Chasing Alaska waterfalls
I went to Alaska to see the northern lights (read about that quest) because it was a huge bucket list item for me. After three nights of little sleep, trying to see the lights, we gave in to the rain and checked in to see some Alaska waterfalls. Not what I wanted to do with my full week in Alaska but I wasn’t going to sit around and read a book.
6 Alaska waterfalls worth seeing:
We ended up touring at least six impressive waterfalls north and southeast of Anchorage plus several other smaller flows that came from the melting snow and glaciers off the giant mountains that surround southern Alaska. These glacier run offs may have been smaller in flow but they were tall and the mountain colors made for a nice backdrop.
If you want yellow trees to go with your waterfalls, you must visit these Alaska waterfalls in autumn. You’ll love seeing all the yellow as you drive down the road and hike through the forests to get to these waterfall gems.
Thunderbird falls and Barbara falls are two waterfalls north of Anchorage and are well known to be flowing year round. Pictured above, Thunderbird falls is well marked off the highway and an easy to find trailhead. Barbara falls is also known as South Fork Eagle River falls and looks like you are trespassing on private property. There may have once been a marked trail but not anymore. If you can find where to park and ignore all the signs that you may be on private property you can find the road that makes it a short and easy hike.
McHugh Creek Falls is right off the freeway, 13 miles south of Anchorage, with a parking lot. You just have to turn into the parking lot at go to the first “lookout” to see these falls. You might even miss the “lookout” because the drive goes up to two other parking areas.
Continuing South, Winner Creek falls and Virgin Creek falls are both near Girdwood, Alaska, SE of Anchorage. Winner Creek is fun because there is a cage pulley system to get you across the raging river. If you are afraid of heights this might not be a good option for you unless you are willing to work on conquering your fears. The waterfall is also more of a raging river rapids than a tall “fall”. Virgin Creek however is a stunner that looks like two waterfalls or one big one with water flowing in two directions.
If you have ever wanted to drive in a train tunnel go to Whittier and see some more waterfalls, specifically Horsetail falls (not pictured here). Plus, Whittier is the gateway to a nice ferry ride. You’ll have to pay a toll for the tunnel road but seeing the quiet canal and the towering fjords with all the waterfalls is worth it. I do imagine that in high tourist season you might not even be able to park in this small port town so be prepared. The train might be a better option.
When life gives you lemons make lemonade. In my case, when life gave me rain and no northern lights I went chasing waterfalls. If you’ve followed my adventures for long, you know that this is a big pastime of mine. When in Rome, you must make the best of it, in my case that meant touring Alaska waterfalls instead of checking off the Northern Lights.
Turns out in order to see the northern lights you need to wait for the winter months. The best time to see them is on cold, clear nights. Apparently fall in Alaska is known for more clouds than cold nights.
However, if you are having an Alaskan waterfall dream. Just go chase them! And don’t forget to stop at some other great sights if you are venturing further than the waterfalls like Denali National Park.
If you like this quest you might also want to read up on another favorite of mine.
My Alaskan waterfall photography gear
- Canon 6D, full frame, professional quality photos (this link takes you to the newer, more available version of my camera as mine is now over 2 years old)
- Canon 24-105 lens, my go to for travel
- Vanguard Tripod that’s light and compact for travel. It also has a great warranty. I know because I had to use it.
- ND filter (this one is really cheap but does a great job for me)
Alaska waterfalls camera settings
- ISO 100 for all
- 0.5–2.5 seconds (it varied by the light and the flow of each waterfall)
- f/16–22 (if I were to shoot all these falls again I would lower this to the more optimum range for my lens)
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