Home » Alaska Photo Tours & Workshops » Denali Highway Tundra Fall Colors & Northern Lights

Denali Highway Tundra Fall Colors & Northern Lights

Photographer framing her landscape image with Alaska range foothills reflecting in fog layered lake. © Michael DeYoung

AT A GLANCE

Instructional based fall landscape photo tour (starts & end in Fairbanks)

WHEN

Sep 1 – 7, 2024
(TOUR FULL)

FEE

Single: $3,795
Double: $3,395 each

DEPOSIT: $500

WHO

Adventurous landscape photographers of all levels who want to advance their skills and vision. May require staying up long hours to photograph aurora displays.

PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS

Easy

Mostly walking on firm ground with some short distances on spongy ground plus possibly one climb up 50′ hill.

Portrait of your trip leaders, Michael and Lauri DeYoung. A veteran-owned, small business.

TRIP LEADERS

Michael DeYoung
Lauri DeYoung

About Your Guides

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Small group for maximum personal attention and group mobility
  • All ground transportation from Fairbanks in roomy van
  • Home-cooked meals included during remote lodge stay (3 nights)
  • Pristine wilderness landscapes: glaciers, rivers, lakes, tundra colors, and big peaks
  • Potential to capture aurora and reflections
  • Potential to photograph Denali, North America’s tallest mountain

WHAT CLIENTS SAY

“Michael and Lauri ran a great Alaska photo tour experience. We saw the aurora, animals and some amazing sunsets and sunrises. Their knowledge of Alaska and the great places to shoot was exceptional. I truly enjoyed the experience. “

– George R. (Santa Fe, NM)

WORKSHOP DETAILS

WHERE: Starts & Ends in Fairbanks, AK

ON-LOCATION: Mostly on Denali Highway between Paxson and Cantwell

GROUP SIZE: 6 Max

WHAT’S INCLUDED:

  • All transportation provided to and from Fairbanks in roomy van during tour date
  • 6 nights of lodging (sharing cabins may be required at Maclaren River Lodge along the Denali Highway)
  • Meals ONLY during our stay at Maclaren River Lodge
  • Constructive image critique sessions with post processing guidance
  • Michael and Lauri as your guides and instructors

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED:

  • Transportation to and from your home to Fairbanks, AK.
  • Meals (except for the time at Maclaren River Lodge)
  • Travel Insurance
  • Gratuities for lodge staff and photo guides
  • Personal expenses
Image of alpenglow over snow covered Alaska Range mountains © Michael DeYoung

REGISTRATION DEADLINE: June 30

DESCRIPTION

Alaska is a fall landscape lover’s dream with potential to capture the essence of the north – the northern lights dancing across a pristine dark sky and reflecting on lakes and ponds. Wild, unspoiled and uncrowded, join a small group as we explore and photograph the vast and sweeping tundra landscapes of the Denali Highway and the Eastern Alaska Range at or near the peak of fall colors.

Jump start your fall color photography season on this unique and intimate Alaskan photo tour created and led by one of Alaska’s most experienced travel and adventure photography teams. Our tour begins and ends in Fairbanks, one of the best places in Alaska to capture the northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, in relative comfort. This is a magical time with potential to capture aurora reflections and color on the numerous lakes along our route before they freeze for the winter, and to photograph sunrise on Denali, North America’s tallest peak.

OVERVIEW

The auroras can be just as active in the fall as they are in winter but without the frozen landscape and bitter cold. To add a little spice, our tour will include chances to view and photograph North America’s highest peak, Denali at 20,320’, from the east and south.

When the auroras are not dancing across the night sky or covered by clouds, we will focus our cameras on a pure visual delight of reds, oranges and golds that make up the endless fall tundra with big open skies and sweeping views of glacier clad peaks of the Eastern Alaska Range. The blazing fall tundra also affords limitless macro and intimate landscape opportunities. If we are fortunate, a dusting of snow will add visual interest to the already stunning landscapes of Denali country.

There are many places in the northern latitudes that afford decent and frequent aurora viewing. Fairbanks and Denali country are among them. All locations in northern latitudes regardless of what others may tell you are subject to long periods of cloudy weather even during the dry spring season and nights where the auroras don’t develop due to lack of solar activity. When looking at any aurora tour, go for the destination as much as the aurora potential.

This is why we’ve chosen this route and this time of year to capture the best of two worlds. There is a narrow window beginning in late August and lasting into early September when we see the convergence of two great photo subjects: the height of fall color on the tundra and upper taiga forest below big glacier clad peaks and aurora displays on relatively warm nights (compared to winter) with possible reflections on bodies of open water.

NOTE: This tour is along the Denali Highway, a 130-mile stretch of improved dirt road that connects the Parks Highway (Cantwell) on the west and the Richardson Highway (Paxson) on the east. It is not the road into Denali National Park. While we would love to run a commercial trip in Denali National Park, the Park Service does not issue commercial use permits for us to take you into the park itself. We could arrange for participants to ride the official park shuttle buses but you do not have much flexibility on the bus, photographically, so we opt not to pursue that option. We’d be happy to help you arrange that trip.

