Discover the Ultimate Time to Experience Alaska's Beauty (& Activities for Every Season)
When's the perfect time to visit Alaska? A great question indeed. As the northernmost state in the USA with a land border shared only with Canada, Alaska's one-of-a-kind experience attracts visitors from around the globe.
Contrary to popular belief, Alaska isn't coated with snow throughout the year, and in reality, the state showcases fascinating environmental shifts every season. The beautiful landscapes throughout each season make it a must-visit destination.
Typically, when we think of Alaska, we visualize a frigid, snow-covered tundra with igloos, polar bears, and dog sledding. But, surprise! Alaska is far more diverse and intriguing than that, particularly in the warmer months.
Summertime is Alaska's most popular season - especially in July and August when school-age children are out and about. With long daylight hours, you can indulge in numerous activities and excursions. In June, visitors can enjoy an incredible amount of daylight, up to 19 hours in Anchorage, and 22 hours in Fairbanks. Believe it or not, the sun doesn't set for three whole months in some parts of Alaska!
Summer in Alaska features temperatures that can range from 60°F to 80°F, and in the interior, it can get even warmer. Nighttime is cooler, with northern regions being colder, as expected.
Summer is the sole season when all of Alaska is readily accessible to tourists. National Parks are more accessible, and hiking is permitted in the mountains. However, visitors will need to wait until June to hike around Denali National Park and Mid-September to access Mount Denali. Many northern regions, particularly those in the Arctic circle, stay closed until May, with summer being the only narrow window to see them.
If you're looking for a unique adventure with breathtaking landscapes, Alaska should be at the very top of your bucket list. Don't forget to check out my list of lodging recommendations for where to stay in Alaska's most popular towns and my favorite Alaskan hike, the Harding Icefield Hike!
To make the most out of your Alaskan road trip, plan for summertime when road conditions are at their best. Anchorage is surrounded by stunning coastal towns, like Seward, Homer, and Valdez, each worth a visit. The drive from Anchorage to Seward is especially breathtaking, with plenty of sights to see and activities to enjoy. Check out this link to learn more.
Boat excursions to glaciers and fishing expeditions are readily available during the summer months, but they tend to close down come September. Though a bit pricey, helicopter tours and float plane excursions provide even more incredible views of the Alaskan landscape.
Wildlife enthusiasts will be thrilled to know that summertime is the perfect time to spot Alaskan wildlife. Look out for moose, bears, eagles, and other animals, either on your own or through a guided tour. Whale-watching season runs from May to September, and you could even catch a glimpse of orcas.
For those less inclined to splurge, there are still plenty of affordable and free things to do in Alaska, including hikes, dog sledding, fishing, kayaking, ATV adventures, and more. You can even visit national parks or take a cruise to explore the Arctic Circle.
If you're looking for cheaper prices and fewer crowds, consider visiting during shoulder season in spring. Though March may still have snow, late spring can offer both sunny days and a less crowded experience. Cruise ships typically launch in late April or early May, providing a more cost-effective way to see Alaska.
Regardless of when you visit, Anchorage offers long days in the summertime, with the sun rising at 6 am and setting at 9:50 pm in April.
Spring temperatures in Alaska can vary greatly depending on your location and which end of the season it is. In Anchorage, temperatures in March can range from a high of 30-38°F to a low of 14-24°F, while May brings highs of 53-62°F and lows of 38-47°F. In Fairbanks, the weather is much cooler in March, with highs from 18-35°F and lows from -5 to 11°F. However, by May, temperatures in Fairbanks are only slightly colder than those in Anchorage.
If you plan to visit remote northern regions or hike in Alaska, it's best to wait until the end of spring. Most seasonal places open up in May, and going at the start of the season may allow you to get cheaper shoulder season rates. If you're hiking, stick to lower-altitude locations in the spring since most mountain routes won't be accessible until summer.
You can expect to see some wildlife in the spring in Alaska, particularly during the latter part of the season when bears come out of hibernation. Moose are generally visible throughout the year, as are many of Alaska's bird species. In March and April, you can see gray whales along the coast.
The Anchorage Market runs from May to September, and there are plenty of festivals to enjoy, such as the Kodiak Crab Festival in May, the Slush Cup skiing festival in April, and the Fur Rendezvous Dog Sledding Festival in March. The famous Iditarod also takes place in March and starts in downtown Anchorage.
Fall is similar to spring in terms of the timing of available activities but in reverse. Most activities remain open in September, but they gradually start closing from October onwards apart from all-season destinations. Traveling in the fall will also give you a better chance of discounted accommodation and tours.
Although Alaska is beautiful year-round, visiting in late summer or early fall is a great time to go. One downside of traveling in September and later is that daylight hours start to dwindle, and November is the darkest month of the year with only six hours of daylight on average in Anchorage. However, fall is the perfect time to witness the Northern Lights, especially in Fairbanks, which is known as the best place for viewing them.
