Best Time to Visit Alaska (When to Go in 2023)
The best time to visit Alaska is between May and September. There’s never a bad time of the year to visit Alaska. It depends on what you are hoping to do and see.
The amount of things to do and see in the Last Frontier is as vast as the state itself!
I have spent over 30 years of my life in “the Great Land” and I’d consider myself an Alaska specialist. In this article, we’ll take a look at the best months and seasons to plan your Alaska trip, depending on what you plan to do on your itinerary.
Table of Contents
- When is the Best Time To Visit Alaska
- Alaska Travel Seasons or Alaska Months
- Alaska Weather & Climate
- Tips for Visiting Alaska
- FAQs About When to Go to Alaska
Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions. See our Advertising Policy for further explanation. Thank you!
When is the Best Time To Visit Alaska
The best time to visit Alaska is between May and September, with the shoulder months offering the best value and the fewest crowds. The summer months are the best time to see Alaskan wildlife. The northern lights, though, are easiest to see in the autumn and winter months.
Most visitors come to Alaska in the summer. However, the best time to visit Alaska will depend on your travel goals. There is something great to discover in Alaska year around.
With that in mind, next, we’ll cover the best times to visit Alaska for wildlife, cruises, budget travel, and for viewing the Northern Lights.
Best Time to Visit Alaska for Wildlife Watching
Alaska is famous for its furry and feathered residents. Grizzly bears wake up from hibernation as early as March. They’re usually all out and about by May, roaming the hills and forests, looking for food.
Gray whales and humpback whales migrate through Alaskan waters from April-September. Orcas show up in May, and June is the peak season for whale watching. One of the best ways to enjoy whale watching is aboard small ship cruises.
Bald eagles appear year-round in Alaska. The forests of southeast Alaska have the densest population of eagles. Coastal areas also have more eagles because the ocean provides a rich source of food.
Best Time to Visit Alaska for Small-Ship Cruises
July and August are typically the best months to visit Alaska for cruises because of the relatively warm weather.
Several major cruise lines visit Alaska. They don’t always afford the up-close looks that smaller, local cruises do, though. The smaller size and shallower drafts of these boats allow them to reach places in Alaska that larger ships can’t. It’s also easier to get to know the crew and fellow passengers on a smaller boat.
A popular destination for small ship cruises is the Kenai Fjords National Park. Here you can get an up-close look at Alaska’s massive glaciers and diverse marine wildlife.
Best Time to Go to Alaska for Budget Travel
The best time for an Alaska vacation on a budget is the shoulder seasons in May and September. During this time, some tour companies offer discounted prices on their tours. There are fewer crowds, too.
Lodgings are cheaper outside the peak season, but some may start raising their prices as soon as May. If you don’t mind less pleasant weather, April is a good time to visit Alaska on a budget. The Alaska Marine Highway System is an affordable alternative to small-ship cruises.
👉 Looking for lodgings? Booking.com has a great selection of places to stay throughout Alaska!
Best Time to Visit Alaska for the Northern Lights
Winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska.
Nothing can match the majesty of the aurora borealis dancing through the night skies. Alaska’s long summer days make it almost impossible to see the northern lights from May to July. The long nights in the winter are the best time by far for aurora viewing.
As a rule of thumb, the farther north you are, the better your chances of seeing the northern lights.
Alaska Travel Seasons or Alaska Months
In this next section, I’ll break down events, festivals, and tips to know when visiting Alaska during each month of the year.
- 🛷 Dog-Sledding Tours – The snow may bury many local hiking trails, but it opens up the ability to book a dog-sledding tour. If you love dogs (like me), visiting a kennel, with or without the sled ride is a great experience.
- 🦌 Reindeer and Musk Oxen – January’s also a good time to visit other domestic Alaskan animals. Palmer, Alaska has reindeer and musk oxen farms! The musk ox farm also has a gift store selling products made from musk ox wool!
- 🎄 Russian Christmas – Alaska’s Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7th. Clergy and parishioners visit each others’ homes, singing Orthodox Christmas carols. They also carry homemade “stars” representing the star of Bethlehem.
- 🏂 Skiing and Snowboarding – The days grow longer by February, but the snow isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This makes February more accommodating than January for winter sports. One of the most popular places for this is the Alyeska Resort south of Anchorage.
- 🦌 Fur Rendezvous Festival – Every February, Anchorage hosts this unique Alaskan winter festival (also affectionately known as “Fur Rondy”). Outdoor activities include hockey games, snow sculpture competitions, and outhouse races! Indoor activities include basketball, plays, and a talent show.
