Alaska / Photo Essay / USA

A Summer of Dramatic Alaskan Sunsets

Sunset and sunrise photography in Alaska during the summer is for people who don’t value sleep. With the sunset at 12:30am and the sunrise three hours later, it takes a lot of commitment to photograph the magic hour. Some of us have jobs, you know.

To complicate things, this year interior Alaska had the rainiest summer in 100 years. We had many days of oppressive gray clouds and relentless rain that made us think God forgot his promise to Noah.

In spite of this, or because of it, we had many evenings of towering, billowy clouds that led to sensational sunsets. I was lucky enough to photograph several of them, even though I was probably sleepy the next day.

Below are my top 10 sunsets of the summer in chronological order, with the time and date of the photo, which you might find interesting. After the photos, please vote in the poll to tell me which is your favorite. Comments and polls on my blog are some of the only human interaction I get.

My Top 10 Sunsets of the Alaskan Summer

Sunset over the Village Lodge

1. June 23, 11:40 PM

Sunset on the Park Boundary

The lodge down below is where I live and work on the boundary of Denali National Park. Not bad, eh?

Dramatic Otto Lake Sunset

2. June 24, 12:24 AM

Dramatic Otto Lake Sunset

This photo was actually taken 20 miles north and about 45 minutes after #1. When the sun sets after midnight, the colorful skies can last seemingly forever.

Otto Lake Sunset WIth Pier

3. July 8, 11:35 PM

Sunset with Pier

Taken from the same spot as #2. I blurred the clouds slightly with a neutral density filter. Otto Lake has the best sunsets in Denali due to the weather patterns and position on the north side of the mountains.

Otto Lake Sunset with clouds

4. July 29, 10:37 PM

Pink Clouds over Otto Lake

As you can see, we have reached a point in the year where a person can see a sunset and get some decent sleep before work. Yet another awesome Otto Lake sunset, but the last one in this set – I promise.

secret lake Denali Sunset

5. August 21, 9:36 PM

Secret Lake

I call this place “Secret Lake” because I am seemingly the only one who knows about it, even though it is hiding in plain sight. Based on how pissed off the beavers get when I visit, I assume there aren’t many visitors. I am the only person who knows of Secret Lake, right? If not, meet me there tomorrow at 4pm. Bring snacks.

Dramatic Sunset at Glacier Bay

6. September 1, 7:52 PM

Dramatic Sunset at Glacier Bay

This photo of Bartlett Cove was the most dramatic of the summer. The photo is exposed correctly – the sky was black straight above, an eerie orange all around and clear blue on the horizon. There where also otters and sea gulls frolicking all around. Magic.

Broad Pass Sunset

7. September 7, 8:59 PM

Autumn Sunset at Broad Pass

The keen reader will notice fall foliage in this and the subsequent photos and realize that my post title was misleading. When summer lasts two days, I count autumn as summer also.

Riley Creek Sunset

8. September 8, 8:51 PM

Riley Creek Sunset

I made a poor choice on this sunset hunt. It may have been the most colorful of the year, but I went on a hike along Riley Creek and was down in a valley, too low to get great photos. But let me assure you that it was awesome. This is an example of a 1st World Problem.

Sunset Rainbow in Denali

9. September 11, 8:36 PM

Rainbow at Sunset 

Every year I try to hike Meadow View Trail in Denali Park at the same time. As you can see by the photo, it is beautiful in the fall. This year, just as I turned to leave thinking I wouldn’t get a memorable photo, a rainbow appeared right at sunset. This wasn’t any rainbow though – due to the sun low on the horizon, it towered straight up to the place where Heaven ought to be. I was pretty much blown away by it. Then, a few hours later I saw this:

Aurora over parks highway

and I forgot about the rainbow altogether.


10. September 13, 8:39 PM

Sunset over the Nenana River

This post, and in a way my life, come full circle with this photo. This was the last day our lodge was open for the season and I took a hike up above after work. I was rewarded with yet another great sunset, and this is why I love Alaska.


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41 thoughts on “A Summer of Dramatic Alaskan Sunsets

    • Laura, thanks for voting. #7 is the winner on the poll so far, and truth be told, was probably the best one I saw. What the photo doesn’t have in it is Mt. Denali on the left rising 4 miles high. It didn’t fit into the frame. It was really special, oh, and then there was a moonrise over the colorful tundra minutes later. AK is awesome.

    • Mid-May. We are only open 4 months. Nice, I know.

      Thanks for voting. I like #3 – it is a classic summer shot, makes you want to jump off the end of the pier into the water. Except in AK that would be really cold!

  1. Wow! Fantastic photographs! I will however return to these pics on a bigger screen, with all lights switched off and then vote! :)really loved the idea of adding in a time stamp as the days roll on.. regards.

  2. I think your list is perfect. These are surely amongst the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen in my life. They look so unreal. I loved each and every image and it is really tough to choose the best sunset from these pictures. My favorite one would be “Rainbow at Sunset”.

  3. All amazing sunsets, the one from Glacier Bay being my favourite! We also had amazing sunsets when visiting last Aug/Sept. I absolutely fell in love with the Alaskan sunsets! That late in the summer we didn’t have to stay up until 12:30am to catch the sunset:)

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