Discover the Prime Time to Travel to Alaska: Unlocking the Secrets of the Great Frontier

2023-09-11 00:16:42 - Drany Macley Drany Macley, the senior editor of Vytravels.com, brings extensive journalism background and over eight years of experience in travel writing and editing to the site, offering practical insights and first-hand knowledge through articles on innovative hotels, backed by a BA in Journalism from Ithaca College.

Are you ready to embark on an extraordinary adventure, where breathtaking landscapes and fascinating wildlife await you at every turn? If so, then it's time to discover the best time to travel to Alaska. This spectacular state in the United States is a true wonderland, with each month offering unique experiences that will leave you in awe. From the best weather for outdoor adventures to the prime whale-watching season, we've got you covered. So, pack your bags and get ready to uncover the secrets of Alaska, month by month.

Alaska by Month: When to Go & Why

Alaska welcomes travelers year-round, but the main tourist season occurs from June to August. However, it's important to note that April and the early spring actually mark the beginning of the annual travel season in Alaska.

The following guide will assist you in determining the best month to visit Alaska. It will provide an overview of Alaska's weather and answer questions such as "When is summer in Alaska?" and "What is the best time to visit Alaska?" or "When should I go to Alaska?" Our aim is to provide you with the information you need to answer these questions based on your own travel preferences and timing. We hope this guide enhances your experience during your Alaska summer vacation. For more comprehensive information and detailed climate tables, please refer to our Alaska climate page.

In the monthly guide below, we classify Alaska into three regions: Coastal, Interior, and Arctic.

  • The coastal region includes Southeast Alaska, the Alaska Inside Passage, Glacier Bay, Southcentral Alaska (including Prince William Sound, Anchorage, and Kodiak Island), as well as coastal Katmai National Park and the Aleutian Islands.
  • Interior Alaska refers to the region north of Anchorage, up to the Brooks Range just north of Fairbanks, and includes Denali National Park.
  • Arctic Alaska encompasses the Brooks Range north to the Arctic Ocean.
A female traveler wearing a harness, helmet, mountaineering shoes and poles, stands at the top of a glacier during a glacier trekking activity in Alaska.Photo by AdventureSmith Specialist Andrew Browning

Weather & Packing for Alaska Travel

The weather in different parts of Alaska is unpredictable, so travelers should be prepared for a variety of conditions regardless of the month they visit. At AdventureSmith, we have developed comprehensive Alaska planning guides for our booked clients based on our own experience living, working, guiding, and traveling in Alaska.

It is essential to dress in layers using fast-drying materials for a comfortable Alaska vacation. Additionally, it is advisable to bring a raincoat, rain pants, a warm hat, and gloves. Rubber boots may be provided by some boats and lodges. With a well-packed bag, you can fully appreciate the opportunities created by the changing weather, which in turn showcases the diverse landscapes and wildlife that draw travelers to the Last Frontier.

For more information about Alaska's climate, please visit our Alaska climate page.

Alaska Climate Tables

Use the climate and weather tables below to determine the average temperature, rainfall, and daylight in Alaska. Learn more about Alaska's climate and find the best month to visit Alaska.

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average High (F) 22 26 33 44 55 62 65 63 55 40 28 22
Average Low (F) 9 12 17 28 39 47 52 49 41 58 16 10
Average Rainfall (Inches) 0.7 0.8 0.6 0.5 0.7 1.0 1.9 2.7 2.6 1.9 1.0 1.1
Average Daylight (Hours) 5.5 7.5 10 13 17 19 19 17 14 11.5 8.5 6
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average High (F) 30 34 39 47 55 62 64 63 56 47 38 33
Average Low (F) 19 23 27 32 39 45 48 48 43 37 29 24
Average Rainfall (Inches) 4.3 4.0 3.4 2.9 3.5 3.1 4.4 5.4 7.2 7.9 5.4 5.1
Average Daylight (Hours) 6.5 8 10.5 13 16 18 18 16.5 14 11.5 9 7
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average High (F) 10 16 25 39 53 64 66 61 51 32 18 11
Average Low (F) -1 -5 1 15 29 39 43 38 31 14 1 -6
Average Rainfall (Inches) 4.3 4.0 3.4 2.9 3.5 3.1 4.4 5.4 7.2 7.9 5.4 5.1
Average Daylight (Hours) 7 9 12 14.5 17.5 19 17 14 11.5 10 7 6

Discover more about the best time to visit Denali.

