Here’s a wake-up call for Alaska travelers: It’s mid-August. The kids go back to school Aug. 21. On the Dalton Highway near Atigun Pass, the leaves are changing colors and the fireweed is starting to bloom.
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No pressure here, but I suggest you get busy and do some fun things before the snow flies. Believe it or not, the late-season deals are already springing up. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Wildlife and glacier cruises in Seward: Sail with Major Marine Tours between Aug. 22 and Sept. 18 and stay at their hotel, the Harbor 360 Hotel. Or, you could take the six-hour national park cruise to Aialik Glacier. Packages include one night’s accommodations, the on-board buffet and free tickets to the Alaska Sealife Center. Cost is $236 per person, double occupancy. Call 907-274-7300.
Sail later in the season, between Sept. 25 and Oct. 15 on the 3.5-hour cruise. This package also includes overnight accommodations at the hotel, but the cost is just $119 per person, double.
2. Bus tour in Denali: If you’re lucky enough to get one of the lottery tickets to drive the park road in late September, good for you. Otherwise, hop on board the Denali Backcountry Adventure bus. It leaves each morning from the park entrance at 6 a.m for the drive back to Kantishna. Between now and Sept. 13, there’s a $25 discount off the $184 ticket for Alaska residents. This is a 13-hour trip, which includes lunch at the Denali Backcountry Lodge in Kantishna. There are plenty of stops along the way for photos and to stretch your legs. You’ll see more than most folks — because most won’t put up with the long ride! If you get back to Kantishna and just cannot face getting back on the bus for the return trip, check in with Kantishna Air for a ride back to the park entrance. The two magic words are “weather permitting.” Call 888-667-0886.
3. Rail/hotel package up to Talkeetna: This isn’t really a “late season” special, since it’s been available for most of the summer. But it’s a humdinger: Ride from Anchorage on Princess Tours’ private rail cars pulled by the Alaska Railroad. Once you arrive in Talkeetna, catch the Princess coach to take you up to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. It’s right on the banks of the Chulitna River and it’s got a great deck to view Denali. There’s a shuttle to take you back and forth to Talkeetna for river trips, flightseeing tours — or lunch at Mountain High Pizza Pie. The cost is as low as $187 per person, double occupancy, for a two-night stay. Call 800-426-0500.
4. Free tram rides at Alyeska Resort: It’s always fun to ride the tram at Alyeska. Stay at the hotel between Sept. 17 and Oct. 8 and receive two adult tram passes and up to three kids’ passes (under 18). Hike around, pick berries or enjoy the view from the restaurant. Call 800-880-3880.
5. Fall colors in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park: Kennicott Glacier Lodge offers late-season specials for its forest-view rooms: $99 per night between now and Sept. 10. The glacier view rooms in the main lodge are a little more, $169 per night. You can drive all the way on the McCarthy Road to the bridge. Walk across and the van from the lodge will take you up the hill to the ghost town of Kennicott. Call 907-258-2350.
6. Save 50 percent at all three lodges at Alaska Wildland Adventures using the code “HALFOFF”: The newest lodge, Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, is located in Aialik Bay, deep in the heart of Kenai Fjords National Park. You can look out the windows at Pedersen Glacier. They have canoes and you can paddle around in Pedersen Lagoon. This is a real “eco-lodge” and they’re serious about keeping things natural. Your package includes accommodations, meals and guided activities. Also included: your trip to and from the lodge, which doubles as a stand-alone glacier and wildlife cruise. Cost for the two-night package is normally $1,540 per person. But when you call in with the code, the second person goes along at no additional charge. Call 907-783-2928.
Kenai Backcountry Lodge is located on the south side of Skilak Lake. You have to take one of the lodge’s boats to get from the Skilak Lake campground over to the lodge. Hiking up the Cottonwood Trail is a signature activity at the lodge — it’s a million-dollar view from above the treeline. There also are some kayaks for paddling around the lake. I like the sauna — it’s nice and hot, which is the perfect setup for a jump into the cold waters of Skilak Lake. For the four-day/three-night package, the regular rate is $1,745 per person. With the special, a second person can go along for free. All meals, accommodations and guided activities are included. Check with Alaska Wildland Adventures for availability of shorter stays.
Kenai Riverside Lodge is on the road system in Cooper Landing. Guides at the lodge can take you rafting down the Kenai River Canyon or hiking on the trails. Guided fishing also is available, although there’s an additional charge. All the meals are included. For three days and two nights, the cost is normally $1,020 per person. Another person can come along at no additional charge using the discount code.
7. Ride the rails on the Alaska Railroad: The value season kicks in Sept. 1 for railroad tickets. For the Coastal Classic to Seward, the price drops from $105 one-way to $95 one-way. From Anchorage to Denali, the cost falls from $167 to $133 one-way. Daily service on the railroad between Anchorage and Seward and Anchorage and Denali/Fairbanks is available through Sept. 17. On Sept. 23, the Aurora Trail starts its winter schedule from Anchorage to Fairbanks on Saturdays, returning on Sundays. The cost is $195 each way for the 12-hour ride.
Don’t miss your chance to see some of the best parts of Alaska as the prices dip for the fall!
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.