SPECIAL NOTES ABOUT THIS TOUR

FACILITIES: While this trip is about wilderness landscapes without leaving modern amenities, participants may be in remote locations with no restroom facilities for up to several hours. Please be prepared to answer nature’s call in actual nature if necessary and we always practice Leave No Trace. We will always have bathroom necessities with us and available should the need arise.

NOTE: This tour operates during hunting season. Nearly all hunting activities occur on the south side of the dirt highway. Our focus will be on the north side of the highway where the views of the Alaska Range and potential northern lights exist. Alaska Department of Natural Resources do not allow drones in areas under their control. While this tour may not always fall under Alaska DNR purview, it is highly recommended that you do NOT bring a drone as hunters may not appreciate their presence.

WHAT IF WE DON’T SEE ANY AURORA DISPLAYS?

South of the Alaska Range, where the Denali Highway is, has a cloudier climate than the north side but potentially better aurora foregrounds based on orientation of the Alaska Range relative to where you will most likely see displays. If the aurora isn’t out we still have a visually stunning landscape to see and photograph. Spectacular displays do occur along the Denali Highway in late August and we’ve been seeing them for years. Every night of this tour, including the arrival and departure days in Fairbanks have potential for aurora viewing and photography. There are nearby lakes to capture aurora and reflections while in Fairbanks.

Due to the nature of photographing mostly at night and operating in remote areas, expect idle time. Aurora photography generally requires a lot of waiting on location for displays to become photo worthy. Really good and photo worthy displays are intermittent and unpredictable. We want to be at a favorable location when the aurora starts, not racing down the highway. Some sleep deprivation is likely as many folks have trouble sleeping during the day. Meals may not be timely although nobody will go hungry. We will always have high calorie snack food, drinking water, and a stove to make hot tea and chocolate.

WEATHER

Much of Alaska has a predominantly cloudy environment. Please do not get discouraged. It is unrealistic to go anywhere in Alaska for only a day or two and expect magical light conditions that produce the kind of images we all seek. Do not get discouraged. One of the reasons for a 7-day event is to stack the odds in our favor of catching some spectacular light and clear skies for at least one or two nights of aurora.

Plus, our tour is timed to take place during peak fall with maximum red and gold colors. With careful and creative techniques, it is still possible to get colorful and beautiful landscape images in cloudy weather and even light rain. Remember, often times, bad weather can equate to great photos.

ITINERARY

PLEASE NOTE: This itinerary is a guideline as weather conditions and northern light forecasts will affect the itinerary.

DAY 1 (SEP 1): ARRIVAL IN FAIRBANKS

Plan to arrive in Fairbanks no later than 3PM. (A free shuttle service from the airport is available by the hotel.) Our group meets at 5PM for introductions and group dinner to go over the details of our adventure.

Alaska is 4 hours earlier than the East Coast. To help you adjust to the difference in time zones, you may wish to arrive a day or two earlier to acclimate. We will be happy to assist you with booking additional lodging in Fairbanks.

DAY 2 (SEP 2): TRAVEL TO REMOTE LODGE – DENALI HIGHWAY

We depart Fairbanks after breakfast and photograph mountain scenics along the way to the Denali Highway, where we will spend the next several days. After checking into our rustic cabins, we will hop in the van and travel to one of several lakes to capture the fall colored tundra vegetation and nearby mountains reflecting in the lakes at last light. After dinner, if the forecast is favorable and participants are willing, we will head out to photograph the Northern Lights.

Aurora borealis (or Northern Lights) reflecting in an unnamed pond along Alaska's Denali Highway. © Michael DeYoung

LODGING: Participants will most likely need to share a cabin (which has 2 queen beds per cabin and 1 bathroom) as this is a remote lodge with limited capacity. Room assignments will be made on location based on the make up of the group. Couples will have their own cabin as will friends traveling together. We will make our best efforts before pairing up participants of the same gender that do not know each other. Regardless of room sharing status, the lodge is comfortable, warm, dry with an exceptional staff and outstanding meals. Meals at the lodge are included in tour fee.

DAY 3 & 4 (SEP 3 & 4): REMOTE LODGE- DENALI HIGHWAY

We start the morning with a sunrise landscape shoot and return to the lodge for breakfast. We can spend time photographing around the lodge or meet up for an informal image critique session and/or answer any technical or creative technique questions individuals may have. In the afternoon, we head back onto the Denali Highway for more fall color landscapes and sunset photographic opportunities.After dinner, if the forecast is favorable and participants are willing, we will head out to photograph the Northern Lights.