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average High (F) -8 -12 -10 5 24 38 45 41 33 18 4 -4
Average Low (F) -19 -22 -20 -10 15 29 33 33 28 9 -7 -17
Average Daylight (Hours) 4 8 12 16 22 24 24 20 14 10 4 2

Alaska Weather & Wildlife - Month by Month

The following provides detailed insights into the weather and wildlife in Alaska for each month. Use this information to determine the best time to visit Alaska.

May to September is the best time for wildlife viewing

Summer is the optimal season to visit Alaska overall. You can enjoy late evening hikes (as the sun never sets in the far north), experience surprisingly warm temperatures, and immerse yourself in the captivating wilderness that Alaska offers without worrying about severe snowstorms, inaccessible backcountry, and closed facilities. It is no surprise that over 85% of Alaska's annual visitors come between May and September, with a significant number arriving on cruise ships during the warmer months.

This period is when most attractions are open - from national park visitor centers to ice cream vendors - and wildlife is at its most active. Festivals like the Kodiak Crab Festival and the Little Norway Festival in Petersburg, which take place in May, usher in the summer season and attract crowds from cruise ships.

By June, most trails are free of snow, and Denali National Park opens its main road for bus tours. Road trippers can utilize the Top of the World highway, music enthusiasts can attend the Spenard Jazz Fest in Anchorage, and the Midnight Sun Festival in Fairbanks offers a magical experience.

Come July, most trails are easily accessible, while migrating salmon draw large bears to the riverbanks in Katmai National Park and Kodiak Island. Fishing is also in full swing during this time. The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics celebrate the survival skills and athletic abilities of Indigenous peoples while honoring their rich culture.

As August approaches, the landscape defrosts, presenting opportunities for long-distance hikes on high-elevation trails and kayaking excursions. However, it's important to be cautious of bears searching for ripe berries. The Alaska State Fair, featuring concerts and celebrations, marks the transition into the fall season.

Cruise traffic begins to slow down in September, offering hikers the chance to witness the northern lights while on the trail. As the season winds down and fall arrives, prices decrease, particularly in the northern regions.

Alaska landscape

August in Alaska

August is a popular month to visit Alaska as it signifies the end of the peak travel season. Increased moisture enhances the vibrancy of the already lush landscape. By mid-August, colder temperatures bring forth brilliant fall foliage, particularly in the interior and Denali National Park. Wildlife remains abundant, and all Alaska small ship cruises and Alaska tours continue operating regularly. Towards the end of the month, the number of travelers decreases, and the weather changes to signal the arrival of fall.

Alaska Weather in August:

  • Coastal temperature in Alaska in August: 50-60 degrees & 18 hours of daylight
  • Interior temperature in Alaska in August: 45-65 degrees & 18 hours of daylight
  • Arctic temperature in Alaska in August: 33-41 degrees & 20 hours of daylight

Benefits of Alaska Travel in August:

  • Opportunity for combined cruise and land tours
  • Extended daylight hours allow for wildlife exploration and various activities
  • Ideal conditions for fishing (halibut, rainbow trout, northern pike, salmon)

Must-See Alaska Wildlife in August:

  • Water: beavers, humpback whales, and orcas
  • Birds: peak songbird migration, bald eagles, loons
  • Land: caribou, black bears, and brown bears (including grizzlies)

View All August Alaska Trips

Alaska travelers in a skiff heading towards a beach under steep mountains in Alaska.

