Autumn in Alaska: Destinations for the whole family

Any day. Any day, now, and this will be the view from my office window.

It’s different now, in the morning. Stumbling across the front porch to collect my daily newspaper is a little more complicated these days, thanks to the lack of daylight. A little cooler, too.

Fall is here.

Subtle, for sure, but Alaskans notice. We see the pale green-almost-yellow shade of birch and cottonwood trees above our heads, and the completeness of garden produce below our feet. The wind blows cooler, sharper, too, and a sense of urgency takes over, as if we might not have enough time to do everything we must before the first glimpse of termination dust falls on the mountain tops.

Fall is perhaps my favorite season for Alaska family travel. Most of the crowds have gone home, the pace is decidedly slower, and the crimson and gold, spectacular. The cost for bringing the kids to Alaska after September 1? Decidedly cheaper, as well.

Sure, school is back in session, but imagine, if you will, the magical memories your kids will gather in Alaska between the end of August and the middle of September. Rutting moose, crunchy leaves, incredible scenery, and some pretty great stories to tell the class. If you find yourselves booking a ticket and hopping a plane north to Alaska this fall, or if you live here and want one last family getaway, here are a few options for fall activities, live and definitely in color.

An autumn stroll through the Alaska Botanical Garden is just what you need, isn't it?

Alaska Botanical Garden, Anchorage. This 110-acre spruce and birch forest on the fringe of town is a delightful walk for any age. We love exploring the interesting Wildflower Trail, but for a longer stroll, take the Lowenfells Family Nature Trail, a 1.1 mile hike to Campbell Creek, where spawning salmon (ahem, and the occasional bear) splash and dash around. Jog strollers or packs for little ones are recommended. Teens and ‘tweens? They’ll like it too, especially the configuation of rock and herb gardens. Education guru Pat Ryan is also a fabulous guide, if you can catch him wandering around. Open all year.

Lovely, isn't it? Matanuska Glacier. One of our few drive-up views.

Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Area, Mile 101 Glenn Highway. Often the site of family pit stops while heading north on the Glenn Highway, Mat Glacier is worth more than a potty break. Hike the Edge Nature Trail, take photos of turning leaves, and have a picnic, for heaven’s sake. We just don’t know how long a glacier like this will be in our viewfinder, so capture it while you can. And how about the Matanuska River – winding through the valley in a threaded mix-up of silty shoreline!?

One totem, two totem, and many more await your family at Sitka National Historical Park.

Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka. I can’t reiterate enough the value of exploring southeast Alaska after most of the cruise ships have sailed off for warmer seas. This park is full of ancient totem poles and a rich history, so take the kids on a scavenger hunt of the most enormous kind, and see how many you find. The National Park Service Junior Ranger program is tons of fun, too, as are the guided walks and hikes throughout the week.

The captivating Begich, Boggs Visitor Center in Portage. (image courtesy

Equally captivating moose at Begich, Boggs. Pretty big, eh?

Portage Valley, Portage. AK Kid and I love this area, especially during the late summer months, when the already-wild weather sometimes takes a downward spiral, leaving us indoors to explore our favorite visitor center, Begich, Boggs, located just before the tunnel to Whittier. Portage Valley is five miles of biking, hiking, floating fantastic-ness, weather be darned, and it takes an entire day to explore the offerings of this fascinating isthmus of rock and river. Take the Seward Highway past Girdwood, and onto the beginning of the Kenai Peninsula; the left turn will be just after the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The visitor center is only open for a few more days, so hurry and catch the action before the seasonal help goes home!

“Autumn,” said William Cullen Bryant, is “the year’s last, lovliest smile.”

And who, pray tell, would want to ignore something like that?


For more family travel trips during the fall months, check out these cool posts:

Fall hikes for the whole family

Labor Day weekend in Valdez

Kennicott Glacier Lodge and Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark 





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