Official State of Alaska Vacation and Travel Information
Summer may be peak travel season, but have you considered the allure of visiting Alaska during the fall? A visit during September or October means you can enjoy smaller crowds, great deals on lodging and tours and some unusual sights that you won’t see during any other time of year. Here are eight things you might not know about the unique charms of Alaska’s fall shoulder season:
Alaska is so big that weather systems—and tour schedules—can vary widely throughout the state. If you’re visiting Denali National Park, expect most tourist services to wrap up at the end of August. In the rest of Southcentral and Interior Alaska, tourist activities typically run through mid-September, while in Alaska’s Inside Passage the most popular attractions can extend into October.
September is one of the best months to fish for silver (coho) salmon, and in many parts of the state the silver runs continue well into October. You'll also find a few halibut fishing charters that keep sailing into September or October, and trolling for king salmon is a popular winter pastime.
During the fall, the leaves on Alaska’s aspen trees turn a lovely shade of yellow. But it’s the mountains that really explode with color, as tiny tundra plants turn rich shades of burgundy, red and orange. From a distance it looks like somebody has taken a paintbrush to the mountains, and scenic drives like the road through Hatcher Pass or the backcountry roads near Nome make it easy to see those brilliant colors up close.
During the summer, Alaska’s nighttime skies are too bright for you to see the northern lights. But once mid-September rolls around, the night starts getting dark enough that you have a chance of seeing them. Maximize your odds of seeing the aurora by staying in an Interior town like Fairbanks or parts further north, where the aurora is more likely to shine overhead, and letting the staff at your hotel know that you'd like a wakeup call if the northern lights come out.
Even as big as Alaska is, certain popular attractions—like Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway and the tiny town of Talkeetna—can start to feel a little crowded during the peak summer season. If you don't want to worry about crowds or waiting on photo ops at all, the solution is easy—visit during the fall.
By the time fall rolls around, moose and caribou are cruising for love and bears are browsing mountainside berry patches as they fatten up for winter—all of which translates to great opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography. September is also one of the busiest times for bear-viewing in the famous Brooks Camp at Katmai National Park and Preserve. That said, Alaska’s animals are completely wild and untrained, so always keep your distance and consider hiring a guide that can help you find wildlife and coach you through safe encounters.
Alaskans are renowned for being friendly, always quick to say hello or drop everything and help visitors in a pinch. But summer is our peak season too, as we hustle to fish, hike, camp, kayak and generally squeeze in every moment of warm-weather activity that we can. By the time fall rolls around, our pace of life has started to slow down again, and we have more time for socializing without a fishing pole in our hands—and there’ll be a higher proportion of locals than visitors in bars, restaurants and even the parks.
Alaska’s weather can be especially unpredictable during the fall. But don’t let that stop you! All you have to do is pack an extra insulating layer or two, along with warm socks, a light hat and some light gloves, and you'll be ready for those crisp mornings and refreshing evenings.
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