Why Summer in Alaska is the Best Time to Visit

Diana Rowe Avatar
Yachts in marina in Seward with dramatic Alaska mountain view in background.

Alaska. The last frontier. If all you picture is winter with freezing temps, then summer in Alaska will surprise you. From road trips to day trips, outdoor activities to cultural experiences, cities to small towns, your summer family vacation to Alaska will be one of those travel memories not soon forgotten.

You might wonder: Is Alaska worth visiting in the summer? Absolutely! Alaska temps in the summer months range from the 60s to low 70s – and you’re also rewarded with 16-24 hours of daylight during the Midnight Sun season!

Your summer Alaskan adventure has all the feels: rushing rivers, breathtaking waterfalls, towering mountain peaks, incredible glaciers, eye-catching flowers in bloom, state and national parks, spectacular wildlife and sealife, and so many things to check off your bucket list.

No matter your starting point in Alaska, it’s all about the outdoor activities, including kayaking, biking, hiking and more.

 

Alaska welcome sign
Welcome To Alaska! Photo credit: Alexis Mette /Unsplash

Alaska’s Amazing Scenery

At 663,600 square miles, Alaska is by far the largest state in the USA. In fact, it’s as wide as the lower 48 states, and bigger than Texas, California and Montana combined. It’s as beautiful as it is big, boasting 6,640 miles of coastline and 33,904 miles of shoreline.

Its landscape is as wide and varied as the state, offering visitors 17 of the 20 highest peaks in Alaska. The most well-known and the highest in North America is Denali at 20,320 feet above sea level.

The 49th State is also home to the Yukon River, at nearly 2,000 miles long, the third longest river in the United States, Mother Nature also gifted Alaska with more than 3,000 rivers and over 3 million lakes. The largest is Lake Iliamna, spanning more than 1,000 square miles.

Alaska is also known for its glaciers and icefields, with an estimated 100,000 glaciers, covering five percent of the state and 29,000 square miles.

When families visit Alaska, that’s a lot of ground to cover, so settle in and read our travel guide on the top must-see things to do in Alaska in the summer.

Read More: Alaska, Paris and More: Top June Vacay Spots

Plane Chugach State Park in Alaska
A small plane buzzes the summit of Flattop Mountain, in Alaska’s Chugach State Park. Photo credit: Paxson Woelber/Unsplash

Adventures in Anchorage in the Summer

Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city, also home to the state’s largest airport, and the perfect base camp for your family vacation. This Alaskan city offers more big city conveniences, such as fine dining, museums, festivals, shopping and a thriving theater and music scene than smaller towns. Yet it still is just as wild as the rest of the state.

  • For first-time visitors, the best way to explore is to climb aboard the Anchorage Trolley, a 1-hour, 15-mile circuit tour of the city’s historic neighborhoods and scenic sights. Through panoramic windows, enjoy breathtaking views of mountain ranges and wildlife sightings at Westchester Lagoon. Watch the Alaska Railroad and float planes depart from Lake Hood and Lake Spenard. Take time to visit the Anchorage Museum, the largest in the state, and learn about the diversity of the Alaska Native cultures, its people, art and the history of Alaska.
  • Now that you have your bearings, Anchorage offers over 220 parks and 120 miles of biking and hiking trails. A scenic option is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, an 11-mile stretch along the Cook Inlet from downtown to Kincaid Park, a 1,400 hiking and biking mecca with 40 more miles of trails.
  • Into fishing? A short drive from downtown, spend the day fishing Ship Creek or the waters of nearby Cook Inlet.
  • A 20-minute drive into the foothills of Anchorage is the Chugach State Park, a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels. At nearly 500,00 acres, it is one of the four largest state parks in the United States, offering an abundance of activities including hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, rafting, camping, glacier viewing and wildlife sightings.
  • Want more hiking and biking guidance? The Alaska Public Lands Information Center offers tons of information on outdoor things to do in the summer in Alaska.

Day Trip to Girdwood

The small town of Girdwood is the perfect day trip from Anchorage, just 40 miles south. As Alaska’s only true resort town, in the winter, it caters to skiers and, in the summer, hikers. Hiking trails also offer something for all skill levels, and stunning scenery from glaciers to dramatic waterfalls.

