*This story originally appeared in the Alaska Dispatch News on Tuesday, September 13, 2016.*
The season’s first official frost left a sparkling welcome upon my front lawn last weekend, and the birch leaves and hillside shrubs are beginning to change color. It’s an unmistakable signal that the seasonal shift from summer to fall is going to be short, so we’d better get outside and enjoy it while it lasts. Even though Southcentral Alaska has yet to see termination dust atop the highest peaks, there is enough of a chill in the air to remind me to remind you about a few great places to wander with your tribe while waiting for the snow to fall.
I say it every year: Autumn is my favorite season in Alaska, and its short duration makes me appreciate every crisp moment spent tromping through leaves or picking the last remnants of berries. It’s easy to overlook fall’s abundance of outdoor opportunity in the daily rush of school, work, cross-country practice, homework, and gosh-knows-what-else in our hurried lives. Perhaps fall is a reminder for our senses to stop, look, and listen to everything going on around us. The crunch of a hiking boot upon a frosty trail, a bull moose sticking his antlered head up from beyond a willow scrub, staring at a group of savvy mountain bikers who really didn’t want to go any farther, anyway. The smell of rain and fish and woodsmoke. There is no other season with so much happening in a flurry of preparation, and kids fit perfectly within the scene.
The month of September is prime time for a short getaway, soccer schedules and algebra be darned. Take advantage of these autumn destinations around Southcentral Alaska, and be sure to toss a few leaves in the air for me.
Alyeska Resort: The resort is offering a Free Tram Package with an overnight stay now through October 10, 2016. Bring up to three kids under age 18 for an overnight stay at the Hotel Alyeska and receive free tram tickets for the whole bunch. Bring your bicycles and ride into Girdwood, or borrow the resort’s cruiser bikes for a leisurely peddle along the paved trail. It’s a beautiful time for waking up in the morning to hot coffee, a swim in the pool, and views of Glacier Valley. (907) 754-2111.
Sheep Mountain Lodge: Located along the Glenn Highway two hours from Anchorage, Sheep Mountain is a delightful destination for late-season berry picking, hiking, mountain biking, and leaf-peeping. The restaurant is now closed through December 15, but owner Mark Fleenor says the deluxe cabins are ready for families to enjoy the full kitchens, cozy beds, and sweeping views of the mountains. Oh, and the northern lights are out, too. www.sheepmountain.com (877) 645-5121.
Denali National Park: Road Lottery Weekend is coming up in a few days, and if you weren’t a winner this year don’t let that stop you from driving north and catching all there is to see and do in the park’s entrance area. Stay in Riley Creek Campground or one of several others available in nearby Healy (be prepared for any sort of weather, though), or connect with local accommodations via the Denali Chamber of Commerce. The Denali National Park facilities are indeed open through this weekend, so stop by the main visitor center and check out a Junior Ranger backpack, visit the sled dog kennels where the latest crop of puppies awaits your children, and hike the trails between the entrance proper and park headquarters. If the weather is chilly, swing in to the Murie Science and Learning Center (park headquarters during the winter months) for some time in front of the cozy stove, perhaps reading a book from the well-stocked kids corner.
Seward: The Alaska SeaLife Center has rolled out their fall hours (10 a.m.-5 p.m. through October 2; noon-5 p.m. October 3-February 26) and a few new opportunities to get up close and personal with some of the facility’s most famous residents. An Octopus Encounter provides kids age 6 and up with the chance to “shake hands” with an octopus (I’ve done it and it’s both weird and wonderful at the same time) and learn more about these smart creatures. The Sea Otter Experience is an extra dose of adorable for kids and parents, and provides some insight into the otters’ cornerstone existence in areas like Resurrection Bay. The SeaLife Center recommends reservations for both these activities. (800) 224-2525.
Not sure where to stay? The Harbor 360 Hotel sits right on the small boat harbor of Seward, and has a few affordable and scenic day cruise/overnight packages perfect for families looking to see more of the area’s wildlife and glaciers before winter arrives. https://harbor360hotel.com/packages/, (888) 514-8687. Tours are operating now through early October.
Erin Kirkland is author of Alaska On the Go: exploring the 49th state with children and publisher of AKontheGO.com, Alaska’s only family travel resource. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.