October & November in Alaska

Late fall in Alaska is not typically considered a prime time for cruises and land tours. The weather tends to be wet and increasingly cold. However, specialty tours and fishing can still attract adventurous travelers, and custom tours can be arranged.

Winter in Alaska—December Through March

Winters in Alaska can be harsh yet beautiful. The weather is extremely cold, and storms can be severe. However, winter activities such as dog sledding, snowshoeing, and skiing are possible. One of the highlights of winter in Alaska is viewing the northern lights (aurora borealis). Specialty lodges offer comfortable accommodations for travelers willing to brave the cold, long nights to witness this natural spectacle. For those interested in winter cruising, Alaska's Winter Sports & Northern Lights offers opportunities for Nordic and downhill skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating, and more. Additionally, you can experience both a Glacier Bay National Park cruise and an Alaska Inside Passage cruise when other boats are absent.

Alaska Whale Watching Season

Whales can be spotted throughout the small ship cruise season in Alaska from May to September. Orcas and minke whales are residents, so they can be found at any time of the year. However, most travelers are interested in seeing humpback whales, and for that, it's important to plan your trip accordingly.

When to see humpback whales in Alaska? The first humpbacks arrive in Alaska around late April and early May. These are typically adult males that can migrate the fastest. They are then followed by younger males, females, and finally mothers with calves arriving in late May and early June. In May, small ship cruises may encounter individual whales or smaller groups of two or three looking for food.

When is the best time to see whales in Alaska? The best time for whale watching in Alaska is from mid-June to mid-August.

By mid-June, most humpbacks have arrived and gather together in predictable feeding pods. This period offers the best whale watching opportunities, and sightings are almost guaranteed. This consistent whale activity continues until mid-August when the first whales start to leave for warmer waters. The prevalence of sunlight during the long midsummer days in Alaska promotes the growth of phytoplankton, which serves as the basis for the marine food chain. Nutrients brought by strong currents from deep below combine with oxygen-rich water near the surface, resulting in abundant zooplankton, krill, and small fish, all of which attract humpback whales.

For more insights into whale watching on small ship cruises, including tips on where to spot whales, how to prepare, and the advantages offered by smaller vessels, please read our primer on whale watching in Alaska.

Alaska Mosquito Season

Mosquitoes, humorously referred to as the "Alaskan state bird," are a common presence during the summer travel season. However, they are more of an annoyance than a deterrent, so it's important not to let them affect your travel plans. Mosquitoes and other bugs are most prevalent in the boggy interior and Arctic tundra regions during the mid-summer months. Populations peak in late June and decrease in early August. Mosquitoes cannot fly in light breezes, and their activity is reduced in rain, keeping coastal and mountainous areas relatively bug-free.

Small ship cruises typically do not encounter bugs unless you venture ashore on calm days, and even then, they are rarely bothersome. It is advisable to pack insect repellent and wear long-sleeved clothing to protect against encounters with bugs. Being prepared with appropriate clothing and gear will enhance your experience in Alaska.

Best Time to Cruise Alaska

The Alaska cruising season starts in March and ends in October. The summer months are considered the peak season with the best weather and wildlife sightings. During this time, visitors can enjoy long days, pleasant weather, and the opportunity to witness abundant wildlife, including a larger number of whales congregating in predictable feeding pods and putting on an impressive display. Another favorite time to cruise Alaska is during spring, when the state awakens from a long winter. In the mountains, snow is still present, which drives hungry bears down to the coast in search of food. This provides a unique opportunity for small ships that can sail close to the shore to encounter these bears. April and May are the driest months along Alaska's coast, and there are fewer crowds both in town and on the water. Additionally, this is the best time of the year to find the most affordable prices for small boat tours in Alaska.

As experts in Alaska small ship cruises, we recommend the period between May 15 and September 1 as the best time to cruise Alaska. If we had to choose one month, July would be the top pick.