  • A must-see summer attraction is the Alyeska Aerial Tram. Soar over 2,300 feet to the summit of Mount Alyeska, a short three-to-seven-minute scenic ride. Soak up the view, miles in all directions, including views of Turnagain Arm, up to seven hanging glaciers and endless mountain peaks in the Chugach range. Look down as often moose and brown bear sightings are reported.
  • The era of the gold rush comes to life in Girdwood, originally called Glacier City and a renowned gold mining town. When you take a Prospector Tour of the Crow Gold Mine, established in 1896 and known for its hydraulic gold mining operations.
  • To get a bird’s eye view of the mountain scenery surrounding this town, consider a helicopter flightseeing tour, with the added adventure of landing on a glacier – you can even enjoy dog sled rides in a backcountry glacier high-camp. Summer dog sled tours are also available in town.
  • For families wanting to make this an overnight base, consider splurging with an overnight stay at the Alyeksa Resort, with mountain and ocean views and access to the nearby Alaska wilderness and backcountry.
Hikers Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska in the summer
Hikers at Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. Photo credit: © State of Alaska/Brian Adams

Glacier Hike Near Anchorage

  • Located in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula is the Portage Glacier, 50 miles south of Anchorage, one of the easiest glacier hikes near Anchorage. Get up close to the glacier via boat or kayak across Portage Lake. Or get a glimpse of the glacier by hiking Portage Pas Trail in Whittier.
  • Consider booking a short, one-hour Alaska glacier cruise across Portage Lake on the only operating boat, the mv Ptarmigan, offering daily cruises. Stand just 300 yards from the glacier and watch for icebergs breaking off and crashing into the water. You’ll also learn about glacier formation and geological history here, and if you have time, visit the Begich Boggs Visitor Center.
  • At the entrance to Portage Valley and 11 miles southeast of Girdwood, stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a 200-acre sanctuary preserving Alaska’s wildlife. Surrounded by Chugach Mountain Range and Turnagain Inlet, Walk or drive the 1.5 mile loop with animal encounters in enclosures including a bald eagle, black bears, grizzly bears, moose, elk, musk ox, coyotes and more.
Bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park in Alaska
A mother bear teaches her cubs to swim on the edge of Naknek Lake, in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, located on the northern Alaska Peninsula, northwest of Kodiak Island and 144 miles via air taxi southwest of Homer, Alaska. Photo credit: Paxson Woelber/Unsplash

Things to Do in Seward in the Summer

Located 120 miles south of Anchorage, Seward is a popular cruise ship port due to its prime location at the end of the Seward Highway on the Kenai Peninsula. It is also the southern terminus for the Alaska Railroad, welcoming daily train trips in the summer.

  • Take time to explore this bustling town. Start with the Small Boat Harbor area and its slew of shops, tour companies, dining and lodging options.
  • Take the Seward Waterfront Trail, along the Resurrection Bay shore with amazing views and sealife sightings of sea lions, eagles, sea otters and sometimes humpback whales, and arrive at Seward’s downtown. Located 1.5 miles south of the harbor, discover more shops, restaurants and hotels.
  • Also on the Resurrection Bay shore is another must-see activity, a visit to the Alaska SeaLife Center. This is the state’s first Sensory Inclusive Certified organization, featuring underwater views of Alaskan marine animals.
  • One of the top things to do in Seward in the summer is to experience the Kenai Fjords National Park, a “glacial wonderland” with jaw-dropping scenery, wildlife and sea-worthy adventures. Spanning over 600,00 acres, it is one of Alaska’s most popular national parks, featuring icefield, tidewater glaciers, valleys and spectacular fjords, 60 percent covered by snow and ice including the 936 square miles Harding Icefield.
  • At the end of Exit Glacier Road off the Seward Highway is one of the only park trails. The 8-mile-long road ends at the Exit Glacier and Exit Glacier Nature Center with trails with impressive views of the glacier. For families with littles, consider taking the less intense one-mile hike along Glacier View Loop Trail for a view of the glacier.

