BY GARRETT JOHNSON
The road trip, of all American vacation traditions, endures year after year. There’s something about traveling down unfamiliar roads, exploring new towns and finding new experiences that satisfies our curiosity and sense of adventure. As with any road trip, we must pick our destination, and for this trip, we’ll explore Alaska in the fall. Snowcapped mountains and landscapes filled with hues of orange, red and yellow make for an awe-inspiring experience that will forever be ingrained in our minds and cameras. And, fall being the shoulder season, crowds have thinned out.
Driving north along Highway 1, from Anchorage to the Mat-Su Valley, and up Highway 3, to Talkeetna and Denali National Park, reveals a palette of fall colors climbing the forested hillsides to the feet of mountain peaks. Take your time and stop along the way for photos and even a day hike. The later into September and October you go, the greater the likelihood of fading colors and snow on backroads and trails.
If any destination is a must-visit in Alaska during the fall, then Denali National Park is that place. Preserving six-million acres of Alaskan wilderness, and home to North America’s tallest peak, Denali inspires both the mind and the soul. The park provides exceptional outdoor recreational opportunities, but be sure to watch out for some of the wildlife: You may encounter a large moose or even a grizzly bear. Inside the park, the road is open for private vehicle traffic to mile 30 in the fall only if weather conditions permit.
While you’re searching for fall color, consider the sky. Chena Hot Springs Resort, about 1.5 hours from Fairbanks, is internationally recognized for its views of the aurora borealis. This 440-acre resort area is also known for its remarkable all-season outdoor recreation opportunities. As night falls, it is time to find your spot and to watch for the northern lights. Offering some of the best views of the lights in the world (on clear nights), you’ll enjoy watching the unforgettable spectacle of colors dancing across the sky.
Fly into Anchorage or Fairbanks, rent a car and hit the highway. Keep in mind, fall comes early to Alaska; colors may be past their peak in October. To plan your Alaska fall road trip adventure and find lodging along the way, visit travelalaska.com