Downtown McCarthy // © 2015 Christopher Batin
Feature image (above): Fall is a great time to enjoy Alaska’s natural beauty. // © 2015 Christopher Batin
Alaska’s autumn colors peak during September, and several self-drive tours offer spectacular scenery on par with that your clients will find in the Lower 48.
My favorite autumn drive is the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway. The approximately 130-mile route from Anchorage to Eureka Summit is a combination of all things that melt the human heart: breathtaking snowcapped mountains, winding river valleys, a few cabins dotted here and there and the massive countenance of Matanuska Glacier.
Planning the trip is easy: Rent a car in Anchorage, and make reservations to spend the night at Sheep Mountain Lodge, which offers cozy cabins along the highway, as well as superb meals. Spend the afternoon hiking local trails. The surrounding Chugach and Talkeetna mountainsides are covered with a carpet of red leaves and sweet wild Alaska blueberries; ptarmigan cluck their territorial warnings, and odds are good that your clients will see the aurora borealis flickering away against a backdrop of thousands of Milky Way stars. Light pollution from Anchorage is minimal, so visitors can see stars here that they would never be able to in the city. The night sky alone is worth the trip.
At the end of Glenn Highway, keep driving east until you reach Chitina, and overnight at Gilpatrick’s Hotel Chitina. I recommend a flightseeing trip with Wrangell Mountain Air over Wrangell St. Elias National Park. It’s the only quick way to view this mostly roadless region that includes glaciers, volcanoes and winding icefields. Consider a stay at McCarthy Lodge & The Ma Johnson’s Hotel in McCarthy, an ideal base camp for exploring this part of Alaska.
South of Anchorage, the Chugach Mountains offer a grand display of autumn colors near Portage Glacier. Opt for a quick getaway to Mount Alyeska; the spectacular view from the tram overlooks Turnagain Arm, and the newly dusted snowcapped mountains encircle the resort. Though autumn is too soon for skiing, Alyeska offers a variety of hiking opportunities, with trails surrounded by blazing alpine colors of reds and yellows. The weather is cool, the edible wild berries are plentiful, and the biting bugs are nonexistent.
The resort’s Octoberfest celebrations and Halloween Train offer a rockin’ good time. The train trip begins at the Anchorage train depot and includes transportation to the resort onboard the Alaska Railroad — complete with appetizers and cocktails. Enjoy dinner at your choice of the hotel’s restaurants, followed by the Halloween concert featuring Lez Zeppelin, an all-woman tribute band. Transportation back to Anchorage the next day is via motorcoach. Prices start at $499 per person.