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Best Time to Visit Alaska | When to Go & Travel Tips

Best Time to Visit Alaska | When to Go & Travel Tips

When is the best time to visit Alaska for the trip of a lifetime? An Alaskan adventure is on most everyone’s bucket list – awe-inspiring wildlife, amazing landscapes, frigid temperatures, and the dazzling Northern Lights are just a sample of what the largest state in the U.S. has to offer.

With more than 650,000 square miles of coastal, inland, mountainous, and rugged terrain, anyone who’s an explorer at heart will enjoy visiting Alaska.

World-class fishing and the chance to view bears, moose, whales, and the aurora borealis (the Northern Lights) draw millions of visitors to this state each year. But your Alaskan experience will be drastically different if you visit in January versus June.

That’s why it’s essential to get the timing for your visit worked out before you get too far along in the planning process. Planning a memorable trip to Alaska at the perfect time of year requires:

  • Finding out the general weather, sunlight, and temperature patterns
  • Learning the best time of year for your planned activities and events (like seeing the Northern Lights, nabbing a Chinook salmon, or spotting grizzlies)
  • Choosing the part(s) of Alaska you want to explore

That’s exactly what we’ve compiled for you in this travel guide! 

Find out the best time to visit Alaska so you can plan the trip of a lifetime. Whether you’re looking for the general best time to go, the cheapest months to visit, or the least crowded months to travel there, we’ve got you covered.

We’ll talk about the best – and the worst – months for a memorable Alaskan journey so you can plan the perfect trip. 

The Best Time to Visit Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier as viewed during the best time to Visit Alaska (June through September)

Mike Redwine/Shutterstock

June through September – the Alaskan summer months – are generally considered the best time to visit Alaska for the greatest experience and variety of things to do. The temperatures are surprisingly moderate during the summer months, ranging from the low 60s to the low 70s.

This is as warm as it gets here and most everyone agrees the peak season is the best time to visit Alaska. During summer, parts of Alaska receive up to 24 hours of sunlight each day (what Alaskans call “white nights”).

The sun hardly sets or dips below the horizon for 2-3 months of the year, giving you maximum time to enjoy the outdoors and all the wonders the state has to offer. This is why the Alaskan cruise season overlaps with summertime.

It offers the best Alaskan weather with the most things to do! If you visit sometime between June to September, you’ll get to see Alaska come alive during its peak season. The sea is thawed, the plants and flowers are in peak bloom, and wildlife is abundant and active.

Salmon runs are getting underway (excellent fishing) and you’ll have opportunities to see bears, sea lions, whales, moose, caribou, elk, wolves, and more. More outdoor activities and parks are open. Business is booming during the summer!

The Absolute Best Time to Visit Alaska

If you want the ideal Alaskan experience (don’t we all?), plan your visit between mid-June and mid-July. This is the height of warmth, wildlife, and flora in Alaska and very little rainfall occurs.

You’ll have the chance to see orcas and humpback whales, bears, and moose during this time. Unfortunately, you’ll also see mosquitos – lots of mosquitos. The Northern Lights are rarely visible during this time of year with the increased hours of sunlight.

July is Alaska’s “hottest” month, and you won’t need to bring cold weather gear if you plan your vacation sometime in June or July. All things considered, mid-June through mid-July will give you the most rewarding Alaskan visit. 

Cheapest Time to Visit Alaska

Woman backpacking through Alaska during on of the cheapest times to visit, in May

Wonderful Nature/Shutterstock

May and September are generally the cheapest times to visit Alaska. These are Alaska’s “shoulder seasons” that bookend the peak summer season. May is generally Alaska’s driest month with about a 25% chance of rain on a given day, while September has twice the daily chance of rain. 

Visiting Alaska in May

If you plan your visit in May, you get a jumpstart on the summer season tourists. With lower numbers of visitors during this time, you’ll pay less for airfare, cruises, accommodations, and car rentals. You’ll also appreciate the shorter lines and walk-up availability for certain activities! 

However, during May, the temperatures are still warming up and haven’t yet reached their peak. Depending on the part of Alaska you visit in May, the temperatures range from 40-55F (coastal), 30-55F (interior), and 15-24F (Arctic coastal).

