10 Reasons to Visit Alaska This Fall

With fewer crowds, pleasant weather and abundant wildlife, autumn is an ideal time to plan a trip.

By Claire Volkman, ContributorSept. 23, 2016
By Claire Volkman, ContributorSept. 23, 2016, at 3:40 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

10 Reasons to Visit Alaska This Fall

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The Mendahall Glacier in Alaska as viewed from a cruise ship.
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(Getty Images)

Experience the best of Alaska's charming towns, diverse landscapes, the aurora borealis and more.

Dubbed as the Last Frontier, Alaska's landscapes stretch from sea to sea, with staggering mountain ranges, rare wildlife, old mining towns, bustling cities and striking natural attractions. From May to September, Alaska fills with heavy crowds, as tourists and cruise ships flock to the seaside harbors and snow-capped peaks that make the state famous, making it hard to take in the area's national beauty. But in the shoulder season (from mid-September to October), you can embrace chillier nights and dazzling foliage displays. If you're ready to explore epic landscapes in peace and serenity, read on to discover why fall might be the best season to visit Alaska.
A whale breaching in front of mountains at Glacier Bay.
Credit

(Getty Images)

You can dodge crowds.

Thanks to its dramatic vistas, staggering glaciers and historical towns, Alaska's population swells during the warm summer months. However, the same incredible views of the Mendenhall Glacier outside of Juneau, the tall, snow-capped peaks of Denali National Park and the whale-filled waters near Anchorage can be enjoyed in autumn – without heavy crowds and with the addition of radiant fall leaves. Most tourists only flock to America's northernmost state from May to early September, leaving the entire month of October free from an influx of visitors.
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Experience the best of Alaska's charming towns, diverse landscapes, the aurora borealis and more.

Dubbed as the Last Frontier, Alaska's landscapes stretch from sea to sea, with staggering mountain ranges, rare wildlife, old mining towns, bustling cities and striking natural attractions. From May to September, Alaska fills with heavy crowds, as tourists and cruise ships flock to the seaside harbors and snow-capped peaks that make the state famous, making it hard to take in the area's national beauty. But in the shoulder season (from mid-September to October), you can embrace chillier nights and dazzling foliage displays. If you're ready to explore epic landscapes in peace and serenity, read on to discover why fall might be the best season to visit Alaska.

You can dodge crowds.

Thanks to its dramatic vistas, staggering glaciers and historical towns, Alaska's population swells during the warm summer months. However, the same incredible views of the Mendenhall Glacier outside of Juneau, the tall, snow-capped peaks of Denali National Park and the whale-filled waters near Anchorage can be enjoyed in autumn – without heavy crowds and with the addition of radiant fall leaves. Most tourists only flock to America's northernmost state from May to early September, leaving the entire month of October free from an influx of visitors.

You can admire breathtaking fall colors.

From mid-August to mid-October, you'll find bright yellow, gold, red and purple hues blanketing Alaska's majestic mountains and lush evergreen forests. For the best leaf-peeping, head to favorite foliage spots to enjoy unrivaled vistas. In Denali National Park, the bright leaves contrast against the mountains' white, snow-topped peaks and the fields of lush evergreen – providing ample photo opportunities. In Anchorage, many trees that surround downtown's main thoroughfare turn in mid-September, affording striking views.

You can enjoy plenty of wildlife sightings.

Enjoy the chance to spot some of the state's most famed wildlife such as caribou, moose, grizzly bears and black bears with ease in fall. Not only are there less crowds to bypass, but the animals use this time to gorge themselves on berries and other bites before retreating for winter. Head to Kenai Fjords National Park for a chance to watch the whales before they migrate and Denali National Park for the best opportunities to spot bears.

You can explore small seaside towns.

Most visitors come to Alaska via cruise or land tour, hitting specific landmarks along the way such as the Inside Passage, Denali, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Skagway. This leaves little time on their itinerary to check out the other lesser-known towns. Spend some time exploring some of Alaska's other charming areas, including Haines (in the southeast), Talkeetna (outside of Denali National Park), Gustavus (near Juneau) and Girdwood (near Anchorage) for unspoiled fall views and a chance to mingle with locals.

You may see the northern lights.

Alaska's darker skies and earlier sunsets – the sun sets around 7 p.m. on average in October – can up your chances of spotting the aurora borealis during a fall visit. For the best viewing opportunities, plan to be outside from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and head north to cities such as Fairbanks or Barrow (the northernmost town in Alaska). Experts recommend at least three nights in the north for the best chance of watching green, blue, yellow, pink and orange streaks color the dark night sky in autumn.

You can hit the trails in peace.

Fall is the ultimate time to channel your inner adventurer and hike Alaska's trails in tranquility. With temperatures around the 40s and 50s, autumn is the perfect time for hiking through Alaska's wilderness. If you're in Anchorage, hit the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, which spans 11 miles from Kincaid Park; and in Seward, park your car and take the peaceful 30-minute hike to the Exit Glacier. Known the world over for its hikes, an autumn hike in Denali can be tricky, so stay close to your accommodations and bring warm layers. In Fairbanks, the Chena Riverwalk boasts stunning foliage in late September and prime photo ops of the scenic riverwalk.

It's an ideal time for salmon fishing.

Bears aren't the only residents looking to catch salmon before hibernation. Autumn is one of the prime times for avid salmon fishing fans to take part in the sport. In September, you can find silver salmon running upstream from Kenai River up to Sitka. There's a decent chance for fishing in mid- to late-October, but September is the best time to rake in a great silver salmon catch thanks to abundant populations of the species at this time of year.

You can embrace long days and cool temperatures.

With longer days in autumn, Alaska's natural beauty shines at this time of year. From Anchorage all the way to Fairbanks, the sun doesn't set until around 7 p.m. in October, giving you plenty of time to fish, hike, mountain bike, walk, sightsee or hop on the Alaska Railroad. The temperatures dip into the low 30s in some areas, but highs still hover around the mid- to high-50s, offering comfortable conditions for walking and hiking.

You can check out the emerging distillery scene.

In fall, you'll only find locals in Alaska's gin and vodka tasting rooms, giving you a chance to enjoy a more authentic experience. The state's craft gin, vodka and rye whiskey production is all handcrafted by local artisans. The spruce tips used in the gin are gathered from the forests. If Haines is on your itinerary, head straight to Port Chilkoot Distillery, which makes some of the state's most awarded gins. And in Anchorage, the namesake Anchorage Distillery produces a variety of housemade vodkas infused with fresh berries, hot chili peppers and other local ingredients.

You can stroll through the State Capitol.

In the summer, Juneau's population fills with tourists disembarking from cruise ships docked in the center of town. During the popular cruising season, daytime passengers crowd the city's narrow streets. But in fall, fewer ships visit Juneau, giving you the chance to stroll the streets of Alaska's State Capitol without thick crowds at your side. Stop by the Mendenhall Glacier, just a quick jaunt from Juneau, to enjoy picturesque views and perfect photo ops. In town, check out the haunted Alaskan Hotel and Bar, and to tap into the local brew, head to the Alaskan Brewing Company, the state's largest beer producer, for a sip of autumn lager.
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Claire Volkman, Contributor

Claire Volkman is a social media journalist with a passion for food and travel. She's spent ...  Read more

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