Taku Glacier Lodge near Juneau, Alaska was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. My travel agent, Laurel Leidner, had told me when I booked our Celebrity Cruise to Alaska that if I did nothing else while on the trip, I must take this shore excursion. So I heeded her advice and booked the excursion. Boy am I glad I did!
No road system extends to the remote Taku Glacier Lodge. It can only be reached by floatplane or small-motorized riverboat.
So, our journey to this historic lodge, which was built in 1923 in the untouched Tongass National Forest, began at the downtown Juneau floatplane dock of Wings Airways. Located right alongside the cruise ship docks where the Solstice (our ship) was moored, it was an easy and convenient way to begin literally, one of the most thrilling experiences of my life.
They call it “flight seeing” and it starts with a 25 minute flight in one of the company’s 5 modernized De Havilland Otter floatplanes, known as Alaska’s best workhorse bush planes. To tell you the truth I embarked on this expedition with quite a bit of trepidation. Even though I travel a great deal, I’ve never been in a plane as petite as this 12 passenger aircraft, and I’ve never flown in a floatplane. So, I was unsure of my comfort level, and worried it might be scarey. Brad and I boarded the plane last, and thus got the last row of seats, all of which are window seats, providing optimum views for everyone on board.
Our very pleasant and experienced pilot greeted us from the small cockpit and explained a bit about our coming adventure. Then we all donned headphones from which we would listen to an informative narration for the duration of our journey over 5 glaciers and eventual landing at Taku Glacier Lodge.
There truly is no better way to see Alaska’s vast wilderness and breathtaking glaciers than to see them from the sky. What I worried would be a scary, unnerving experience was nothing of the sort. I was so captivated by the grandeur and beauty of what lay below, I had no time to even consider my fears.
Gazing out of my window, located just below the wing, I took photo after photo of the majestic landscape.
We flew over thickly forested terrain filled with murky lakes fed by rivers of melting blue glaciers.
There is 1,500 square miles of ice in the Juneau Icefield with a total of 38 glaciers.
Our flight took us past towering, jagged and snowy mountain peaks.
But at lower elevations the landscape turned green, with mountain pastures nourished by dozens of waterfalls.
While I enjoyed the flight immensely, I was excited when Hole In The Wall Glacier came into view, Taku Lodge’s neighboring glacier.
Our floatplane landed on the river and pulled right up to the Taku Glacier Lodge docks where we disembarked, just a stone’s throw from the imposing glacier.
The floatplane utilizes the water as its runway and has pontoons instead of wheels. Thrilling!
A short walk along a very pretty trail brought us to the lovely, landscaped grounds of the lodge, complete with an abundance of flowering plants and green lawns.
The lodge has a spectacular view of Hole-In-The-Wall Glacier, part of Taku Glacier. Taku Glacier is recognized as the deepest and thickest alpine temperate glacier in the world. It is also one of the few advancing glaciers. The advance is due to the fact that more snow accumulates on it than snow and ice melt. Amazingly, Taku Glacier has advanced over ten miles in the last 100 years. I’m wondering if one day it will consume Taku Glacier Lodge!
We made our way up to the porch of the main cabin that was complete with a log swing and adirondack style chairs where we enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail chilled with sparkling chunks of glacier ice. Three times a week the staff fishes chunks of calving glacier ice out of the river and uses it as their only form of refrigeration and, of course, to chill the pricy drinks they sell at this remote day lodge. There are no overnight accommodations except for the staff of nine employees who occupy the small cabins surrounding Taku Lodge.
Our excursion, called a “Flight & Feast” adventure, included a wonderful meal at Taku Glacier Lodge. We watched as our dinner of wild Alaskan King Salmon (Chinook) was skillfully grilled over an alder wood flame.
We learned that alder trees grow like weeds in the surrounding wilderness where it is harvested to cook the salmon we would soon enjoy.
But we weren’t the only ones being enticed by the wonderful smell of the grilling fish, which had been taken fresh right out of the adjacent Taku River. The local, and seemingly nonthreatening wild bears, make themselves right at home at Taku Glacier Lodge. They lurked just a few feet away from us and seemed to pose no threat, despite the warning sign. They had their eyes on the prize, the grill drippings that would be theirs as soon as we retreated into the lodge for dinner.
