As a traveler, I always look forward to experiencing local flavors and the culture of each destination. However, the experience of traveling to Alaska was a bit different. Here, the experience and feel of the place itself took the center stage! (You can also watch the video here.)
Alaska in September
Alaska in September is just absolutely beautiful. It is not as crowded as the tourist season dies down before mid-month. But, at the same time, days are still long enough to have plenty of time to explore. Weather in Alaska in September fluctuates. Some days it was cold and we needed jackets, some days, tee-shirts would do, and yes, rain is a hit or miss. Having said that, don’t let rain stop you! Alaska in September is absolutely GORGEOUS! During our trip, it rained only one day when we went to explore glaciers, but we were in and out of a boat the entire day, and the best part, the glaciers’ gorgeous blue color is the most visible in a gloomy weather.
Cruise to Alaska vs. Alaska by Land
To truly experience Alaska, the culture, and the wilderness, flying and exploring the state by land is the way to go. You will see the amazing sceneries and meet many people. Alaskans love Alaska, and they love sharing about life here with everyone who is interested! However, if you are looking for a luxurious experience, you should travel to Alaska by cruise, because the idea of comfort inland is nowhere near the comfort of a cruise ship. Experience is certainly very different, but Alaska will not disappoint, even from the far.
Day 1: Anchorage and 26 Glaciers
The first thing on the itinerary was a tour to see the glaciers and explore 140 miles of Prince William Sound. The boat ride to see the glaciers was absolutely amazing, and even though it rained that day, we didn’t feel that. The glaciers’ amazing blue color is visible best in a gloomy weather. This was the first day of our trip, but I could feel how vast, cold, wild, and absolutely incredible Alaska is.
Anchorage has many wonderful eateries. My favorite breakfast place is Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop and nothing can beat Moose’s Tooth pizza and beer after a long cold day. Keep in mind that as soon as you head out of big cities, like Anchorage and Fairbanks in the Northern part of Alaska, the food selections are limited, and sometimes VERY limited, so make sure to plan accordingly!
Day 2: Train Ride Through Denali to Fairbanks
The train ride on Alaska Railroad Depot was absolutely gorgeous. It passes through different vegetation zones and the Denali Mountain is spectacular. However, the views when passing through the Gulch Bridge absolutely blew me away. Almost 300 feet high, it stands over a stunning (stunning times a million!!!), view. And experiencing it in person is a must. *Keep in mind that after mid-September, the train stops its daily rides, so make sure to check the schedule when you make your plans.
Day 3 and 4: Chena Hot Springs
Did you know Alaska has Hot Springs resort?! It is in a village about one hour away from Fairbanks. The village is so remote and quiet, especially in the mornings! I LOVED getting up early and going for a walk when everyone is still sleeping, except for ducks and the raindeers. Soon after breakfast in China’s (only) restaurant where they serve locally grown food, II spent some time in the hot springs… that is hot hot hot! And it is really cool when the weather is cold and crisp.
In the afternoon we toured the dog kennel and learned about dog mushing. There is so much nuance that goes into the craft of dog mushing! It is fascinating, and I definitely put visiting Alaska in winter to see their annual dog race on my bucket list.
In the evening, we toured the Ice Museum. Inside, everything, all the rooms, and decor is made of ice. it is negative 7 Celsius all year long (23 F). Impressive construction.
Northern Lights – Chasing Aurora
Northern Lights are visible in September, and it is easy to follow the updates on sun activity. There are apps for that (there are apps for everything!!), and the Chena Hot Springs Resort informs everyone if there is a strong solar activity. And if the sky is clear, use the opportunity and get outside (even if you have a scheduled Northern Lights tour, because you cannot guarantee that during the scheduled tour, the sky will be clear. (China Hot Springs has an option to wake you up once sky lits up. It is absolutely amazing and worth waking up for!!)
The Villages (Drive one way, fly back)
Originally, our plan was to take a tour to cross the Arctic Circle. But we got a recommendation to visit remote villages instead and meat with local Athabascan tribe elders, get introduced to their lifestyle. We did this with Northern Alaskan Tour Co., Robert, super nice and knowledgeable. I mean, I would never dare to get into Alaskan wilderness on our own without a knowledgeable person. It is super unsafe for a Californian city girl. I would say ignorant, but I’ll leave it out. This was a truly authentic and fascinating experience. Get to talk to the locals and learn about their lifestyle, what and why they do what they do, how they managed to keep their traditions, teach their kids, and prepare for long winters. I was surprised to learn that many of the villagers serve in the US Army, and many of the elders are Vietnam Veterans. We were treated there as guests of the tribe. Definitely an experience of a lifetime.
Since the villages are about four hours away by car, we took a small airplane to get back to the city. I do have to say I was a little nervous, especially that snowshoers were in the forecast, but it all worked out and this ride was very smooth and was an amazing highlight of the trip.
What to Pack
Okay, please spare yourself from carrying heavy bags with stuff. You will NOT use most of it. Just take a couple of changes of layers – tees, sweaters, and a light parka jacket, and booties. Make sure to bring good moisturizers. As it gets cold here, it also gets dry, and your skin will be very thirsty.