Travel to Alaska in mid-September?
June 21, 2004 10:43 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I are going to be traveling to Alaska in mid-September, and it looks like we've picked one of the worst times of year to visit. We could use some travel advice! [More Inside]

My girlfriend and I will be travelling to ANC in mid-September on business, and will be then free to explore from 9/17 through 9/20. We will have a rental car, and plan to visit the Kenai fjords on 9/17.

We had hoped to visit Denali, but it looks like we'll be arriving a few days to late for that. So, we're looking for alternative ideas for 9/18 to 9/20. One idea is a flight to Barrow, but we're open to other suggestions as well.

My questions are:

1) With three days to explore from ANC, what would you do? (Our flight leaves ANC just after midnight on 9/21)

2) If we decide on Barrow, I've heard good things about Alaskan Arctic Adventures, or going with a package through Alaskan Airlines. Any thoughts or other ideas?

3) Would a visit to Kodiak make more sense?
posted by neurodoc to Travel & Transportation around Alaska (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
[disclaimer - I used to be a tour guide based in Anchorage, but that was ten years ago]

For your trip south to the Kenai Fjords, give yourself some decent time - don't rush it. The drive from Anchorage to Seward is some of the best scenery around. Mid-september is about mid-way through the color changes, plus more animal activity.

Get out of town. Since you're already driving from ANC to Seward and going to the Kenai Fjords, that's some of the best of South-Central. Kodiak is cool, but not all that different from what you'll be seeing. Barrow is a world away from Anchorage, and from what I recall, just about any package is good, and Alaska Airlines has always had a good rep.

As a tour guide, I used to have to arrive in Alaska in May and leave in September, the "shoulder" months. I always liked those months better than high season. Fewer people, more animal activity, more interesting scenery, etc.

Have fun, I'm jealous!
posted by kokogiak at 10:54 AM on June 21, 2004

Not a direct answer to your question, but if you're visiting Kenai fjords through Seward, I'd recommend taking the train from Anchorage to Seward. It's a beautiful trip. You'll also really enjoy Kenai fjords -- magnificent glaciers, and we saw several whales (early September).

I would recommend the Denali Wilderness Lodge, which is fly-in only (30 miles from the nearest road), but I see that it closes September 11. We did not go to Kodiak or Barrow.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:54 AM on June 21, 2004

neurodoc, why is September one of the worst times to visit Alaska, in your opinion?
posted by clever sheep at 11:37 AM on June 21, 2004

I wouldn't bother with Barrow. It's a long way and I don't think there's really anything there. Same, more or less, with Kodiak. There's plenty to do and see in driving distance of Anchorage, i.e. if you drive fifteen minutes out of Anchorage you're pretty much in the wilderness.

There's a hike not too far from Wasilla (maybe an hour and a half north of Anchorage) called Reed Lakes that I recommend. There'll be snow at the top of it, but no big whup. Seward is lovely. Homer is also supposed to be nice if you're down the peninsula, though I've not been there. You might want to buy the Milepost.

clever sheep: it'll get a little cold to be camping out by the end of September...
posted by mookieproof at 11:50 AM on June 21, 2004

Seward is indeed lovely. As is Homer - I was born and raised in Homer. There are some great fishing opportunities in both Seward and Homer, though Homer is known more for its halibut charters. And fresh halibut is the bees knees.

It's fun to see Barrow and say that you have been to the farthest north city in the US and all that, but there is jack all to do there. Oh, and don't even think about driving. The Dalton Highway goes basically from Fairbanks to Barrow, but you have to throw away any preconceived notion of what you think a highway is. The Dalton is basically a trucker's trail, and is gravel 99% of the way with long stretches (read: hundreds of miles) between human interaction. Definitely fly if you want to see Barrow.

Kodiak is not much different than what you will see on the Kenai Penninsula, though the ferry ride there is very pretty, if a pretty rough ride.

Valdez is very pretty and very different than Seward or Homer. It is a long drive, but there is a ferry that goes from Whittier (an hour or so south of Anchorage).

You could get onto Alyeska - the one semi-good ski resort in the state. It is just under an hour drive south from Anchorage, and there are all sorts of events going on there all year round. You can ride the tram up to the top of the mountain and get a spectacular view.

I live in Fairbanks - an hour flight or 6 hour drive north from Anchorage - and could probably find something of cultural interest for you to do there, though you surely dont want to spend your entire trip driving or flying all around. It is a big state.

Look into if there are any native Alaskan productions going on in Anchorage while you are there. They are much different than other native American groups, and is a great way to immerse yourself in Alaskan culture.
posted by rhapsodie at 12:21 PM on June 21, 2004

Um.. there's no road to Barrow, period. The Dalton goes to Prudhoe Bay.

