The beautiful backdrop of snowy mountain peaks and glaciers is a great way to experience fall colors. Alaska in the fall is full of blooming pink fireweed that quickly turns to a rustic red color and bright gold birch trees. They practically look like they are glowing next to the green pine tree groves.
You’ll want to plan your Alaska fall color viewing trip for the end of August/beginning of September. Or if you are planning on going further north above the Arctic Circle, then you’ll see the fall colors much earlier in August!
Table of Contents
When Does Fall Start in Alaska
Fall comes and goes really fast in Alaska so timing is everything – especially the further north you go. Wondering when do the leaves change in Alaska? Color change starts as early as mid-August above the arctic circle! But the rest of Alaska will start to experience fall in late August and early September. Check the Foliage Report for an up-to-date Alaska fall foliage map.
Fall in Alaska is pretty much finished by the end of September, and so is all of the tourist business. Most businesses are seasonal and close down shortly after Labor Day. This means that you do have to plan your trip carefully as some B&Bs may not be open or activities are no longer operating. Make sure you call ahead and book activities and lodging just to make sure they are still open.
Also – if you go too far into September you can run into weather issues. I was actually stranded at a luxury lodge in Kenai National Park in early September thanks to storms!
Why Go to Alaska in the Fall
- It’s shoulder season – fewer people, no cruises.
- It’s normally cheaper for airfare and lodging.
- You might be able to catch some aurora! The Northern Lights in Alaska can start as early as the end of August or the beginning of September. I saw them at the end of August one year near Denali!
- More locals travel at this time so you have more chances for local interaction.
- Experience more types of fall – from the tundra to boreal forest to the coast.
- Bears! This is the best time to see the bears catching salmon before the cold winter.
- Right now it’s one of the few places Americans can visit during COVID-19 (restrictions apply- see below)
Where to Go And Experience Alaska in the Fall
I have done a couple of 3-week trips to Alaska in October and managed to get to every corner of the state! If you want to make fall in Alaska last – then I recommend starting up north on the Dalton Highway above the Arctic Circle in mid to late August, then working your way south to Denali National Park. Next head further south around Anchorage for fall glacier viewings or take a flight over to Wrangell St. Elias Park for fall from above. Finally, head further south to Lake Clark National Park for a real backcountry fall experience in Alaska!
Chase fall from north to south in Alaska over the course of 2 weeks for the complete experience or just pick a couple of places in Alaska for fall leaf viewing. But whatever you do, don’t forget your camera!
Fall on the Arctic Tundra of Alaska’s Dalton Highway
My journey through fall started above the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway. You’ll see fall colors there most years by mid-August! The tundra looks like a carpet of gold and red! However, don’t blink or you may miss it! Locals told me that the fall colors on the tundra really only last for a 2 week period.
Get yourself to Coldfoot Alaska (by tour, rent your own 4×4, or bush flight) as a base to explore the area. From there you can hire a guide to take you further up the Dalton Highway to the highest point on the highway in the Brooks Range at Atigun Pass (4700 ft). The day we drove up the pass it actually snowed on us in August! This section of the Dalton Highway from Coldfoot to Atigun Pass was by far the most scenic as we drove through the Brooks Range.
You can also hike, go flightseeing, or if you go in late August – you may even be able to see the Northern Lights! One of the most iconic things to do in Alaska
Where to Stay: Read reviews of Coldfoot Camp Slate Creek Inn on Trip Advisor
More information on Tours and Dalton Highway Driving
Northern Alaska Tour Company – drive-up/fly-back variations. Prices start at $459. Rent your Own Car from Arctic Outfitters – gravel road-allowed automobile rentals for the Dalton Highway traveler starting at approximately $179 to $229.00 / day – must be 30 yrs old to rent. Come ready with CB radios, 2 spare tires, first aid kit. Dalton Highway Shuttle – $212 round trip to Coldfoot.
Talkeetna, the Gateway to Denali National Park in the Fall
Go a little further south to Talkeetna, Alaska (near Denali National Park), and experience fall colors at the end of August and the beginning of September.
I took the Alaska Railroad north on one of the best train routes I’ve ever been on – the Hurricane Turn Train. It’s unique because it’s a flag-stop train for the locals/homesteaders. It’s only a few cars long and will stop anywhere you want/need it to. It even backs up for wildlife sightings! A slow-moving train is a perfect place to enjoy and photograph the fall colors and wildlife.
Or do a flightseeing experience and view the fall colors from above as you soar around Denali National Park! If you don’t have time to hike into the heart of Denali National Park, you can take a plane, land in Denali on a glacier or lake, and then hike from there. I did a fall flight-seeing tour with K2 Aviation out of Talkeetna.
Be sure to stop in at the Talkeetna Roadhouse for some delicious fall homemade pies!
Where to Stay: Read Reviews of Talkeetna Roadhouse on Trip Advisor
View Fall Trees by Kayak at Eklunta Lake Near Anchorage Alaska
Moving further south about 40 minutes out of Anchorage view the fall colors as you paddle through Eklunta Lake. The long lake is fed by the nearby Eklunta Glacier. The day I did the tour was a bit overcast, but it just made the colors of the lake and the fall foliage even more vibrant. Overcast days provide a ‘light filter’ and are great for fall photography!
If you want more variety around the lake then consider the Paddle and Pedal option offered by Lifetime Adventures. You kayak out, 8 miles one-way, to the end of the lake where you then have a bike waiting for the return trip!
Take a Fall Flight to McCarthy and Wrangell St. Elias National Park
This is also a great time to visit Wrangell St. Elias National Park where for glaciers and fall colors abound. My bush flight to McCarthy and Wrangell St. Elias National Park was my favorite day of seeing and photographing the fall colors. We had a perfect day to fly, and the mountains were a vibrant display of red, yellow, green, and orange. Plus – couple that with the incredible glacier views and you have the ultimate fall-in-Alaska moment!
In addition to the flight to McCarthy, spend time exploring the old abandoned Kennecott Mines. The old red buildings are surrounded by golden trees in the perfect fall setting. And finally, don’t miss getting on the glacier and viewing the fall colors in Alaska from atop the Root Glacier.
Mine tours and glacier tours are offered by St. Elias Alpine Guides (https://www.steliasguides.com/)
Learn about remote living and traveling in McCarthy, Alaska
Lake Clark National Park Fall Backcountry Tour
Finally, I went even further south to Lake Clark National Park, one of the least visited National Parks. There I experienced one of my best Alaska adventures; hiking and kayaking through the fall colors for 6 days in the remote wilderness of Twin Lakes. In early September, the weather was chilly, and on many mornings we woke up, got out of the tents, and were greeted by snow-dusted mountaintops.
One morning we were even greeted by a bear trying to wander around our camp – luckily our guide shooed him away!
The brilliant blue glacial lakes seemed to intensify in color each day as the tundra landscapes turned red, orange and yellow.
We even found the occasional blue; Alaska in the fall means blueberry season on the tundra!
Get more ideas of where to go in Alaska in the fall from Travel Alaska!
Check out these things to do in Anchorage in summer or winter
Traveling to Alaska in the Fall and COVID Requirements
If you intend to travel to Alaska this fall, then make sure you stay on top of the COVID-19 updates for Alaska!
Updated: 7/28/20 – Alaska has removed the quarantine requirement for travelers who can show proof of a negative pre-travel molecular-based COVID-19 test result. Travelers who can show proof of a negative test result taken within 72 hours before departure will not have to quarantine. Travelers who can show proof of a negative test result taken within 5 days of departure will not have to quarantine but will be retested at the airport.
To get the latest COVID-19 travel information check the Alaska State Website here.