SheBuysTravel Tip:  To get up-close and personal with the glaciers and the park’s wildlife, book a full or half-day glacier and wildlife cruise from the Small Boat Harbor area in Seward to enjoy whale watching and rare moments of sea life sightings of  orcas, humpback whales, porpoises, sea others, sea lions and seabirds.

Alaska Railroad
The front of the Alaska railroad train curving through the countryside with the forest looking over the valley. Photo credit: Craig Vodnik /Unsplash

All Aboard the Alaska Railroad

One of the top things to do in the summer in Alaska is ride the 470-mile-long Alaska Railroad, from Seward to Fairbanks.

  • This is the perfect adventure for families of all ages who prefer not to self-drive but still want to explore Alaska’s south central and Interior top destinations including Whittier, Girdwood, Anchorage and Talkeetna, many not accessible by car.
  • The glass-domed train ride offers scenic day trips with “whistle stops” to disembark to explore for a short time and then return to the train.
  • Or choose multi-day packages with overnight stays in your favorite destinations and activities including rafting, wildlife viewing, hiking, ziplining and more.
  • Perhaps one of the most important rail stops on the Alaska Railroad is at the iconic Denali National Park. Home to North America’s tallest peak, Denali National Park is massive at more than 6 million acres. Visitors will also find glaciers and glacial valleys and wildlife sightings include spot grizzly bears, caribou or moose. Take a bus tour of the park, go ATVing, wilderness hiking, ziplining or flightseeing.
Girl holds a fish near the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers in Alaska
Alaskan fishing on steroids with the guides at Western Wilderness Adventures on the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. Photo credit: Chris Watts

Homer, Alaska

While Homer may not be on your Alaskan vacation radar, locals choose to vacation in this small town known as a foodie destination and art scene.

Located 220 miles south of Anchorage, it’s a solid 5-hour road trip, but photo opps of whales, ocean and alpine views and culinary delights along the way, you might want to plan a full day.

  • Fans of the arts and local culture should include a stop at the Pratt Museum to hear stories about the Alaskan native culture and learn about the state’s history.
  • Take a walk from Pioneer Avenue to the end of the “Spit” and visit numerous local art galleries with Alaska Native art.
  • Foodies will rejoice at the culinary options in Homer from coffee shops to fine dining. While strolling the art galleries, be sure to stop at one of the local oyster bars with fresh oysters from Kachemak Bay.
  • Stretching across Kachemak Bay is the 4.5-mile needle of land called The Homer Spit. Summer finds this area bustling with tourists and campers on the beach.
  • Known as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World,” rent a charter boat for record-breaking halibut fishing, or rent a rod and reel and drop your line in the “Fishing Hole,” a stocked artificial lagoon on The Homer Spit.
  • Be amazed at the sightings of bald eagles and sea otters on the Homer Spit.
  • Shop ‘til you drop on the Homer Spit with locally made products. Dine at local restaurants, including the iconic Salty Dawg Saloon.
  • Discover glaciers, mountains, hiking trails, paddling, sea kayaking and more with a visit to the 350-acre Kachemak Bay State Park. Hop on a water taxi at the Homer Spit to escape the city and find yourself in a wilderness paradise.
Homer Alaska welcome sign
Known as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World,” Homer, Alaska, also offers a picturesque waterfront. Photo credit: Pixabay

More Things to Do in Alaska in the Summer

If that isn’t enough to entice you to visit Alaska in the summer, consider adding these Alaskan adventures to your bucket list:

  • Visit the largest national park in the United States in Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, a 13 million-acre park with backcountry adventures, wildlife viewing and more.
  • Want more Alaska family adventures?  With access only by airplane or boat, once you step foot in this amazing town, get ready to be surprised at all the free things to do in Juneau, Alaska.
  • For train travel in the Inside Passage, check out the scenic White Pass & Yukon Railroad from Skagway to Fraser, British Columbia, with two-hour to full-day options.

 

For more than 20 years, Denver-based freelance writer Diana Rowe has specialized in travel, family, and multigenerational family travel — and rightly so, with 10 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. She writes for multiple publications including SheBuysTravel.com and PrimeWomen.com, and her own blogs: TravelingInHeels.com & WineLoversVillage.com.
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