Hands down, this was the best trip we’ve taken all year (runner-up would be Turks and Caicos). Heck, Alaska was one of the best trips we’ve taken in years, period!
It’s funny how similar the reaction of our friends was when we told them we were going to Alaska for our fall vacation. Almost all of them responded with a puzzled, “why?”
Some of our family members who had already been or also want to go knew exactly why: it’s a national treasure, it’s awe-inspiring and it’s one of the most stunning, overlooked states by people who live in the US because they mistakenly associate it with year-round freezing temperatures. That’s just not true. Alaska is amazing.
We decided to go just after Labor Day (and tourist season) mainly because Cheril really wanted to see the Aurora Borealis without going to Iceland or Greenland (we have to work our way up to that, lol). We’ve since learned that we could see them in rural Minnesota as well. Monica didn’t want to go to Alaska at all. She had “cold” stuck in her head as association with Alaska too, but she was going to go anyway and hope for the best. After two days she was IN LOVE. Yep, the main one saying she wasn’t interested in going had quickly decided she didn’t want to leave! lol
Alaska tends to have that effect on people. It’s challenging to put into words or pictures what it did for us. It was more than a vacation. It was rejuvenation on a deeper level that we really needed after pushing through some heavy work months. It was a welcome disconnect from the day-to-day and a total engulfment into the wonders of nature and our divine connection to it.
We could go on and on, but instead of doing that we’ll just give you, in our opinion, 5 reasons to visit Alaska in September.
1. Avoid the crowds and give your wallet a break
Hundreds of thousands of people visit Alaska every year. When you consider the cruise ships from all over the world, it could likely be a million or more. All of these people tend to arrive during the peak months of June-August. They want to take advantage of the warm weather and extremely long days (midnight sun, anyone?). That means longer lines, higher prices and less privacy to enjoy activities like glacier tours, dog sled rides and the huge national parks like Denali. Going in September allowed us to be alone for a greater part of the trip. It also saved us a ton of money that we put toward staying for two weeks instead of one. For example, a rental car for the amount of time we wanted was $700 in August vs $200 in September. Hotel rooms that were $300/night ended up being as low as $100.
The few organized tours that we chose were not crowded, which made sightseeing much more pleasant. Alaska is a huge state that doesn’t have many year round residents, so going when we did and opting to road trip-it gave us an incredible experience of being one with nature.
2. The Aurora Borealis
Or the “Northern Lights” as it’s often called. As mentioned above, this was our primary reason for going, but as luck would have it, the only time we saw this was from the plane as we were descending into Anchorage. To see this natural phenomena there has to be clear skies and it just so happened the the majority of the two weeks we spent in Alaska were cloudy. Bummer! I guess we’ll have to try our luck in some other part of the world. There are few places we love enough to go back to twice. Alaska IS one of them but the next time we go will likely be summer to get a different experience and see other parts of the state. For those of you hoping to see the Aurora, the best times are on clear nights between 10pm and 2am and some hotels will give you a courtesy wake-up call if there is a “show” in the sky on the night of your stay.
3. Gorgeous fall colors
Once summer comes to an end, Alaska is in a hurry to get through fall. We were really surprised see the abundance of fall foliage so early in the month. Since we had a rental car we really got a chance to soak up the endless miles of trees in different shades of green, yellow and orange/red. Driving the famous Seward Highway toward our Glacier Cruise was the kind of trip that just made us fall in LOVE with driving again. There was hardly anyone on the road for miles, and the ample areas to pull over for scenic photo opportunities made this a beautiful part of our trip. There were valleys that looked like an ocean of tri-colored trees.
4. Great opportunities to photograph wildlife
If you’re a nature enthusiast and you love taking pictures then you’ll be in heaven in Alaska in September. Grizzly, black and brown bears may be out more in search of food and last minute fattening up before hibernation season. Because there are less tourists around, your odds of getting great shots will drastically improve.
While we were there we saw bears, moose, sea lions, eagles and some funny looking squirrels.
We saw all of these animals from a safe distance! The bears, for example, we spotted from a tour bus that took us from one of the entrances to Danali National Park to the top of Mt. Eislen.
Money saving tip: skip the $120 Tundra Tour and its box lunch if you’re staying near McKinley Chalet Resort (which is where we stayed). If you have a rental car or can walk a few blocks, just go to the Wilderness Access Center and pay $30-$60 for the park shuttle. It’s the same kind of school bus feel that you’d get for the more expensive tour but saves money, is less crowded and allows flexibility to stop when you see wildlife. Just be sure to bring your own lunch (you can buy at the Access Center before boarding). The shuttles are not supposed to be narrated like the “Tundra tour” but the driver we had acted like a tour guide anyway. The bus is green, not tan. We actually got that tip from someone who worked in the hotel after we’d just missed the tundra tour. It saved us a bundle!
5. Less bugs and other insects/pests
We never met them, but we heard about them: the mosquitoes and other bugs that love warm weather. Even though it rained almost every day—Did President Obama take the good weather with him or what? lol It didn’t rain all day every day, but did sprinkle randomly throughout the day, which is why we’re in waterproof jackets in every picture. Umbrellas would have been annoying, especially since it was more mist and drizzle than hard rain. Anyway, we did not encounter a single mosquito because the weather was cool. Not even while hiking deeper into the woods or valleys.
This in itself was a HUGE plus. No bugs = no stinky bug spray!
So there you have it, five reasons to visit Alaska in September. We have so much to share, however, that we’re going to do a part two of this that covers our itinerary, shows more pictures and even some video. From dog sledding to dashing down an ice slide, we had a blast in Alaska.
If you’ve been, what time of year did you go and how did you like it? Did you cruise or fly right in? Let us know. And as always, thanks for reading.
Until next time,
Cheril and Monica