The dinner bell rang and everyone found a seat in the most charming log cabin I’ve ever seen. With an antler as a door handle, Taku Lodge’s old log cabin is where dinner would be served to the human guests.
As the guests went inside to dine, the resident bear promptly made a beeline to the grill, licking up every last drop of the tasty salmon drippings.
This charming fireplace crowned by a moose head was the centerpiece of the dining room, which was also inhabited by another long-gone giant brown bear.
This rustic yet elegant lodge felt like true Alaska. And we felt privileged to be there despite the fact that we had paid $678.00 for the privilege.
The all-you-can-eat grilled salmon was without a doubt the freshest and best tasting salmon I’ve ever eaten!
The rest of the buffet-style meal consisted of coleslaw, baked beans, stewed/spiced apples and a delicious herbed biscuit. My travel agent had purchased the Taku Lodge Cookbook in the gift shop just so she could prepare those yummy biscuits. She shared the recipe with me and I plan to cook some up this evening and reminisce over dinner about our recent adventure to Taku Lodge.
Over dinner we were told the fascinating history of the lodge and all about its most famous owner, Mary Joyce.
After dinner we were invited to enjoy the grounds of the lodge and to take a nature walk lead by one of the seasonal lodge employees. As you might imagine, the lodge is only open during the summer months.
Our stroll took us down a well-worn path lined with wild blueberries ripe for the picking.
The trail was studded by the roots of the moss-laden Sitka Spruce trees.
Our guide pointed out this curiosity below: moss covered branches that form what looks like the head of a moose.
The growths you see on the trees below are called Conks and are also known as shelf fungi or bracket fungi. They are members of the fungus kingdom which includes mushrooms, molds, and yeast.
Our walk soon returned us to Taku Lodge where we strolled past the other attractive cabins that house the really welcoming and hardworking staff.
All too soon it was time to leave.
Having enjoyed the floatplane experience so much on the flight over, I was determined to be the first onboard so I could claim the shotgun seat up front in the cockpit with our pilot.
I was once again captivated by the views on our flight back to Juneau. However, what I discovered was that being up front meant that the whirling propeller in the front of our floatplane would distort many of my photos. Do you see the faint blur in the photos below? That’s the propeller.
It was spectacular to once again see the glacier ice from above, full of deep crevices and stained by the dirt and debris it picks up as it advances, scouring the bedrock below and actually forming valleys in its path.
15 minutes later our destination, Juneau, Alaska’s capital city came into view. As I mentioned in a previous post, none of the Alaskan towns we visited were anything to write home about. In fact, they were mostly very disappointing tourist traps. It is the beauty of nature that one goes to Alaska for.
Just before landing we flew directly over our ship, Celebrity Solstice. That was truly exciting!
And we got a bird’s eye view of our aft facing cabin. One of the large verandas (and adjoining suite) you see below off of the back corner of the ship was our home-away-from-home on our 7 day cruise to Alaska.
This floatplane shore excursion to Taku Glacier Lodge was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life! If you’d like to learn more about the historic Taku Glacier Lodge watch the informative video below.
Note: This was not a sponsored post and, in fact, we paid dearly, $339.00 per person for this experience. Had we been able to book this Celebrity Cruise shore excursion directly with the provider (we tried) I believe we would have saved $30.00 per person, as the cruise lines always have a upcharge. Generally speaking, when we cruise we try to book our excursions separate from the cruise lines and often save a bundle this way on equally good or better excursions. However, because of the short tourist season and the limited providers in Alaska, I found it to be nothing short of impossible to book directly with the providers. That’s because they seem to give all their space over to the cruise lines. So keep this in mind when taking a cruise to Alaska, as you wouldn’t want to miss the boat (or the floatplane) on an excursion such as this because you believed you could simply wait until you arrived on shore to make your tour arrangements.
So there you have it: ONE OF THE MOST THRILLING EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE
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All opinions expressed in this post are my own. All photos are the original property of Celia Becker @ www.AfterOrangeCounty.com and may not be reproduced without specific permission.