10 Things to Do in Alaska During Shoulder Season

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

Take advantage of visiting Alaska in the Fall. Fewer crowds, bursting colors, Northern Lights, plenty of hikes, and discounts galore are calling your name.

Editor's Note: Alaska recommends that travelers who are not fully vaccinated get tested upon arrival. Those who have tested positive for COVID-19 cannot travel to Alaska until released from isolation and approved by a medical provider. Some communities in the state of Alaska do have COVID-specific travel rules. Up-to-date travel regulations and restrictions for Alaska can be found here.

When it comes to Alaska, there is absolutely no shortage of insanely beautiful and adventurous treks to embark on. For true explorers and nature lovers, Alaska is the state to visit. One trip and you just might be hooked for life. Intoxicating glacial waters, untouched terrain, abundant wildlife, snow-capped mountains, and a spectacular display of Northern Lights will enchant visitors from all walks of life.

Though the months of June, July, and August are the peak summer months for visitors around the world, there are many perhaps unknown benefits to visiting Alaska during the shoulder season.

About Shoulder Season in Alaska

Shoulder season includes the months that come right before and after the peak visiting stretch. In Alaska, shoulder season includes the months of May and September. As August has slipped away, those itching to do more exploring outdoors need not fret because Alaska in September is a great time to visit. Past the peak season, folks who visit Alaska in September will likely receive discounts on hotels and excursions and will also enjoy fewer crowds. The mosquitos will die off, parts of the state will be ablaze in color from changing leaves and tundra, and there will be opportunities to view the Northern Lights as the days shorten. Could it get more ideal?

If activities like hiking, backpacking, kayaking, brown bear watching, Northern Light spotting, and glacier trekking appeal to you, then you’ll want to check out these noteworthy things to do in Alaska and start planning your wild, adventurous getaway.

A quick note about daylight hours: In the month of September, there are roughly 14 hours of daylight in Alaska. Check out this daylight hours calculator for more specific details depending on your location. 

1. Sea Kayak at Fox Island

Photo: Autumn Schrock

Explore the waters surrounding Fox Island, an isolated area only accessible by boat from the town of Seward. There are plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities and you just might see some orcas, sea lions, or puffins while paddling along!

2. Photograph the Northern Lights

Photo: Nate Luebbe

One of the best parts about visiting Alaska during the shoulder season, right after the height of the summer, is getting the chance to see some pretty amazing and unforgettable displays of Northern Lights. As it gets darker earlier, visitors in mid-September may be able to experience one of the world's most mesmerizing spectacles. Fairbanks is often cited as the most ideal city to catch a show.

3. Hike the Twin Peaks Trail

Photo: KC Dempsey

Located in Anchorage, Alaska, this is an easily accessible hike overlooking a glacial lake just 40 minutes from the downtown area. Take in the rich turquoise blue from high above with snow-capped mountains reaching as far as the horizon.

4. Explore Kenai Fjords National Park

Photo: Autumn Schrock

This great Alaskan national park features fjords, glaciers, mountains, and abundant wildlife with miles to explore. Much of this national park is covered in ice, which makes visiting a unique experience. Take in the area by hiking or by boat tour. Please note that the park is open year-round, but there are reduced services during the months of May and September (though still very much worth the trip). 

5. Photograph Brown Bears at Lake Clark National Park

Photo: Nate Luebbe

The Alaskan coastal brown bear is a highly revered animal on this planet and are second in size to the polar bear. The Lake Clark National Park has the highest density of these beautiful creatures in the entire world, providing a spectacular opportunity to observe these bears while keeping safety and respect a top priority.

6. Backpack to Kesugi Ridge

Photo: Saul Jacob

Set foot on this extensive trail system running roughly 36 miles long with sweeping views of Denali and the Alaska Range. There are many different options for starting and ending points to customize the perfect trip for you. Stay up to date with access point closures to this scenic trail. 

7. Hike to Eagle Glacier Cabin

Photo: Adam Ramer

For a unique and rewarding overnight stay in Juneau, Alaska, hike this lush rainforest trail leading to a cozy backcountry cabin. Cared for by the National Forest Service, this cabin should be reserved in advance to secure a spot for you and your family or friends. The serene lake setting boasts mountain views and a glacier. Do note that the cabin is open for public use from 10am-5pm, but making a reservation in less popular seasons heightens the chance of having the place to your self for a quiet retreat in nature. 

8. Hike Lazy Mountain

Photo: Kylie Frizell

Just 90 minutes north of Anchorage, this hike is ironically named for it is a challenging, steep hike that is not meant for those looking to go on a leisurely walk. The hike is an uphill battle, but will reward you with breathtaking views at the summit. Do this hike if you are looking to challenge yourself and to get your blood pumping.

9. Hike to Byron Glacier

Photo: Jack Consenstein

Take a short hike to this insane glacier and explore absolutely stunning ice caves like you've never seen before. This adventure is great for those visiting in September with fewer crowds of people around and right before the colder winter months bring snow, obscuring the trail. Anchorage is a great city to visit and adventure in even when things wind down after the peak summer months. 

10. Hike Up Flattop Mountain

Photo: Dwayne Parton

Located in Anchorage, the hike up Flattop Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in the area. Panoramic and 360-degree views of the Chugach Mountains, Cook Inlet, and the Alaska Range make it a fantastic spot to absorb Alaska's beautiful scenery. If you're lucky and plan accordingly, you just might spot the Northern Lights from the summit. Visiting in September will also likely mean you'll encounter fewer crowds on this popular hike. 

Cover Photo: Nate Luebbe

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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