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Oct 23, 2019| Plan Your Trip

FALL-ing Into Alaska: Travel Like A Local

Fall in Alaska.jpeg
 
The cruise ships have headed south for the winter, reinforcing the mistaken notion that Alaska turns into a state of dark and frigid hibernation on October 1. But the truth is, fall is a great time to be in Alaska! While colors are changing all across North America, nowhere else can compete with the seasonal transition occurring in Alaska, both in the environment and amongst its people.
 
No, Winter has not yet arrived, and as the busy summer season is ending, locals are filling their freezers with wild berries, fish, and game…and discounted rates on travel, lodging, and tours are easy to find! 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. And it can be an amazing experience to be virtually on your own in Alaska’s nonpareil wilderness areas during this season —imagine being in the middle of Glacier Bay or in Denali National Park when there is no one else around?
 
Ask an Alaskan and we would recommend fall as a time to get outdoors. October can bring beautiful, mild days, perfect for long drives or short hikes in the mountains – plus: no mosquitos! The leaves on blueberry bushes are bright red, and birch trees slide into a majestic yellow that stands out in stark contrast to the dark green of the spruce. In Southcentral Alaska—near Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and the Kenai Peninsula—colors start to peak in mid-September, but are still vibrant in October. Fall along the Inside Passage starts a little later, with a peak usually in mid-October; the Tongass National Forest is green year-round, but the turning leaves and berries of Devils Club and deer cabbage provide stunning pops of yellow and red underneath the old growth Sitka spruce, hemlock, and red cedar.
 
The shorter days and lengthening nights of fall also provide glimpses of the Aurora borealis. On clear fall nights, visitors to Interior and Arctic Alaska have a chance to see waves of green and sometimes red northern lights dancing across the sky. Bring your camera, tripod, and warmer clothes – there is always a potential for snow! The average first snowfall in Fairbanks is September 27, while in Anchorage the snow generally holds off until mid-October.
 
Fall is also the time for great deals on whale watching trips, which generally operate through October. And don’t forget to pick up a fishing license –silver salmon are still running, rainbow and steelhead trout are feeding on salmon eggs, and lakes are still open for trout and salmon. So grab a rod, pack a jacket, and come on up! Alaska is waiting!
 
Here are five reasons to visit Alaska in the fall. 

1.   The rates are much cheaper. As the bottom falls out of the demand, 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 Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage -- the base camp for adventures to the Talkeetna Mountains and Denali National Park -- can be over $100 cheaper (per night!) in October as compared to June or July. 

2.   The weather is beautiful. The sun’s low angle during the fall creates a soft light and an alpine glow on the mountains that's just jaw-dropping. Because of this, 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. 

3.   The fall foliage is…amazing. 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, but at its peak through October. Blueberries ripen, moss glows vivid green, and underbrush flashes autumn colors. Spectacular. 

4.   Locals travel in the fall, so there are fewer crowds. 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 cold weather. In other words, as a traveler, you’re much more likely to encounter a group of locals in the National Parks, fjords, and glaciers than you are…tour buses.

5.   You can experience the Northern Lights…in solitude. 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 arrives, locals are beginning to see the stars for the first time in months. While hardcore Northern Lights enthusiasts may wait until later in the year (when there are more hours of darkness), casual crusaders might find compromise in an October hunt. It’s not as cold and the days aren’t as dark, so your trip can be about much more than the Northern Lights experience.

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