The kids are in school. Labor Day has come and gone. Still, are you ready to say goodbye to the sizzling summer of 2014?
All together now: "N-o-o-o-o-o-!"
September is a glorious month for summer's last stand. Here are a few tips to enjoy a few more fun times before getting to the messy business of putting studded tires on your car.
One of the best features of Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan is the in-state award. For as little as 15,000 miles, you can fly from Anchorage or Fairbanks (or any jet city) to Juneau or Ketchikan. Along the Inside Passage, summer lasts for another month due to the cruise ship schedule. That means all the fun activities are still open for business.
In Ketchikan, sail with Southeast Sea Kayaks. Meet them on the dock downtown, where they will whisk you across George Inlet to a secluded spot for kayaking in Orca Cove. Your course takes you along some sheer cliffs and you can get up close to see the starfish and other marine life clinging to the rocks. Depending on the tides and the weather, you can paddle up some of the creeks which flow into the inlet. It's a great experience, finished off with some snacks on the mother ship before heading back to town.
Ziplines are springing up everywhere in Alaska. The first one I tried was in Ketchikan, at Alaska Canopy Adventures. There are two courses set up at Herring Cove. Since there is a salmon hatchery nearby, it's not uncommon to see black bears strolling the grounds. Down at sea level, you load up into an all-terrain monster truck for the trek halfway up the mountain. At the high camp, you're outfitted with your harness, your gloves and your hard hat. From there, you get to hike up and start your series of zips and suspension bridges. It's a blast!
Since it's the end of the season, shoppers may enjoy a stroll down Ketchikan's historic Creek Street. You can see the salmon swimming up the creek, as the buildings are built over the water. I love to visit Ray Troll's gallery, Soho Coho. Also on my "every time I visit" list: Parnassus Books across the creek at 105 Stedman Street.
Even if you're not staying there, it's fun to take the funicular up from Creek Street the Cape Fox Lodge, which has a great view over the downtown area and the waterfront beyond.
For more information on Ketchikan, including fishing, flightseeing and ferry trips, check with the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau.
Every Alaskan should visit Juneau, whether it's to see the sights or lobby your legislators! In the summertime, Alaska's capital city is a glorious place. You don't need much time to catch the Mt. Roberts Tram up the mountain. It leaves from the cruise ship dock and it's less than a 10-minute ride to the tram station high above the city. I've taken a couple of Christmas card shots from the top. There are several trails that start from the tram station, including one that goes to the top of Mt. Roberts. The trails lead to stunning overlooks. It's particularly nice to look at an Alaska Airlines jet at eye level as the plane makes its final approach to the airport. You also can see helicopters and floatplanes flying beneath you.
Our family has good friends in Juneau, so I like to go out in their boat from Auke Bay. Depending on the season, we go fishing, crabbing or sightseeing. Auke Bay is also where the ferry docks. There are also several operators that offer whale-watching tours and fishing charters. Bob Janes' company, Gastineau Guiding, offers a selection of whale-watching trips.
Don't miss the chance to visit the Mendenhall Glacier while you're in Juneau. There is an extensive trail system from the visitor center at the end of the road. Locals like to gather on the boardwalk near the center after the cruise ships are gone for the day. Often, there are several black bears that are tramping around in the wetlands underneath, munching on salmon!
Another great venue in Juneau is the Shrine of St. Therese. Located about 20 miles north of downtown Juneau, the shrine features a chapel built on an island, gardens, a labyrinth and a few trails. From the island, we saw humpback whales rolling in the channel. It's a great place for peaceful reflection. I have walked the steps of the labyrinth several times.
Remember, your 15,000 Alaska Airlines miles will also take you to Sitka, Wrangell or Petersburg.
Closer to home, there is still plenty to see and do at the end of the road in Homer. You may find that many of the seasonal businesses on the Homer Spit are closing for the season, but Mako's Water Taxi runs year-round. Take one of their landing-craft boats across the bay to the Grewingk Glacier trail. Pack a lunch and some water along with your camera. It's a great hike in from the beach for some awesome glacier views. Your hike back takes you over a ridge and back to Halibut Cove for your pickup.
If you just have to get out of town, one of the best bargains right now is on Alaska Airlines' nonstop flight to Los Angeles/LAX. Between now and Dec. 13, you can catch the nonstop for as little as $375 round-trip. That's much less than a ticket to Seattle or Portland -- and it's much closer to the beach or the desert. You do have to plan your trip a couple of weeks in advance to get the best price, but I think it's worth it. Plus, mileage-runners will note that it's 4,680 miles toward your elite-level MVP status for 2015.
So don't let summer go down without a fight. September is the month for summer's last stand!