Alaska Colors – A Photo Journey

Local knowledge was useful in planning a drive into remote Alaska – areas that revealed
an array of diverse Alaska colors and allowed my wife and me to capture the wilderness experience.

Alaska colors. Autumn photo of Alaska Mountain Range in Denali Park by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved. Alaska Mountain Range – Denali Park Canon 7D 50 mm lens 5 photos

Knowing where, when and how to travel in Alaska turned out to be an advantage for me – an Australian businessman and photographer who previously lived and worked in Alaska.

The decision for my wife Mimi and I to fly from our hometown of Perth, Western Australia, into Anchorage and drive around 1,000 miles to selective destinations allowed for many photo opportunities that may have been limited when travelling by boat, rail or bus.

It’s important to see this absolutely incredible wilderness as close as you can – as if you were living there. More than 38 years ago I was fortunate enough to have journeyed to many far removed areas throughout this wonderful state.

It was not only time for me to revisit once again, but to introduce Alaska to my wife. And with years of photography experience now “under my belt”, I was excited to make images of Alaska’s grandeur.

The Best Season For Alaska Colors

In my opinion, the best time to be in Alaska is in the autumn. The colors are spectacular! You can capture images of the deep blue of the tidal glaciers on an overcast day, the brilliant oranges and reds of the rapidly turning leaves, the mountain tops draped in snow whites, and pastel like colors on the weather-beaten old buses, boats and trucks.

The climate at this time of the year (late August and early September) is generally nice and warm, it is daylight for 14-17 hours per day, the awful mosquitoes are gone, the salmon are spawning, the bears are happy as food (salmon and berries) is plentiful, and the tourists have significantly thinned out in numbers. Perfect to experience those great Alaska colors

It is even possible to get a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), but this is best done in the coldest winter nights in Fairbanks or further north.

Photo of old bus in Homer, Alaska by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All rights reserved. Old Abandoned Bus – Homer, Alaska Canon 7D 10-22 mm lens

Photo of old truck near Anchorage, Alaska by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All rights reserved. Old Truck in Anchorage Canon 7D 50 mm lens

Travelers need to know that in Alaska, autumn very quickly turns to winter. It starts off as incredibly beautiful for a month or so but then gets very cold, dark and in many cases, just plain nasty (way too cold for way too long).

We chose characteristic cabins for our accommodations, which allowed for ongoing interaction with the very interesting locals. They enjoy sharing their experiences, of which many were quite unique.

The three-week journey began in Anchorage and interestingly the airport is one of the nicest airports, if not the best, in America. Besides the 12 foot stuffed grizzly bear standing tall in the glass enclosure, the northern lights display as you walk towards the rental car desk is incredible.

Map of journey through southern Alaska by Barry Epstein
It’s a huge state and I can’t begin to tell you everything there is to tell or to show the plethora of photos made in the small geographic area we visited, but I can certainly give you a few of the highlights of our amazing journey.


We quickly departed Anchorage and drove south east on the Seward Highway in our rented Toyota Rav4. It is a gorgeous paved road that winds its way around ever-changing mountain, cloud and water scenery. Although it was only a two and one half hour drive to Seward, we took our time and stopped frequently to create a multitude of photos.

Reflection photo of buildings on Seward, Alaska pier by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved. Reflect on Seward Pier Canon 7D 10-22 mm lens

Arriving in Seward revealed a small, quaint town surrounded by mountains, glaciers and Resurrection Bay. It was just as I had remembered!

The next morning we took a nine-hour boat cruise that took us deep into the spectacular Kenai Fjords National Park. It uncovered the remarkable Aialik Tidewater Glacier and an abundance of Alaskan wildlife (whales, seabirds, sea lions, sea otters and more).

The following day we drove to nearby Exit Glacier. We hiked about an hour along a glacial stream until we reached its base. One can feel quite insignificant ascending alongside a mammoth block of ice.

Photo of Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska by Barry Epstein

Close-up photo of Puffin in Seward, Alaska by Barry Epstein

Reflection photo of Aialik Tidal Glacier, Kenai Fjord in Alaska by Barry Epstein

Photo of Exit Glacier in Alaska by Barry Epstein

Resurrection Bay – Seward
Canon 7D 10-22 mm

Horned-billed Puffin – Seward

Aialik Tidal Glacier
Kenai Fjord

Canon 7D 10-22 mm lens

Exit Glacier – Seward

Canon 7D 10-22 mm lens

All Photos: © 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved.


Arriving in the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World, Homer, after a three-hour drive southwest from Seward, presented an amazing view of the Kenai Mountains, glaciers and Kachemak Bay. The Homer Spit, a 4.5-mile long piece of land jutting out from Homer into Kachemak Bay, is packed with restaurants, hotels, shops, beaches and more. It is truly a unique place.

Photo of Katchemak Bay Mountains in Homer, Alaska by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved. Katchemak Bay Mountains and Alpine Glaciers – Homer Canon 7D 70-200 mm lens 5 photos

With so many restaurants from which to choose, we chose ours when standing next to a boat that had just arrived. We had watched as one of the fishermen delivered the fresh halibut to the restaurant adjacent to it. Needless to say, the meal was sumptuous.

Photo by Barry Epstein of old boat called Altair washed ashore
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved.

Memories of Riding the Waves – Homer
Canon 7D 10-22 mm lens

Photo of Café Hope in Hope, Alaska by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved.