- 🔭 Northern Lights Viewing – There’s still plenty of night for northern lights viewing in March. Temperatures continue rising, making March more comfortable for northern lights viewing. As a rule of thumb, the farther north you are, the better your chances of seeing the aurora borealis. With this in mind, Fairbanks is one of the best places to go to see this natural phenomenon.
- ♨️ Chena Hot Springs Resort – While in Fairbanks, a great way to spend the daylight hours is at the Chena Hot Springs. The natural springs are a short drive southwest of the city. The resort also features dining and lodging options.
- 🐕 The Iditarod Dog-sledding Race – This race begins on the first Saturday of March. It retraces a daring serum delivery from Anchorage to Nome back in 1925. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could even travel to one of the village checkpoints along the way!
- 🥾 The First Stirrings of Spring – The weather remains cooler during this month but begins to grow warmer towards the end. Around mid-April, expect to see locals returning to the popular hiking trails. The melting snow makes things soggy, but with the right apparel, it won’t be a problem.
- 🤼 The Alaska Native Youth Olympics – These games take place in late April. Young Native Alaskan athletes compete in 11 different traditional games. This is also a great time to visit the Anchorage Museum and the Alaska Native Heritage Center
- 🐋 Whale Watching – April also sees the first whales return to the now warmer waters of the Gulf of Alaska. Throughout coastal Alaska, you can see gray whales and humpback whales. If you’re extra lucky, you may even see these mammoth sea mammals leap all the way out of the water! Even at a distance, it’s an epic sight!
- ♨️ Alaskan Spring – By May, Alaska is much warmer than it had been in winter. You’ll still find fewer crowds at the major tourist attractions. In general, May’s weather is warm (by Alaskan standards) and dry, so, to many Alaskans, this month is the best time to visit Alaska for the best weather.
- 🏷️ Fewer Crowds, Lower Prices – Many tours also begin around May and offer discounted pre-summer season prices. Hotel rates start going up in May, but prices are still lower than in the summer.
- 🐻 Bear Watching – By May, Alaska’s bears have all woken up. They leave their dens in search of food. Rivers are one of the best places to see bears as fish is one of their favorites. You can book guided bear-watching tours by land or by air to view these bears from a safe distance.
- 🐟 King Salmon – King Salmon, coveted by bears and humans alike, begins running in early summer. The first fish start arriving in the rivers towards the end of May, but by June, they are all well on their way. Early June with its warm weather and long days is a great time to go fishing for this largest species of salmon.
- 🌇 The Midnight Sun – Mid-June through mid-July is the brightest time of the year. The summer solstice occurs in late June (the 21st). In Anchorage, the solstice sees 22 hours of daylight. The sun dips briefly beneath the horizon before rising again.
- 🏞️ Denali National Park – Mid-June and July are the warmest months in Denali National Park. The hills have all turned green and the wildflowers are in full blossom. You can get to Denali by car, airplane, or the Alaska Railroad.
👉 Pro Tip: You can bring your personal (or rental) vehicle on only part of the Denali Park Road. To get a fuller experience, you’ll want to take a local tour bus.
- 🏞️ Kenai Fjords National Park – Midsummer is a great time to visit another of Alaska’s national parks. Bears, whales, and many other Alaskan animals are out and about by summer. Cruise tours offer up-close looks at the park’s glaciers. There are plenty of great hiking trails to explore as well.
- 🎆 Fourth of July – One of the highlights of the Alaskan summer is the local Fourth of July celebrations. Parades, barbecues, and concerts abound throughout the state. The late-night daylight is no hindrance to great fireworks shows either.
- 🌆 Later Summer Nights – The summer season starts turning to autumn around mid-August. The nights get a little chillier and the days a little shorter. The evenings turn from “broad daylight” to a rich golden hue as the sun starts sinking earlier. This gives the late summer evenings a more “enchanted” feeling.
- 🎡 The Alaska State Fair – Late August sees the Alaska State Fair spring to life in Palmer, Alaska. Carnival rides, food booths, and much more abound at this festival. One unique attraction at this fair is the giant produce competitions. The midnight sun allows many plants to grow to gargantuan sizes.
- 🍂 Fall Colors – Another highlight of early September is Alaska’s fall colors. Alaska may not have the fantastic fiery arrays of New England, but it holds its own when autumn comes around. Beech tree leaves turn to gold around late August/early September. By mid-September, though, many leaves have already fallen or turned to duller hues.
- 🎣 Silver Salmon Fishing – By Mid-September, the only salmon left are the silvers. After Kings, silvers are the largest salmon. Some say reds are a little tastier, but silvers provide more meat to fill the freezer. Although the silver run lasts into October, the weather is less pleasant then.
