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A bird's eye view of Seattle, Washington

The Emerald City from Above: Taking Flight with Seaplane Scenics

From the breathtaking Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges to the Space Needle towering above downtown Seattle, it could take someone years to get a true sense of the Pacific Northwest’s vast beauty — but it doesn’t have to. Take off in a float plane from the waters of Carillon Point, and in as little as 20 minutes, you’ll be treated to a spectacular overview of Kirkland and its surrounding areas.

James Young, owner and manager of Seaplane Scenics, is well-versed in the area’s most extraordinary sights to see. After learning to fly at Seattle’s Boeing Field at age 15, Young has been soaring over the Pacific Northwest for more than 30 years. “This area's so amazing and so beautiful; it’s all the fun of the high-risk areas like Alaska with almost none of the danger, because we're flying at sea level,” he explains.

And fun only begins to describe a flight with Seaplane Scenics. With unimaginably lush landscapes and glittering bodies of water below, the area’s stunning natural features interspersed with buzzing city life make for an unforgettable excursion.

Docked seaplane on Lake Washington

Their most popular experience is their city tour, says Young. With no more than five passengers, it offers an intimate, personal look at the Emerald City. Everyone is given a headset, so they can talk amongst each other and to the pilot as he or she gives a live play-by-play of the action below. “Even if you did the tour 14 times in a row, you'd see something different every time,” says Young. “There's always something going on.”

Of course, there are some sights passengers can expect to see on a typical tour. After taking off from Carillon Point, your Cessna 185 will fly over Lake Washington (the second biggest lake in the state), over the world’s longest floating bridge (the 520), and even past Bill Gates’ sprawling house (and maybe Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s house, too).

Soar past where the hydroplanes race on Lake Washington, then head toward the Puget Sound in Elliott Bay. From there, you’ll spot the original Amazon headquarters, Seattle’s sports stadiums, and the Space Needle as you head over the mouth of Elliott Bay.

 Seattle from above

Next, “we'll see Alki Beach, cruise around toward the West Point Lighthouse, go past Discovery Park to the Ballard waterfront, to the Ballard Locks, down the ship canal, and lap around Lake Union,” says Young. You’ll see the Space Needle again, along with the new Amazon headquarters, the Museum of Pop Culture, and the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum.

To cap off the tour, you’ll fly along the lake toward the University of Washington, back out to Lake Washington, and over the old Sand Point Navy base (now Magnuson Park) before landing back on the waterfront in Kirkland.

And that’s all in just 20 minutes of flight time.

Seaplane Scenics also offers longer charter flights out to more remote destinations, like Mount Ranier, Mount St. Helen, San Juan Island, and Orcas Island. Some passengers opt for a simple flight tour, while others stop to spend the afternoon in a small town or enjoy a picnic lunch packed by Beach Café at the Woodmark. Others will go up to Friday Harbor, the main town on San Juan Island, to depart for a day-long whale watching tour, then fly back and arrive in Kirkland by 4 p.m. for happy hour at Beach Café, says Young.

 Waterfall near Lake Washington

In addition to their charter flights and city tour departing from Kirkland, Seaplane Scenics also has a float plane outpost in Renton and wheeled plane tours leaving from South King County Boeing Airfield. Aspiring pilots can also take part in flight training.

And if you’re concerned about drizzle putting a damper on any of these flights, worry not, says Young. Pockets of rain clouds can actually be avoided (like potholes), he explains, so rain or shine, the tour is equally spectacular. “Even if it's raining in the lower-level clouds, the pictures just come out so amazingly colorful and vibrant—the water is kind of an emerald green, and it's just really beautiful,” he says. “It doesn't matter what the weather is.”

No matter the conditions or the destination, a float plane trip in the Pacific Northwest is a can’t-miss experience for anyone visiting the area. Whether you choose to take in the city from above or venture out to Washington’s gorgeous islands, “the adventure's up to you,” says Young.


Located steps from the Woodmark Hotel, Seaplane Scenics offers city tours from Carillon Point for $109 per person, and charter flights for $595 per hour of flight time ($125 per hour of standby time).


All photos courtesy of Seaplane Scenics.

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