With its sweeping landscapes, miles of coastline, and endless opportunities for adventure, Alaska is without a doubt one of the top destinations for travelers of all ages. Whether you want to spot wildlife in its natural habitat, go fishing for giant salmon, or ski epic backcountry, the "last frontier" can deliver everything you could hope for and so much more.
But deciding when to visit Alaska can be a big challenge, thanks in no small part to its long winters and its constantly-shifting day/night cycle. For many, the easy answer is to go during the summer months, when the days are long and the temperatures are warm. As it turns out however, the best time to visit depends entirely on what you want to do while you are there.
With that in mind, here are our suggestions for when you should plan your Alaska adventure.
Seasons and Daylight
The biggest factor to consider when planning a trip to Alaska is the impact of the changing seasons and the amount of daylight you'll experience while you're there. During the months of June and July, the Midnight Sun can bring nearly 24 hours of daylight, which allows visitors to see and do more things while they are there. Conversely, during the winter the days are extremely short, which can limit the amount of time you can spend outside, particularly when paired with the cold conditions.
For most travelers, the summer months bring more stable and predictable weather conditions, making it the best overall time to visit Alaska. That also means larger crowds and higher prices in hotels, restaurants, bars, and at popular attractions.
Spring and fall are shorter seasons in Alaska, with colder conditions a possibility at all times. But the crowds are smaller and the daylight hours are still manageable, even as they wax and wane accordingly. If you don't mind a more unpredictable weather cycle, it can be a great time to visit, providing a more relaxed experience in general.
Winter is for the hardiest of travelers who don't mind the cold or the challenges of facing travel delays due to wind and snow. The number of visitors to Alaska during this time of the year drops off dramatically, which could mean that some of the hotels, lodges, and restaurants are closed for the season.
Also, because Alaska lacks a well developed road system, flights are often required to travel between cities and towns. Winter weather conditions can disrupt those schedules or even ground planes for several days at a time. Keep that in mind when making your plans in order to avoid unexpected surprises.
The Best Time to Take an Alaskan Cruise
Taking an Alaskan cruise is a dream trip for many travelers, allowing them to explore the majestic and untamed coastline from the comfort of a modern ship. Whether you plan to go with a larger cruise line or you're looking for a more adventurous option, the cruising season generally runs from April through September. The months of June, July, and August are the busiest however, so keep that in mind when booking your reservations.
As an alternative you may consider visiting in the months of May or September when the number of travelers is at a minimum and yet the weather remains surprisingly lovely. For instance, May is one of the driest months of the year in Alaska, which can make for a more comfortable cruise in general. By contrast, July and August are a bit warmer, but experience heavier rainfall too.
The Best Time to Visit the Alaskan Interior
If cruising isn't for you and you'd prefer to explore the wild and untamed Alaskan interior, than the summer months are probably still your best choice. Once again, July offers the perfect combination of good weather and long days, making it the optimal time to visit Denali National Park for instance. That also happens to be the busiest month of the year for the park however, which may be enough to dissuade many from traveling there at that time of year. But in August and September, the crowds begin to thin out, so if you can book your travel a bit later in the summer you may end up having a better all around experience.
The Best Time to Visit Alaska for Anglers
Fishing is serious business in Alaska, drawing thousands of anglers on an annual basis. Depending on what kind of fish you're looking to catch, there are excellent options all year round, with countless wild and remote rivers to explore. However, those looking to land a King salmon will want to plan to arrive sometime between late-May and late-July, which is when that species tends to make its annual run. If ice fishing is more of what you have in mind, you'll find opportunities to do that starting in October and running into April.
The Best Time to Visit Alaska for Mountaineers
Alaska has an over abundance of peaks to climb, which is why it draws thousands of climbers each year. Many come to take on the 20,310-foot Denali, which is the highest peak in North America. While it is possible to climb in Alaska all year long, only the hardiest and most experienced mountaineers head out during the winter. Most climbs take place from late-April to early-September, with the busiest time on Denali falling between late-May and early-June. Even during the summer, the weather in the mountains can be wildly unpredictable, with a narrow window of stable conditions to dictate when a summit push can happen.
The Best Time to Visit Alaska for the Snow
The winter is long in Alaska, making it a good option for skiers, snowboards, snowmobilers, snowshoers who are looking for an epic outdoor adventure. December through March the state can see large amounts of snowfall, both at resorts and in backcountry destinations. Depending on which snow sport you prefer, chances are you'll experience it in Alaska, just be sure to bring your warmest clothing, because things can get a bit chilly at times.
The Best Time to Visit Alaska to Spot the Northern Lights
The aurora borealis (aka the Northern Lights) can be seen at nearly any time of the year in Alaska, save at the height of summer during the Midnight Sun. The longer nights of winter makes for a prime viewing season, although anytime between late-August and mid-April can provide opportunities to catch the auroras in the night sky.
The Best Time to Visit Alaska for Bargain Shoppers
Those looking to visit Alaska on a budget will want to stay well away from the busy summer season. During the months of June, July, and August, the arrival of large numbers of travelers can cause prices to rise accordingly. If you want to save some cash, plan on visiting during the shoulder seasons in April and May or September and October. At those times of the year the hotels and restaurants aren't quite so full, making it easier to snag a good rate. Many of the tour operators are looking for customers too, and typically offer substantial discounts as a result.