Alaska In The Fall - What To Do And See

Alaskan summers are intense, action-packed, and short-lived, and the falls are even shorter. When the temperatures start to drop. the leaves change and Alaska erupts with color before the black and white of winter sets in. In Alaska, fall lasts from six to eight weeks, depending on the region, and the hillsides are transformed into patchwork quilts of gold, orange, and red. Fall is a great time to visit Alaska to enjoy the colorful landscapes and crisp weather.

Fall in Alaska has many advantages aside from the colorful views. As temperatures drop, the insect population starts to taper down and the mosquitos, gnats, bees, and wasps that plague outdoor adventurers stop their relentless buzz. Mosquitos are especially plentiful and large in Alaska and many travelers prefer camping and hiking without the constant annoyance. There are fewer travelers overall and many businesses offer deals for the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. The midnight sun fades as the days get shorter and the nights get dark enough to see the stars and aurora borealis. With fewer insects and people, lower prices, and more northern lights, Alaska in the fall is perfect for traveling.

Alaska In The Fall
Amine Abassir / shutterstock

When is the Fall in Alaska?

Alaska spans over 1400 miles from the farthest north city Utqiagvik to the southern isle of Ketchikan and the climate transitions from arctic tundra to the subarctic boreal forest to temperate rainforest. In the far north, the fall lasts from late July to early September and in the far south, fall is late September and October. To catch the fall colors and not miss out on summer attractions, plan a trip before Labor Day when the summer season stops for many. Visit later in September and October when there are options statewide for outdoor fun.

What is There to Do in the Fall in Alaska?

In addition to the standard visitor attractions, fall is a perfect time for hiking, hot springs, river trips, backpacking, and gathering wild foods. The forests and tundra abound with wild raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and lingonberries which become ripe one after the other depending on the temperatures. Searching for willd mushroom, gathering firewood, hunting and fishing are all popular fall time activities as Alaskans prepare for the winter. Animal life is active as well, fattening up on the abundant wild food and fall is prime for wildlife viewing. These activities are enjoyed by Alaskans and visitors across the state, as well as these specifics by region.

Far North Region

Polar Bear Viewing in Kaktovik Alaska
Morpheus Szeto / shutterstock

In the far north, June and July are summer months and the quick transition to fall begins in August. Snow can fall any time of year in the Arctic, but the temperatures are generally above freezing during July and August. Visiting northern Alaskan any time requires facing potentially harsh weather conditions and travel delays, as well as limited activities for visitors, but if the wild beauty of the Arctic is the draw then the area will never disappoint. Whale hunting begins in northern communities in late October and you can learn more about the region at the Inupiaq Heritage Center in Utqiaġvik. In Kaktovik, polar bear viewing tours usually run from August through October.

Interior

Denali National Park Tours In The Fall
FloridaStock / shutterstock

As soon as the temperature dips in late August, the paper birch forests of the interior turn yellow almost overnight. The landscape becomes awash with gold amongst the evergreen black spruce trees with splashes of red and orange leaves when other trees sneak into the yellow landscape. The snow usually begins to fall seriously in early October, ending the six to eight weeks of beautiful leaf-peeping. Dark nights mean aurora viewing is possible in the fall, and the hot springs become enticing again as the temperatures drop. Gold panning, tours of Denali, and other summer attractions are finishing up for the year but still have availability. Berry picking is popular in the area, as well as gathering wildflowers and mushrooms. Caribou, moose, and duck hunting seasons are all a draw as well. Visit the interior in the fall to avoid the high season and the mosquitos.

Southcentral

Fall Sunset Over Anchorage Alaska
akphotoc / shutterstock

In Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, the leaves enter peak season in mid-September and continue through October as snow usually holds off until later in the month. The Alaska State Fair runs late August through early September in Palmer Alaska. The rural farms of the Mat-Su Valley offer a variety of fall options with Farmers Markets, pick-your-own berries and vegetables, and fall pumpkin events.

Anchorage is hopping with events in the fall with gallery openings, performing arts, and Oktoberfest parties across the city. Life on the water is still in full swing in the fall on the Kenia Peninsula. Silver salmon are running and rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, and grayling are all available for fishing. Glacier cruises continue into October and you can enjoy all the seaside communities have to offer longer into the fall than farther north. Bear, bald eagles, and wolves are also eating salmon at the rivers, so it is a good time for safe, guided wildlife viewing tours.

Southwest

Kodiak Brown Bear Looking For Salmon During Fall
bobby20 / shutterstock

Fishing season in Bristol Bay runs from June until September when many of the seasonal employees leave the region. Most of Western Alaska is not a widely visited by non-Alaskans, but there are opportunities to explore this gorgeous part of the state. Birders will appreciate the 20-million acre Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Private lodges are available in the wilderness for hunting and fishing getaways as well.

Kodiak is a rainforest island with opportunities for fishing, fall colors and wildlife watching in September and October. Visit the islands of southwest to see elk, deer, and Kodiak brown bear in their natural wilderness as well as a wealth of small game and birdlife. Fishing is the most popular activity in the area, commercial and recreational, and fresh seafood is available everywhere for dining on the best the Gulf of Alaska has to offer.

Southeast

Sceneric View at Juneau Alaska In The Fall
Jayson Alicos / shutterstock

Fall spans September and October in Juneau and throughout the islands and mainland of southeast Alaska. Southeast is always rainy and fall is no exception, but the snow doesn’t generally fall until late October. Hiking and berry-picking are popular for exploring the rainforests, glacier and whale watching tours are still operating for exploring the local waters.

Check locally for events as Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan have local arts organizations and downtown areas with a variety of restaurant and nightlife options.

Alaska in the Fall is Ideal

No matter where in the state, Alaska is wild, picturesque, and exciting in the fall. As the season changes, Alaskans are a little more relaxed than in the height of the summer season and have more opportunities to travel within the state before the snow flies. Alaskans are friendly, open and travel in the fall is likely to be more relaxed and less crowded than in the summer. With colorful leaves, darker skies, and shoulder-season discounts, fall is the ideal time to explore Alaska.

Written By: Carey Seward

Carey Seward has written about culture and travel the "Jeju Weekly" (South Korea) and for the national blog "Only in your State - Alaska." She is also a teaching theatre artist, musician and comedienne who writes, directs, performs, and produces stories for stage, screen and on the page.

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