Typically, there are no scheduled cruises from mid-October through February. However, with advance notice, it is possible to arrange special Alaska charter cruises during this time. Families usually plan their visits between mid-June and mid-August. For the best Alaska cruises for families, please follow the link. To find the best time to take an Alaskan cruise, refer to our monthly Alaska weather tips and travel advice.

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April and October are great for those on a budget

The climate in Alaska's panhandle, which stretches into British Columbia, is milder compared to the interior. If you want to partake in early or late-season outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and kayaking, before or after the cruise ships arrive, consider visiting during April or October in this region.

During these months, expect a fair amount of rain and possibly some snow. Keep in mind that many businesses close during the shoulder months when the cruise season is not in full swing. Therefore, you'll need to be more self-sufficient during this time. April marks the beginning of the spring melt, and excitement builds up for the coming summer. Daylight extends beyond 9pm in Fairbanks, and lower elevation hikes become feasible in the panhandle. The Alaska Folk Festival also takes place in Juneau during this time, adding to the buzz. Some smaller cruise ships start their southern Alaska itineraries as early as April.

October marks the start of longer nights, and businesses catering to cruise-ship crowds begin to close up for the winter. There's a distinct off-season atmosphere, making it a great time for independent travelers to save money. The Alaska Day Festival celebrates the transfer of Russian America to the US and showcases the diverse cultures found within the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Why Alaska's stunning coast is best seen by ferry

Aurora Borealis glowing green and pink over a large canvas luxury camping tent in AlaskaAlaska's low season is also your best chance to see the northern lights © DCrane / Shutterstock

When to go to Alaska if you want to avoid the crowds

Due to its remote and wild nature, it's not difficult to escape crowds in Alaska, even during the busiest times.

The busiest period in Alaska is from mid-June to mid-August, which also offers the best chance of good weather. If you're looking to avoid crowds, your best options are to visit in April through May or September. During these months, the days are still long, and there are still chances of favorable weather.

When to visit Alaska for the northern lights

The northern lights are most active between September and April, with the highest activity often occurring in March. While the lights are unpredictable, staying up late provides the best odds of witnessing this phenomenon. In winter, the peak times are between 11:30 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. During September and March, the peak time starts and ends about an hour later.

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The cheapest time to visit Alaska

The cost of lodging is generally lowest during early winter, while airfare costs vary based on your departure location.

In Anchorage, Seward, and Healy (near Denali National Park), the most expensive period for booking lodging is the second week of June through the third week of August. During the low season, particularly in November and January, room rates reach their lowest point. According to Kayak, Tuesdays offer the cheapest rates for staying overnight, while Thursdays tend to be the most expensive. Booking approximately 75 days in advance allows you to find the best deals.

Overall, Anchorage is the least expensive city to stay in and exhibits clear seasonal price variations, with midsummer being the costliest time to visit. Prices remain relatively stable throughout the year in Seward and Healy but experience a slight decrease from October to December.

Denali National Park in Alaska is close to Juneau, a cheaper city to stay in. (Photo by Hari Nandakumar/Unsplash)

Denali National Park in Alaska is close to Healy, a popular city to stay in. HARI NANDAKUMAR/UNSPLASHAccording to data based on annual price trends provided by the travel search engine Skyscanner, we can determine the cheapest times to travel to Anchorage from a few major U.S. airports. Flights from New York are generally cheapest in August, but flights from Los Angeles or Atlanta may be cheaper in April. Flights from Chicago are often the cheapest in February.

In conclusion, Alaska truly offers something for every type of traveler year-round. Whether you're seeking wildlife encounters, incredible whale watching, or the mesmerizing dance of the northern lights, there is a perfect time to visit. From May to September, you'll have the best chances to witness Alaska's abundant wildlife, while August boasts favorable weather conditions. For those on a budget, April and October offer lower prices, while December through March invites you to experience the breathtaking beauty of winter in Alaska. No matter when you choose to go, Alaska promises an unforgettable adventure like no other. So pack your bags, plan your trip, and get ready to embark on the experience of a lifetime in the Last Frontier.

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