Fall Colors & Northern Lights Road Trip
Many locals and visitors would agree, autumn is one of the best times to experience the Alaska Highway from Canada to Alaska. The season is short and changes quickly from late August to October, which makes it even more exciting to see the dramatic transformation to fall colors, the crisp air, and even a chance to see the anticipated northern lights.
Driving the Alaska Highway during autumn is a wonder in itself, but you’ll want to plan ahead to capture all this season has to offer in Canada and Alaska. Whether you’re looking to take a leisurely trip with a few great hiking stops to admire the fall foliage or go camping under a sky of northern lights, consider the variety of activities below. Choose an Alaska Highway driving route (the Inside Passage, Rockies, or Gold Rush routes) through western Canada and Alaska to experience it all.
Alberta is a beautiful Canadian province to visit year-round, but autumn is arguably one of the best times to visit with magnificent scenery and less visitors. Fall in the Canadian Rockies promises the return of golden-hued scenery from mid-September to early October. For nature lovers, finding golden larch trees will be on the top of the list for things to do during a fall road trip for its brilliant shades of yellow that contrast alongside its evergreen cousins.
Banff National Park is one of the best places to see golden larch trees, where there are plenty of hiking options to consider along the drive. Located up above Moraine Lake in the hamlet of Lake Louise, Larch Valley is one of the most popular hikes in autumn - and for good reason - as you can enjoy the mountain vistas and alpine meadows blanketed in bright golden hues.
Although Banff is a remarkable place to view larch trees, it isn’t exclusive to the area. Another hiking option that is shorter is Ptarmigan Cirque in Kananaskis Country from the Highwood Pass trailhead. Make your way through the lush larch trees and immerse yourself in the surrounding mountains. Learn more about the best ways to find Alberta’s golden larch trees here.
Autumn is one of the most striking times to see the Yukon, where the tundra changes from green to bright orange, yellow and red, the air becomes crisper, and the aurora borealis season begins. Fall is two short months in September and October, yet there is so much to see in the Yukon, such as the herd of 160,000 caribou that undertakes the longest land migration of any animal on Earth to early viewing of the aurora borealis.
Kluane Lake is the largest lake located entirely within the Yukon and a spectacular place to view the northern lights under the night sky. If you’re driving through the Yukon in mid-September, Kluane’s annual Dark Sky Festival is held at Kathleen Lake Campground. This two-day festival of northern lights viewing has a variety of events including yoga, arts and crafts, and activities for all ages.
Along the Rockies route, Whitehorse is a fantastic place to soak up the brilliant autumn colors and crisp air with its hundreds of trails ranging from an afternoon hike or a more challenging full-day trek. Seen from downtown, Grey Mountain and Golden Horn offer popular hikes for visitors with beautiful views that overlook Whitehorse. While hiking in the Yukon, make sure to bring warm clothing like fleece, windbreakers, and a warm hat as the temperatures are cooler. While in the easygoing town of Whitehorse, be sure to visit the MacBride Museum and learn about the resilient people and places that shaped the Yukon. Discover more about autumn activities in the Yukon here.
The vast mountain ranges and 14 distinct ecological time zones make British Columbia a stunning sight to see in autumn. Be more spontaneous with your plans and go to the Okanagan wine festival and embrace the harvest season or visit the charming town of Nelson with a dreamy fall ambiance. Nelson, settled in the Selkirk Mountains along the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, is a vibrant mountain town full of art, galleries, and culture.
Continuing on the Rockies route or as a side trip from the Gold Rush route, the Kootenay Rockies region boasts larch trees that will leave you in awe. If you’re taking the Inside Passage route, witness the spawning salmon at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. With over a kilometer of sandy beaches and four campgrounds, there is plenty to see and do in this region. Read more about the top fall experiences in British Columbia here.
Whether you’re driving on the Rockies, Gold Rush, or Inside Passage route to reach Alaska, autumn is one of the most magical times to see Alaska’s natural beauty when the fall foliage peaks mid-August to mid-September. The Gold Rush route leads to Fairbanks and the iconic Denali National Park & Preserve, where you will find dramatic fall colors and snowcapped mountains. Northern lights viewing is optimal in Fairbanks through mid-April because of its location directly under an auroral oval, a ring-shaped region hovering over the Interior and Arctic regions of the state. Experience the northern lights through a guided tour or use a northern lights tracker that provides a nightly forecast.
The Rockies route leads to Anchorage and on to Homer, where a drive along the Kenai Peninsula reveals a quieter, less crowded opportunity to take in the wash of fall colors along the highway. On the way to Homer, there are many excellent viewing opportunities for wildlife and hikes. Find out more about northern lights viewing and things to do on the Kenai Peninsula.