- 🥾 Hiking – If you prefer uncrowded hiking trails and don’t mind the cold, October may be the best time to visit Alaska. The colder weather keeps many people indoors and off the trails. The cold also makes for a brisker, more invigorating excursion.
- 🍺 Octoberfests – What better way to unwind after a good hike than with a draft of Alaska’s best brews? Alaskans love a good brew and there’s no shortage of breweries in the major towns and cities in Alaska. The less touristy months are also a better time to get to know the locals at various establishments.
- 🪲 No More Bugs – One of the downsides to visiting Alaska in the summer is the unofficial “state bird”– the mosquito. Once temperatures start staying below 50℉, the airborne pests disappear. This may happen as early as mid-October, but November is a safer bet for a bug-free visit to Alaska.
- ✨ Bright Up the Night – By late November, the long winter has already set in. This array of Christmas lights at the Alaska State Fairgrounds offers some good holiday cheer to drive away the gloom. Last year’s exhibit featured over 70 different displays.
- 🎅 North Pole, Alaska – The town of North Pole sits just outside Fairbanks. Here you can find year-round Christmas-themed attractions. Streets even have names like “Santa Claus Lane” and “Kris Kringle Drive.”
- ☕ The Great Indoors – Alaskan cities have plenty of cozy coffee shops, breweries, and restaurants to drive away the winter chill. Alaska has more coffee shops and stands per capita than any other state, so you’ll never be at a loss for your caffeine fix if you come here.
Alaska Weather & Climate
Alaska’s Far North
This region of Alaska stretches northward from the Arctic Circle to the Arctic Ocean. Here the winters are long, frigid, and dark with temperatures ranging from 0℉ to -30℉ on average. Summer tends to be cool and brief with the average high hovering around 45℉.
This area encompasses Fairbanks and most of the land between the Alaska and Brooks Ranges. The Interior is the driest part of Alaska and has the largest range of temperatures. Summer tends to be sunny and temperatures hover in the 70s but often reach upwards of 90℉.
The winters in the Interior are long, cold, and dark, but not to the same extent found in the Far North. The average temperatures in winter fall between 20℉ and -10℉, but can even plunge to -60℉!
The southwest of Alaska falls into two categories: coastal and interior. The coastal regions tend to be cooler and wetter throughout the year. Summer temperatures often stay in the 50s and 60s, sometimes going higher. Winters in the coastal regions hover in the 30s and 40s. The interior southwest gets winters like the rest of Interior Alaska, though.
This region encompasses Anchorage, Denali National Park, and the Kenai Peninsula. Summer temperatures tend to be in the mid-60s. Winters usually drop below freezing, often in the 20s, but can also reach below 0. Southcentral Alaska does not get as much rain as the southwest and southeast and it tends to have the most temperate summers.
Summers average in the 50s and 60s and this region generally receives the most rainfall of any region. Visitors from Seattle will find the climate quite familiar. The winters here are milder than most of Alaska, hovering around 32℉ on average.
Tips for Visiting Alaska
Alaskans have a saying: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing choices.” In the colder months, be sure to bring a warm jacket or layers. It never hurts to bring a rain jacket, especially when visiting southern/southeastern Alaska. Rubber boots are also an excellent idea.
The weather can also affect travel plans. Heavy snowfalls can close roads, especially off the main highways. Wind and fog can cancel flights (I’ve had this happen several times!), especially when getting to and from smaller Alaskan towns and villages.
👉 Read Next: Best Things to Do in Juneau
FAQs About When to Go to Alaska
What is the best month to visit Alaska?
June is the best month to visit Alaska. By mid-June, summer is in full swing, the temperature and weather are at their best, and Alaska’s wildlife is out and about.
What is the cheapest time to visit Alaska?
Winter is the cheapest time to visit Alaska but offers fewer activities.
What is the best month to see the northern lights in Alaska?
March is the best month to visit Alaska to see the northern lights in many people’s opinion. The weather is better and there’s still plenty of night in which to look for the aurora.
How many days do you need in Alaska?
10 days affords you enough days to craft an itinerary that takes in the highlights of Alaska. Alaska’s a huge place, and there is a lot to see. This gives plenty of time to see and do things and get around without hurrying too much.
I hope you’ve gained some insights for planning your Alaskan experience. There’s no wrong time to visit Alaska. Your best time to visit Alaska ultimately depends on what you want to see!
Help us help you travel better!
Your feedback really helps ...
What did you like about this post? Or how can we improve it to help you travel better?