DAY 5 (SEP 5): TRANSFER TO REMOTE CABINS OFF PARKS HIGHWAY –

If we are not out too late the previous night shooting Northern Lights, we’ll start the morning with a sunrise landscape shoot and return to the lodge for breakfast. We’ll check out of our cabins, gather our gear, and travel to our next quaint Alaskan accommodations off the road from the Parks Highway allowing for more photographic opportunities on the western edge of the Denali Highway.

DAY 6 (SEP 6): DENALI VIEWS & PARKS HIGHWAY FALL LANDSCAPES

We start the morning off with an early morning sunrise shoot with views of Denali and other tundra fall landscapes. The rest of the day will be spent shooting other fall landscapes, hopefully ending the day with a sunset shoot of Denali.

DAY 7 (SEP 7): FAIRBANKS – END OF TRIP

We head out early, weather permitting, for some more sunrise views of Denali along the Parks Highway before heading back to Fairbanks around 2:00PM to say our goodbyes and treasure the experience we all just shared.

PLEASE NOTE: While the photo tour officially ends around 2:00PM, we encourage participants to spend an additional night for the opportunity to photograph northern lights in the Fairbanks area, weather permitting. Michael and Lauri will remain in the Fairbanks area to take participants who wish to go out.

GETTING HERE/EXTEND YOUR STAY

The Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) is a large, visitor-friendly airport with several flights a day. Some of the major airlines that service to Fairbanks include:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Delta
  • United

Sun Country Airlines and JetBlue has service to only Ted Steven’s International Airport in Anchorage – not to Fairbanks. However, check the above airlines for a connecting flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks.

There is a 24-hour courtesy shuttle service from the airport to Sophie Station Suites (our first night’s lodging). Please call them upon your arrival at 907.452.1442 to coordinate pickup.

The official group meeting location will be at 6:00PM at Sophie Station Suites (1717 University Avenue, Fairbanks AK 99709) which is approximately 3 miles away (as the roads go) from the Fairbanks International Airport.

View of Maclaren River Lodge. Denali Highway, Alaska © Lauri DeYoung

FAIRBANKS LODGING

Lodging from Sep 1 – 6 is included in your tour fee. If you plan to arrive earlier and/or stay later you will need to make your own additional reservations. If you wish to stay at the same hotel we reserved for the tour’s first night, you can make reservations online at Sophie Station Suites or calling them at 907.479.3650 and request the Deluxe One Bedroom Suite. Unfortunately, there is no group rate we can extend at this time. We are working to change that.

We strongly recommend making any additional reservations early as hotels can fill quickly.

If you prefer staying at a different hotel or need help in making additional lodging arrangements, we’d be happy to assist.

PAYMENT & CANCELLATION POLICIES

PAYMENT TERMS: A minimum deposit is due at registration to reserve your space. Required deposit amount is $500. Final payments, which can be made in installments, are due 90 days prior to tour start date. Invoices for final balances will be emailed to registered participants approximately 120 days prior to tour start date to allow time to spread out making payments.

CANCELLATION POLICY:

When a participant cancels a reserved spot in a regularly scheduled (i.e., non-custom) photo tour, it takes time and effort to fill the vacancy. Please be sure to check your personal schedule well ahead of the dates of the trip to make sure there are no conflicts. If you discover that you will not be able to attend we would very much appreciate knowing this as soon as possible.

The following fee schedule applies:

Because of the unique nature of this workshop, If your cancellation is received more than 120 days prior to the beginning of a tour or workshop, we will refund your registration fee less a 5% of your initial deposit. Any fees paid up to this point, less 5% of your initial deposit, can be applied to another scheduled tour or converted to a private photo tour or private photography instruction session.

As other vendors we book with have limited refund policies, if your cancellation is received less than 120 days prior to the beginning of a tour or workshop, we will retain the entire balance paid to date unless you are able to locate someone who will fill your position.

If the photo workshop or tour is full and someone from the waiting list can take your spot, we will refund your entire balance paid to date less 5% of your initial deposit.

No refund of any fees will be made for cancellations after the tour begins.

TRIP INSURANCE

In the event that a tour must be cancelled due to inadequate enrollment, all registration fees received by us will be refunded in full or, if you prefer, your registration fees paid up to this point can be applied to another scheduled tour or converted to a private photo tour.

We are not responsible for reimbursement of non-refundable airline tickets or lodging arrangements you made in the event of a tour cancellation. Please do not make any travel arrangements until you have received notification that the tour has met its minimal participant requirement which will be known at least 90 days prior to the start date OR consider the purchase of trip insurance.

We highly suggest TravelGuard® or similar travel insurance policies to assist you in case of last minute plan changes and emergencies.

SUSTAINABLE TOURISM

We are big supporters of sustainable tourism and practitioners of Leave No Trace. As much as possible we support local businesses with a commitment to quality and service. The lodges, B&Bs, restaurants, and even the van rental are all from locally owned businesses. On location, we practice and insist on Leave No Trace principles. Our small groups traveling in one vehicle allow us to minimize our impact and presence. We strive to make our small group maintain a light footprint on the tundra.

 

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