5 Things to Consider before visiting Alaska in Fall

Thinking about visiting Alaska in Fall and hoping for a chance to see the Northern Lights? It can be an amazing time to visit but there are definitely a few drawbacks and things to consider and I’m here to help. Fall in Alaska is really just September, October is mostly winter but I will talk about that too.

The biggest benefit of visiting Alaska in Fall is beautiful fall colors in some areas, no bugs and the chance to see the Northern Lights. The biggest drawback is the potential for winter weather and clouds that may interfere with your Aurora viewing. In this article, I’ll answer some common questions about visiting Alaska in fall. I’ll also share 5 things to think about when considering a fall trip.

I’m a former Alaskan and still spend several weeks in Alaska each year (including in fall) working as a guide. I also help travelers plan their trips and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast and I’m here to share everything to know about visiting Alaska in Fall.

Is Visiting Alaska in Fall a good way to see the Northern Lights?

A display of green northern lights above black spruce trees against a background of stars in Fairbanks Alaska

Fall is a better time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska than summer is, but it’s not the best time. The best time is definitely late winter (late February and March).

In fall, it’s definitely dark enough for a good display of the Northern Lights, but it’s a rainier time of year across all of Alaska before things start getting really cold.

Clouds will be your biggest enemy if you’re hoping to see the Northern Lights in Alaska. Stay as far north as possible as long as possible to maximize your chances of some clear skies.

Cruises are not a good way to see the Northern Lights in Alaska because they travel through some of the wettest (cloudiest) parts of Alaska in fall.

Are Fall Colors good in Alaska?

It depends on where you are going. The fall colors in Denali National Park are spectacular in early September – the reds and golds of the tundra changing are unforgettable.

Red and orange fall colors on the tundra with snowy mountains under a gray sky.
September fall color in Denali National Park

The golden birch trees and Tamarack trees in the Fairbanks area are beautiful in mid to late September and late September in the Anchorage area. Sometimes the fall colors, especially on the Tamarack trees, last into October.

A bright golden orange tamarack tree against a blue sky
A Tamarack tree in downtown Fairbanks in Mid October

If you are driving to Alaska or back from Alaska in the fall, the fall colors in the Yukon Territory are also beautiful in mid to late September.

For the most part there are not a lot of fall colors in Southeast Alaska, though there are a few.

Is Fall a Good time for an Alaska cruise?


In my experience in 25 years working in this industry, the weather in Southeast Alaska in fall makes it really hard to get everything you want to out of your Alaska cruise experience.

It is a good time if you’re primarily looking to enjoy the amenities of the ship or find a less expensive option, though I think if you want to save money going in the spring is the better option.

An airplane wing in the fog with a cruise ship below
A foggy October day – I was taking off from Ketchikan

Fall really starts in August, but starting in late September there are significant storms, many more foggy and windy days that interfere with tours and seeing scenery. You can also experience some fairly rough seas this time of year.

#1 – Budget

Early September does not have lower prices or less crowds than the rest of the season, but after the hotels and restaurants close in Denali and the bus trips into the park end, prices do come down a bit, especially in the Fairbanks, Talkeetna and Anchorage area.

Cruises are much less expensive at the end of the season (late September and for some cruise lines, October).

#2 – Bugs

The best thing about fall is no bugs! You might see a few in early September but for sure bugs will be way less and probably non existent after mid September.

#3 – Availability of Activities and Tours

All tours and activites are available in the first half of September. In mid September, all the hotels and restaurants in the Denali National Park entrance area close along with the visitor center and the bus tours and transit buses.

Most visitor services are open until late September but most tours end then. Some tours, such as flightseeing are available all year. Other tours offer winter and summer tours, but may take a break for a few weeks in October and November to wait for things to freeze up and enough snow to fall for winter activities such as dog mushing.

If you’re taking a cruise, most shore excursions are available through September, though the options will be limited if you’re doing a cruise in October.

#4 – Weather

September is definitely fall (along with late August) and fall is a rainy season across Alaska, even the driest parts of the state like Fairbanks.

September still has beautiful days, especially in Farbanks and Anchorage. There can be nice days in Southeast Alaska too, but it’s pretty rainy.

October is really a winter month in Alaska and most people think of it that way. Though there may not be enough snow for snow sports and snow play, there also might be in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Chunks of ice floating down a river with snowy banks
The Chena River freezing up in downtown Fairbanks in mid October

If you’re heading to Anchorage or Fairbanks in October you need to be prepared for winter driving.

If you’re taking an Alaska cruise in October, you need to be ready for a lot of rain, fog, wind and rough seas. October is one of the wettest months in Southeast Alaska.

#5 – Wildlife

If seeing wildlife is a high priority for you like it is for many travelers, pay attention to when you are going and what wildlife you can see at that time of year.

For example, bears are typically active until sometime in late September getting ready for hibernation, but you won’t see them in the wild in October.

Humpback whales are in Alaska’s waters until September in late September they head south for the winter.

Moose are around all year, you’ll have a good chance of seeing one if you’re in the Fairbanks or Anchorage area. Be cautious and watch your speed when driving and keep an eye out for moose.

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a wonderful place for visitors to see most of Alaska’s land based wildlife year round.

Red and orange fall colors on the tundra with snowy mountains under a gray sky. Text reads: 5 things to know before visiting Alaska in the fall
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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!