Café Hope
Canon 7D 10-22 mm lens

Photo of alpine glaciers near Whittier, Alaska by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved.

Alpine Glacier – Whittier
Canon 7D 70-200 mm lens

Close-up photo of a sunflower in Talkeetna, Alaska by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved. Sunflower – Talkeetna Canon 7D 10-22 mm lens

Our log cabin that we had rented was located literally on top of a steep mountain overlooking the Spit and at this point, we were glad that we had the four-wheel drive rental. The owner was a real character and had been a bear hunting guide for many years and told us of some very interesting adventures.

On our way northeast to Hope, through Coopers Landing, we had to quickly stop when we saw a grizzly up to its neck in the Kenai River. It was fishing for the salmon closely alongside many fishermen nearby that shared the abundant fish during the spawning season.

The two young bear cubs were nearby as well, but to our disappointment, they had dashed into the woods before a photograph was possible.


A short drive north to a very small and well preserved gold rush town named Hope allowed us to stay with an old university friend in his custom built and truly Alaskan decorative house made from timber and rocks from the area.

Interestingly, this retired friend told us of his real Alaskan adventures, from extended kayaking trips with his wife and two boys deep in the wilderness to his climbing of Mount McKinley 6 times. We awoke with mountain and water views of Turnagain Arm that were amazing.

He told us that previous visitors a few weeks earlier had a bit of a confrontation with a grizzly right in their driveway, however no one was injured. The excitement of Alaska!


Another short, but very nice drive northeast to the coastal town of Whittier followed. At the end of the road we entered the single lane Whittier Tunnel – the longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America. After an amazing boat cruise on a rare sunny day, we got close and personal with two tidal glaciers and saw numerous and quite spectacular alpine glaciers.

We were told to keep an eye out for Beluga Whales in the Cook Inlet on our drive along the Seward Highway from Whittier northeast and back towards Anchorage. They said that the whales follow the salmon that comes in with the tide in the early evening.

Although we didn’t see any whales during the hour drive at dusk, we did watch several surfers that were literally riding the waves of the incoming tide as it swiftly moved in from the ocean around Turnagain Arm. We by-passed Anchorage and drove directly north to the very fertile Matanuska Valley with an overnight stay in the town of Palmer.

Alaskan Mountain Range and Talkeetna

After driving due north to Talkeetna, a small town with spectacular views of the Alaska Mountain Range and Mount McKinley, we hopped on a flight-seeing tour.

This was one thrilling escapade! We were flown in a small bush plane fitted with skis deep into the Alaska Mountain Range. We then landed on a bed of white – a glacier 8,000 feet high. This was the Mount McKinley base camp for climbers.

From this point on, it takes around three weeks to walk up the remaining 12,000 feet to the summit.

Photo of plane: Talkeetna Air Taxi on glacier of the Alaskan Mountain Range by Barry Epstein

© 2011 Barry Epstein. All rights reserved.

Talkeetna Air Taxi on Glacier
Alaskan Mountain Range
Canon 7D 10-22 mm lens

Photo of pilot landing Talkeetna Air Taxi on glacier of the Alaskan Mountain Range by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All rights reserved.

Pilot Landing on glacier
Alaska Mountain Range
Canon 7D 10-22 mm lens

Photo of base camp for hikers to Mount McKinley, Alaska by Barry Epstein

© 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved.

Base Camp to Mount Mckinley – 8000 feet high
Canon 7D 50 mm lens

Denali Park

From Talkeetna, it was only two hours on the George Parks Highway due north to the entrance of Denali Park. We had to stop many times to take in the mountain views that were mixed with the first signs of the autumn colors. The leaves were absolutely engaging and they seemed to get even more impressive each day.

Photo of Horseshoe Lake in Denali Park, Alaska by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved. Horseshoe Lake – Denali Park Canon 7D 10-22 mm lens

We were able to drive about 15 miles into Denali Park, but private vehicles are restricted beyond that point, so the next day we boarded a tour bus that drove 89 miles deep into the park. We arrived at Kantishna, where we were fortunate to see and photograph Mount McKinley unadorned in clouds.

It seemed like each turn of the road revealed a stunning scene that was better than the last – one photo opportunity after another.

Autumn photo of Mount McKinley by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved. Mount McKinley Canon 7D 70-200 mm lens

And, we were fortunate to have seen such a wide variety of wildlife and birds – grizzlies, countless moose, caribou, elk, Dall Sheep, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Bald Eagles and so much more. The wildlife alone could have made this photo adventure all worth it.

Collage of Alaska wildlife: elk, moose, grizzly bear, whale, dall sheep, sea otter and Kittiwake bird by Barry Epstein
All photos: © 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved.

Photo of Bald Eagle in Alaska by Barry Epstein
© 2011 Barry Epstein. All Rights Reserved.

What a beauty! Image made during a
presentation on eagles by U.S. Fish & Game biologists.


After a few days, we headed south to Anchorage. Our journey had come to an end. We of course left ourselves extra time to stop at creeks and lakes during the scenic drive to compose so many more photographs.

As we flew out of Anchorage to Seattle, we could see some of the mountain ranges that we had traveled and although we were quite high in the sky, we could vividly remember the wondrous events and those beautiful Alaska colors from this trip. We vowed to return and see more soon.


by Barry Epstein

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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