Due to its weather patterns and reputation for cold, Alaska has always been considered a summer destination. But maybe it’s time to give fall another look. Sure, colors are changing all across North America, but nowhere else can compete with the seasonal transition occurring in Alaska, both in the environment and amongst its people.
Betsy Bradbury, co-owner of Kennicott Guides, said the “sweet spot” for fall travel in Alaska is September 1-15th. (Mark your calendars for 2017!) And now is as good of a time to book as ever. During this window, the weather is cooling down but not freezing, the crowds are gone, the rates are cheaper, and many environmental changes, in addition to the fall colors, are on display. Here are five reasons to visit Alaska in the fall.
1. Rates Are Much Cheaper
As the calendar makes its way through August and turns to September, the bottom falls out of the demand, and the supply is suddenly in your favor. Whether in a major hub like Anchorage or a more remote location like McCarthy, room rates decrease drastically as the summer season comes to a close. For example, the same room at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage — the base camp for adventures to the Talkeetna Range and Denali National Park — can be more than a hundred dollars cheaper per night in September or October than it is in June or July.
2. Fall is When Locals Travel
As crowds dissipate and prices drop, locals take the opportunity to hit the road themselves. Seasonal workers — honorary locals — scramble to fit in a few last adventures before heading back to the lower-48. This means that, as a traveler, you’re much more likely to encounter a group of locals in the National Parks, fjords, and glaciers than you are, say, tour buses. “The end of the tourist season is when many Alaskans finally have the time to travel,” said Bradbury. “There’s a great local vibe during the fall because of it.”
3. The Northern Lights Are Out to Play, Minus the Crowds
Fall in Alaska brings about a significant change that’s often overlooked, or perhaps looked upon negatively. During the summer, Alaska receives nearly 24 hours of daylight, and in the winter, the opposite is true — darkness sets in. Once fall sets in, locals are beginning to see the stars for the first time in months. “Because of the long days in the summer, we don’t start to see the stars at all until August,” says Bradberry.
While hard-core enthusiasts of the Northern Lights will wait until later in the year when there are more hours of darkness, casual crusaders might find compromise in a late September or October hunt. It’s not as cold and the days aren’t as dark, so your trip can be about much more than the hunt for the Lights. Yet, it still leaves you a chance to see them. Northern Lights tours in areas like Fairbanks are already up and running earlier in the year.
4. The Colors Change Not Just in the Trees, but on the Ground
Sure, trees are turning everywhere but there’s another kind of fall in Alaska: a vivid display that takes place on the ground. The wilderness here is full of open tundra, many without trees. In these valleys and high alpine areas, the ecosystem exists entirely on the ground in the form of riverside mosses, berry patches, and rough foliage, which undergoes a colorful change beginning in September. Blueberries ripen, moss glows vivid green, and underbrush flashes autumn colors, creating a sight to be seen that’s nearly nonexistent in the lower-48.
5. The Weather is Fine, and It’s Beautiful
The sun’s low angle during the fall is infamous for creating soft light and an alpine glow on the mountains that is, according to Bradbury, “consistently jaw dropping.” In this way, you’ll be able to see the mountains in a different light than any other time of year. It doesn’t typically snow at lower elevations this time of year, but it will snow overnight on the tops of the peaks, creating a best of both worlds: beautiful contrasts between the fall tundra and the white-capped mountains, your feet dry but the views — and pictures — greatly dramatized.