October is an in-between time in Alaska. The summer adventures have ended and the winter fun has not yet begun. The days are getting shorter, the weather can be cold and rainy or even snowy, the salmon runs are over, and bears are preparing for hibernation. And while you can experience dazzling fall colors in early October, the leaves will have fallen by mid-month.
While October shouldn’t be your first choice for traveling to Alaska, there are some bright lights. Because the crowds have cleared out, you’ll have much of the vast Alaskan wilderness to yourself. Take advantage! The fishing for trout and steelhead is great, the hiking is sublime, and you can visit the impressive Exit Glacier or travel to Mile 30 inside Denali National Park. And you’ll find Alaska’s amazing museums ready to welcome you.
- October in Alaska has two very different faces: The first half offers one last glimpse of summer—relatively warm temperatures and longer days. But then Mother Nature turns her attention to winter, as the days get colder and shorter.
- That shift, of course, causes the foliage—shimmering yellows and golds of the aspen and birch trees—to light up the landscape. 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.
- While you’ll spot some snow in mountains surrounding Anchorage, it doesn’t come to the city 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.
Things to Do in October
- Hit the trails. With 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.
- Ride an ATV. Join Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours for an ATV ride through the Alaskan fall colors. They continue as long as there’s no snow.
- Enjoy expanded nightlife. You’ll find more shows than in summer. Catch them at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, Cyranos, Taproot, or other venues.
- See animals. At The Alaska Zoo, you’ll find some of the state's unique creatures, programs for young kids, and lots of fun on Halloween.
- Fly Local. Explore other towns on Alaska's regional air carrier RavnAir.
- Ride the rails. The Aurora Winter Train runs on weekends to Fairbanks—or spend the night in Talkeetna. To get a glimpse of those who live off the grid, take the once-a-month Hurricane Turn Train to Hurricane Gulch. Or hop the Alaska Railroad Beer Train or Halloween Train.
- Take a glacier cruise. View massive tidewater glaciers and keep an eye out for wildlife on a Prince William Sound cruise out of Whittier, a little over an hour south of Anchorage. Lazy Otter Charters offers small-group sightseeing tours into Blackstone Bay all month, while the 26 Glacier Cruise operates through the first week of October.
- Walk to a glacier. With the crowds cleared out, it’s worth the drive to Seward to make the 30-minute walk up to the face of Exit Glacier.
- Take a wildlife cruise. While most companies have shut down for the year, Seward Ocean Excursions offers small-group custom charters year-round.
- See marine life up close. Drop by the Alaska SeaLife Center, which is open year-round.
- Go for a walk. Stroll the waterfront trail and small boat harbor, crowd-free, and enjoy great water views.
- Ride the tram. Enjoy spectacular fall colors with a trip up the Alyeska Tram and get a bird’s-eye view from the top of Mt. Alyeska.
- Take a romantic getaway. The Alyeska and its wonderful spa make for a great fall couples’ escape.
- Go for a hike. The Winner Creek Trail offers great hiking and walking year-round and has a fun hand tram near the end.
- Live it up. Take in a concert at the Sitzmark and mingle with the locals. Favorite restaurants for locals 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 to see unique Alaskan animals and learn 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, North America's tallest peak.
- 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 small. Most major hotels have closed, but a few small hotels and B&Bs remain open.
- Brush up on the park. The visitor’s center, the Murie Science & Learning Center, features lots of great information.
- Take a hike. You’ll find accessible trails from the Murie Science & Learning Center. If there’s snow, you can rent snowshoes—for free!
- Go camping. Riley Creek campground provides close proximity to the park and is the only campground 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. Go for a soak at Chena Hot Springs.
- Learn more. 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 opt for a guided excursion or overnight experience. Recommend tours: Arctic Circle Day & Overnight Adventures, Aurora Pointe, Multi-Day Winter Northern Lights Tour, Northern Lights & Chena Hot Springs, Borealis Basecamp clear-roofed igloos & Aurora Ice Fishing.
- Walk with reindeer. Visit Running Reindeer Ranch, where you can take reindeer for a walk and pose for photos.
- 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 or fly. Take the Alaska Railroad to Anchorage on Sundays (it also stops in Talkeetna). Or fly to Anchorage on a quick one-hour flight with RavnAir.
- Check out the pipeline. Go for a drive and take a look at the feat of engineering that is the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
- Travel like a local. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you can travel Interior Alaska Bus Lines’ route between Anchorage, Glennallen, Fairbanks, and Tok, making stops in off-the-beaten-path destinations.