Let’s face it: October should not be your first choice of months to visit Alaska. Many of the summer adventures have ended, and there’s not enough snow for the winter activities to begin. However, if you’re looking for a unique Alaskan experience, you’ll find plenty to do. And if October is the only time you can make it here, then come—you can still have a great experience.
What It’s Like
October in Alaska has two very different faces. The first half of the month offers one last glimpse of summer—relatively warm temperatures and longer days. But then, in the last two weeks, Mother Nature turns her attention to winter, as the days get colder and shorter. That shift causes the foliage to light up the landscape—shimmering yellows and golds of the aspen and birch trees. And as the trees start dropping their leaves, you’ll see even more dramatic scenery through them, as well as a thicker carpet of colorful leaves on the hiking trails.
Is There Snow?
While you’ll spot some snow in mountains surrounding Anchorage, it doesn’t come to Anchorage until the end of the month. In fact, you’ll find more clear days than in summertime. And the snowcapped-mountain scenery is gorgeous, from when the sun hits it around 7:30 a.m. to when it sets around 7 or 8 p.m.
Is It Crowded?
Visitors have left for the season and overall, the state is less crowded, so there’s a better chance to meet the locals and have the roads, trails, and hotels to yourself (not to mention that you’ll find better deals on hotels). There’s a special feeling in October, almost like going back in time, because if you rent a car and get even a few miles out of any town, you feel like you have the state to yourself. It’s a nostalgic, reflective, fleeting feeling. October, too, is a great time to view the Northern Lights.
Overall, this is a great time to come enjoy authentic Alaska—the interim period between the height of summer tourism and the dead of hardcore winter.
Things to Do in October, in Cities and Towns Across Alaska
- Hit the trails. With the summer tourists cleared out and temperatures in the 40s and 50s, it’s a great time to go hiking and walking. Just bring warm, waterproof clothes in case it snows or rains. Or, hop on a bike with Alaska Trail Guides. They offer several half and full day trips in both the summer and winter. They're a perfect choice the transition time of October. If there's snow, they'll put you on a fat tire bike!
- Enjoy expanded nightlife. In the fall there are more shows in Anchorage than the summer. See if you can catch one while you are in town at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, Cyranos, Taproot, or other venues.
- Ride an ATV. Join Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours on an ATV ride through the Alaskan fall. They'll offer tours as long as there's no snow!
- Rent a VW Campervan. Get on the road with a VW rental from Trickster Trips. The winter rental is equipped with 4WD (great if it snows), and a propex heater with a thermostat that kicks on whenever the temperature dips below where you've set it. It's perfect for camping out under the northern lights.
- Hop on the train. You have some fun train options in October:
- Take the Aurora Winter Train. Running only on weekends, the train chugs up to Fairbanks—or you can choose to do an overnight in Talkeetna.
- Get a glimpse of those who live off the grid with the once-a-month Hurricane Turn Train, which travels round-trip from Anchorage to Hurricane Gulch.
- Ride the Alaska Railroad Beer Train or Halloween Train.
- Take a glacier cruise. A little over an hour south of Anchorage, the small town of Whittier is situated on the shores of Prince William Sound. Lazy Otter Charters offers small group sightseeing tours into Blackstone Bay through the month of October. View massive tidewater glaciers and keep an eye out for wildlife.
- Visit Exit Glacier. With the crowds cleared out, it’s worth the drive to Seward to take the 30-minute walk up to the face of the glacier.
- Take a wildlife cruise. While most companies have shut down for the year, Major Marine Tours offers an abbreviated three-hour tour into Resurrection Bay from the end of September through the middle of October. Seward Ocean Excursions offers small group custom charters year-round!
- Drop by the Seward SeaLife Center. This great attraction is open year-round.
- Go for a walk. Stroll the waterfront trail and small boat harbor, crowd-free, and take in great water views.
- Ride the tram. Enjoy the fall colors with a trip up the Alyeska Tram and a birds-eye view from the top of Mt. Alyeska.
- Take a romantic getaway. The Alyeska Hotel and its wonderful spa makes for a great fall couples’ escape.
- Go for a hike. The Winner Creek Trail offers great hiking and walking year-round and has a hand tram near the end.
- Live it up. Girdwood has excellent dining and nightlife year-round. Take in a concert at the Sitzmark and mingle with the locals. Local favorite restaurants include The Double Musky (Cajun Alaskan fare), Jack Sprat (“fat & lean world cuisine”), and Chair 5 (pizza and pub food).
- Help the animals. Visit the Wildlife Conservation Center (open year-round, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. this time of year) to see Alaskan animals and see what’s being done to protect them.
- Enjoy the nightlife. Take in the great live music at the Fairview Inn.
- Go flightseeing. Take a once-in-a-lifetime flight around Denali (Mt. McKinley). Tours are offered year round.
- Grab a rod and reel. Fish for Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden, and Grayling with Phantom Salmon Charters.
- Ride the rails. Hop the flagstop Hurricane Turn train on the first Thursday of the month and ride past Alaskan homesteaders.
- Stay close. With average highs in the 30s and lows in the 10s, most major hotels have closed, but a few small hotels and B&Bs remain open.
- Stop by the center. The winter visitor’s center, the Murie Science & Learning Center, is open 9 a.m.–4 p.m. from late September until May 14.
- Take a hike. You’ll find accessible trails from the Murie Science & Learning Center. If there’s snow, rent snowshoes—for free!
- Go camping. Riley Creek campground provides close proximity to Denali Park and is the only campground to remain open this time of year. There’s no fee, but there’s also no water on-site—it’s for hardy campers only!
- Warm up. With average highs in the 30s and lows in the 10s, October’s a great time to visit Chena Hot Springs.
- Hit the museums. Check out the city’s great museums—the UA Museum of the North and Antique Auto Museum.
- See the Northern Lights. You can check them out on your own, or go with Northern Alaska Tour Company.
- Fly to the Arctic. Hop in a plane with Warbelow’s Air Ventures for a real adventure.
- Take to the trails. Hike the Chena Riverwalk or the Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary.
- Ride the rails. Take the Alaska Railroad to Anchorage on Sundays (it also stops in Talkeetna).
- Check out the pipeline. Go for a drive and take a look at the feat of engineering that is the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.