Temperatures in fall start off relatively warm but quickly drop. In Anchorage, September temperatures range from 50-62°F in the daytime and 39-49°F at night. By November, expect snow and temperatures around 23-33°F in the day and 10-23°F at night. In Fairbanks, temperatures are similar to Anchorage in September but colder during the day (5-20°F) and night (-9-6°F).
Early September is ideal for hiking, but by October, most mountains are off-limits. You can still access lowland areas for hiking, but pretty much every seasonal location is blocked off by October, making extensive hiking impossible.
While there are some year-round animals to spot, such as moose on land and orcas in the sea, many mammals will be in hibernation by mid-September. Once the snow arrives, animals like moose will be more visible as they journey to feed.
When it comes to festivals in Alaska, most people think of the summer months, but there are a handful in the fall worth noting. The Sitka WhaleFest celebrates the beloved whale population in Alaska and is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. And let's not forget Alaska Day in October, which is best celebrated in Sitka with a festive parade.
Winter in Alaska is truly a unique experience. The days are short, the landscape is snowy, and it's the perfect time to indulge in snow sports like skiing, dog sledding tours, and witnessing the breathtaking Aurora Borealis. March is also a great time to visit Alaska, but besides that, winter is undoubtedly the optimal season to experience Alaska's sheer beauty.
If you're planning an Alaska trip in December, prepare for a lack of daylight as the hours of sunshine dwindle significantly. Juneau only sees 6 hours and 22 minutes of daylight, while Anchorage only sees five hours, and some northern towns may experience only one or two hours of light. Barrow is the northernmost town in Alaska and doesn't get sunlight for 67 days straight. February has slightly longer days and shorter nights, making it the best time of winter to visit Alaska if you want more daylight for engaging in activities.
Be prepared for the cold if you travel to Alaska in the winter, with most places below freezing all winter long, while the more northern regions experience temperatures below zero. You should also expect a lot of snow, which can put your plans in jeopardy if there's a heavy snowstorm. Be sure to bring warm clothing, and if you're uncertain of what to wear, check out our comprehensive guide.
While remote areas of northern Alaska aren't accessible during winter, many cities and towns that offer winter sports are still open to tourists, with places like Valdez becoming ski and snowboarding hotspots. Wildlife watching is also a top activity year-round, as some animals, like moose, venture into more urban areas in search of food. Birdwatching is another must-do, but keep in mind that most wildlife watching tours don't operate during the winter months.
If you're thinking that dark and cold winter weather would mean the absence of festivals in Alaska, you're wrong. The Anchorage International Film Festival is a must-see in December, and the Races in Unalaska, which starts in late February, are also worth attending.
In conclusion, while the summer is the most popular time to visit Alaska, with June, July, and August being the most ideal, different months offer unique experiences, such as witnessing the northern lights in the winter months or seeing fall leaves in the autumn. The monthly averages for Anchorage, Alaska, show how temperatures increase from January to July, with the warmest temperatures seen in July.
Discover the magic of the aurora borealis in Alaska! The stunning display is visible from August until April, though optimal viewing conditions require sufficient solar activity and little to no cloud coverage. While the northern lights occur throughout the year, May, June, and July are typically difficult months to catch a glimpse due to the midnight sun.
If you're planning to see the northern lights, September and March offer the best opportunities due to heightened solar activity. For an even greater chance, consider visiting Fairbanks, Alaska, which is situated in one of the top locations for solar activity in the state. Borealis Basecamp in Fairbanks even offers unique glass-roof igloos for an unforgettable experience.
Winter, specifically January, is a budget-friendly time to visit Alaska, with cheaper flights available. But for a more comfortable trip, shoulder seasons in May and September offer considerable savings over peak summer rates.
As Alaska is a long flight away, plan to spend at least a week to make the trip worthwhile. Find recommendations for trips of varying lengths here.
Rainfall in Alaska varies by location. September is the rainiest month, with Anchorage experiencing three inches of rain, compared to Seward's 9.9 inches and Ketchikan's 14.3 inches. Conversely, April is the driest month with just 0.4 inches of rainfall in Anchorage.
Summertime reigns as one of the best seasons to visit Alaska, with better road accessibility, warmer weather, and longer days. However, winter is preferred for winter sports and northern lights viewing.
Cruising to Alaska is most popular in the summer, but early May or late August voyages may offer lower rates. Fishing is also best from May to September, with July offering the most salmon varieties.
Denali National Park is most accessible and picturesque during the summer months, though clouds often prevent views of Mount Denali. For the best chances of seeing the mountain peak, consider staying in or around the park for at least three days.
The ideal time to visit Alaska depends on personal preferences. Summer offers long days for activities, while spring or fall may be better suited for budget travelers. Wildlife enthusiasts can visit from May to September for bear sightings and tours, while hikers can enjoy the same months (with some higher altitude routes opening in June).
Lastly, adventure-seekers will find something to love about Alaska year-round, as every month holds unique appeal. Whether you prefer the activity-filled summer or the cozy winter, the Last Frontier is a must-see destination.
Before embarking on your Alaskan adventure, be sure to check out our list of 33 crucial things to know. And if you've already visited and have additional insights on the different seasons, share them in the comments below.
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