Alaska is a magical place to visit year round, but summer is by far the most popular time to go. The summer brings warm weather, bears feasting on salmon and whales cavorting offshore, beautiful scenery and long hours of daylight. Spring and fall are transitional times and winter, when the darkness envelopes the land, is the time to see the magical Northern Lights. Here, we break down the best time to visit Alaska by the seasons and the reasons to go.
Summer in Alaska
This is peak season in Alaska. You’ll find the best weather. It’s also the time of year when the flowers are in bloom, the animals are more active and the sun can shine for 24 hours. The long days mean there’s plenty of daylight to do all the things, even dog sledding.
But the summer season is short in Alaska. May and early June are still the shoulder season and hotel and cruise prices can be lower. Fall shoulder season starts by mid-August.
For a stunning look at the Alaska countryside, take the Alaska Railroad from Seward to Denali National Park or take a boat tour to the Kenai Fjords National Park.
In August, head to Fairbanks for the Tanana Valley State Fair. This huge event celebrates Alaskan culture.
Fall in Alaska
Fall comes early to Alaska. It’s the best time of year to see the fall colors, which can start popping in the higher elevations as early as mid-August. The weather can still be mild, especially in September, and the crowds will be smaller.
Winter in Alaska
Winter activities abound, from snowshoeing to snowmobiling. Winter in Alaska also is the best time and place in North America to see the Northern Lights. With 24 hours of darkness in some areas, you’ll have plenty of opportunity!
Spring in Alaska
March brings the ultimate winter sport, the grueling 1,000-mile Iditarod dog sledding race from Southcentral Alaska to the town of Nome. This is shoulder season, so there are fewer crowds jostling for a peek at the bears, moose, wolves and other wildlife and the cost of your Alaska vacation will be far less in the peak season of summer.
When is the Best Time to Go to Alaska for Northern Lights?
The best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska’s arctic is during the winter months, from September to April. The nights are long and dark, and the aurora borealis is most active.
The Northern Lights are caused by the collision of charged particles from the sun with the Earth’s atmosphere. They are most visible in the far north, where the magnetic field is strongest. The result is a truly magical experience. The lights can appear in a variety of colors, including green, blue, purple and yellow. They can also take on a variety of shapes, including ribbons, spirals and circles.
While seeing the Northern Lights is never guaranteed (all it takes is a cloudy night to ruin the excursion!) booking a tour can increase your chances.
When is the Best Time to Visit on an Alaska Cruise?
The cruise ships run from late spring through early fall. I have been twice, once in May and again in late August. July and August are definitely the best cruise season options weather-wise. While May tends to be one of the driest months in Alaska, the weather during my late May Alaskan cruise was chilly and wet with daytime temperatures in the 40s and driving rains. But those early- and late-season cruises tend to be the most affordable.
When is the Best Time for Alaska Travel to See Whales?
Humpback whales, orcas and gray whales ply the waters around Alaska in the summer. They leave in the fall for the long migration south to spend the winters breeding, birthing and nursing their young.
The best what to see these majestic creatures is to book a whale-watching tour. Tours are available from Juneau, Seward, Ketchikan and Skagway.
When is the Best Time to Visit Alaska for Wildlife Sightings?
Wildlife viewing in Alaska is best in the summer months from June to August. You’ll see:
- Bears: Alaska is home to a variety of bears, including brown bears, black bears and polar bears. Visit in spring to see the bears emerge from their winter hibernation. Or visit in early fall to watch them fishing for salmon in rivers as they fatten up for the long sleep ahead.
- Whales: Humpback whales, orcas and gray whales swim offshore. You can go on whale watching tours or go kayaking with whales.
- Birds: Alaska is home to a variety of birds, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons and golden eagles. You can go bird watching in forests or along coastlines.
- Moose: Alaska is home to a large population of moose. You can see moose in forests, meadows and even in urban areas.
- Caribou: Alaska is home to a large population of caribou. You can see caribou in forests and tundra.
- Salmon. The salmon runs in Alaska typically occur in late July and August for King Salmon, in mid-August and September for Sockeye Salmon and in mid-September and October for Pink Salmon. August and September are the best months to see the bears salmon fishing as they bulk up ahead of their winter hibernation.
When is the Best Time to Go to Alaska to See Bears?
The best time to go to Alaska to see bears is from July to September. This is when the salmon are running and the bears are most active. You can also see bears on guided tours or by taking a boat trip.
Here are some of the best places to see bears in Alaska:
- Katmai National Park: This park is home to the largest population of brown bears in the world. You can see bears fishing for salmon at Brooks Falls, which is one of the most popular bear-watching spots in Alaska.
- Lake Clark National Park: This park is home to a large population of black bears. You can see bears fishing for salmon on the Naknek River or searching for berries in the park’s forests.
- Denali National Park and Preserve: This park is home to a small population of brown bears. You can see bears hiking in the park’s mountains or fishing for salmon in the Denali River.
Average Alaska Temperatures by Month
The coldest months in Alaska are January and February, with average high temperatures in the single digits. The warmest months are July and August, with average high temperatures in the low 60s.
- January: 9°F to 22°F (-12.7°C to -5.5°C)
- February: 11°F to 26°F (-11.6°C to -3.3°C)
- March: 18°F to 33°F (-7.7°C to -.5°C)
- April: 28°F to 44°F (-2.2°C to 6.6°C)
- May: 45°F to 55°F (7.2°C to 12.7°C)
- June: 60°F to 62°F (15.5°C to 16.6°C)
- July: 52°F to 65°F (11.1°C to 18.3°C)
- August: 49°F to 63°F (9.4°C to 17.2°C)
- September: 41°F to 55°F (5°C to 12.7°C)
- October: 28°F to 40°F (-2.2°C to 4.4°C)
- November: 15°F to 28°F (-9.4°C to -2.2°C)
- December: 11°F to 23°F (-11.6°C to -5°C)