September is a crapshoot in that it might snow early. BUT If you're lucky, and it doesn't, then you're in for a real treat. In 2001 September was clear and warm and beautiful, with lots of blue skies and fantastic fall colors painted across the mountainsides. The Sandhill crane migration is in mid-September. They pass right over land just North of the Park and West of the little town of Healy and are a magnificient sight. (see Krakauer's "Into the Wild" for a rough description of how to get to a good crane viewing spot, though stop well short of Chris McDumbass's bus, when the road starts to get bad)

A good sightseeing tour, if the weather is and has been good, would be to go up to Denali anyway, and then jog back down and take the Denali highway east to Delta then back down to Anchorage. The Denali Hwy is a 120 mile unpaved road not always in the best of shape, (plan on the dirt section taking 6 hours) but that time of year you're likely to see lots of wildlife and beautiful scenery on the loop, only slightly less than in the park proper.

If the whole loop is too daunting or your rental car not up to the trip, Talkeena offers great views of the Alaska range, late season flightseeing and is a couple of hours less of a round trip from Anchorage than the park entrance proper.

My visit to Barrow was among the most memorable trips of my life, although you really can see it all in a day or two. It's an incredibly different landscape and culture up there from anything else. It's closer to the third world in many ways than to the rest of the US. There's a great Inuit cultural center, point Barrow and the heap of whale skeletons is a surrealistically memorable morning's trip, and the town is interesting to wander about. It might not make it on the list for a three day trip if everything else was available, but if bad weather makes sightseeing elsewhere impossible, Barrow is pretty cool. Kotzebue or Nome probably have equal interest, though I haven't been to either of those places myself.

posted by bradhill at 1:00 PM on June 21, 2004

Response by poster: Wow, great suggestions...Thanks, and keep them coming!

clever sheep: Maybe "worst time" was a little extreme, but it seems like some areas (like Denali) shut down about a week before we arrive. Still, Barrow in January would probably be worse!
posted by neurodoc at 1:01 PM on June 21, 2004

agree that mid september is a great time. wildflowers, and it will be dark enough for you to see the northern lights if conditions are right.

one thing to remember though, you are talking about a HUGE area. I lived in Valdez for two summers, and spent a lot of time in the wasilla/big lake area, and that is just a tiny slice.

my younger brother has worked on the Denali train, and as a tour guide, river guide in kenai, and as a glacier guide on helicopter tours out of juneau, and he has seen a totally different place than I did.

if you only have 3 days, don't stress out on finding the 3 perfect things to do in alaska.

and don't look at the highway mileage up there like you would down in the lower 48.

and, i must say, i've been wanting to go back for 14 years. It is an amazing state.
posted by th3ph17 at 1:40 PM on June 21, 2004

Odd, yet barely on-topic bit of trivia: Hillary Clinton worked on a Salmon Slime Line in Valdez in 1969. From a US News report:

"Future first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a recent graduate of Wellesley College, tried her hand at a slime line in Valdez, Alaska, in the summer of 1969. There, she said, she was "handed a spoon, some hip boots, and a raincoat -- and I think it was the best preparation ever for working in Washington." (Mrs. Clinton, however, was not a model employee. Having complained about the unsuitability of some of the fish for processing, she was fired after only days on the job.)"
posted by kokogiak at 1:58 PM on June 21, 2004

The Dalton goes to Prudhoe Bay.

Ahh, indeed.
posted by rhapsodie at 2:11 PM on June 21, 2004

Oy. sorry I forgot to close that big tag. that's lame. Guess I should turn off the no-CSS mode in Opera on preview.
posted by bradhill at 3:52 PM on June 21, 2004

Halibut charters, my butt, rhapsodie -- Homer is known for producing Jewel. :)

I have to say that the most fabulous thing I did in Alaska was spend a week in Wrangell-St. Elias, but that doesn't sound like it'll fit into your schedule. Seward may fit the bill perfectly, though -- and the drive there from Anchorage is unbelievable.
posted by delfuego at 5:21 PM on June 21, 2004

Mid-September is equinoctical gale time, so bring raingear and a camera wet-protector of some sort if you are at all inclined to photography. It's also frosting in Southcentral by then, so you'll want warmer clothing than you'll believe when you're packing someplace it's still summer. The thing about Alaskan weather is just to do stuff in spite of it.

Seward is fun, but don't stop driving there. Come back from Seward and turn left down the Kenai, but take the "back" road in past Skilak Lake instead of going down through Sterling: great views and the foliage will be the best you'll see (look at the small plants as well as the trees). Come back out to the road at Kenai/Soldotna (nothing remarkable) and go all the way down to Homer, stopping to admire the volcanoes across Cook Inlet and the nifty Russian Church at Ninilchik. If you have time, grab the ferry or a boat or even a $50 (rt) flight over to Seldovia, which will do everything Kodiak would for you, only closer. Accomodations abound in Seward, Homer, Seldovia (all three places have plenty of web presence for your research pleasure). For a nice hike, hit the Hope Turnoff on your way back to Anchorage and do the coastal hike that's in "55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska." Or mess around at Portage or Girdwood afoot.

There's easily three days of stuff to do on the Kenai and you won't kill yourself by spending all your time traveling (just for perspective, the Kenai is about the size of Ireland).
posted by salt at 9:44 PM on June 21, 2004 [1 favorite]

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