You may need to bring cold weather gear. But there’s plenty of sun (up to 22 hours a day) and the flora and fauna are beginning to flourish during this time!

You’ll see gray whales migrating, orcas splashing, and giant moose wandering about. It might be a good idea to pack some bear spray this time of year, when mama bears are fiercely protecting their newborn cubs. 

Visiting Alaska in September

Amazing Northern Lights as viewed in September, one of the best times to go to Alaska

David Varga/Shutterstock

If you plan your visit in September, you’ll take advantage of the winding down late summer season. Fewer tourists are hanging around at the tail end of summer.

So you’ll benefit with up to 25% cheaper airfare, cruises, accommodations, and car rentals, as well as shorter lines and wait times wherever you go. The Northern Lights will be more visible in the night skies with fewer hours of sunlight than in the summer! 

During September, the weather is similar to the month of May as things begin to cool down slightly from the peak summer heat.

Your destination will determine the temperature, but it ranges from 40-55F (coastal), 35-55F (interior), and 28-33F (Arctic coastal). There are fewer hours of sunlight in September than in May – somewhere between 14 and 17 hours of sunlight per day. 

Worst Time to Visit Alaska

A view of a glacier in January, one of the worst times to visit Alaska due to the bitter cold

Darryl Brooks/Shutterstock

We’ve talked about the best time to visit Alaska overall, for lower prices, and for fewer crowds. But what’s the worst possible time to go? January is considered the worst month to visit Alaska partially due to the extremely frigid temperatures.

January is the coldest month of the year in Alaska with temperatures in the negatives or hovering well below freezing. The winter months (December through March) are by far the coldest and harshest of the year here.

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea for visiting at this time for a few reasons beyond the chilly temps. Parts of the sea around Alaska are frozen solid in January, limiting your chance to see playful gray whales and humpback whales.

Bears are hibernating and fishing is limited or nonexistent during this time. You’ll still have the chance to see bald eagles, moose, wolves, and sea lions during this time. The sunlight hours are another bummer about visiting during January, or winter in general.

Alaska’s “polar night” – about 66 days of pure darkness with no sunlight – occur from November through the end of January. While it’s dark and cold, winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska.

This dazzling natural light display illuminates the skies with colorful ribbons that dance and drift. It’s one of the highlights of any Alaskan visit, and if you do choose to visit during the winter months, you’ll have the best look at this phenomenon. 

More Things to Consider

Knowing the best time to visit Alaska is important, but there are a few more things to think about. There’s so much to do in Alaska that it can be hard to plan a trip at the perfect time to experience them all.

Here’s a look at what you’ll need to consider based on the activities and sights you’re planning to visit Alaska for. 

  • Hunting and fishing seasons. If you’re visiting Alaska to hunt or fish, you’ll need to know what’s in season when you go. Check out Alaska’s hunting seasons and regulations before your visit here. View fishing season rules and licensing requirements here
  • Hiking. Anchorage is one of the most popular Alaskan destinations, and if you plan on doing some hiking, trails are generally clear by May and good through October. In mountainous and colder Arctic coastal areas, hiking trails may not be clear until early or late June. 
  • Wildlife. Viewing wildlife is a major highlight of every Alaskan adventure, and May through September are the ideal months to see the most. Eagles and rare birds, salmon, whales, bears, wolves, caribou, elk, and moose are all common across the state. There are special wildlife tours you can take for the best chance at seeing your favorite wildlife! 
  • The Northern Lights. One of the most popular reasons to visit Alaska, the Northern Lights are most visible during the off season. Rising and peak summer months (May through September) have very limited to no visibility. Plan your visit during September through March for the best viewing of the aurora borealis. 
  • Consider a cruise. Alaskan cruises help you fit as many activities and sights into your trip as possible for a more affordable price. Most cruises include land excursions to allow you to experience Alaska first-hand. You’ll also get unique looks at marine and land wildlife, from whales and sea lions to bears and wolves, on a cruise. May and September rates are up to 25% cheaper! 
  • Pack the right gear. If you’re going anytime outside of the best time to visit Alaska (June and July), you’ll want to bring the right cold weather gear. If you’re visiting northern or northwest Alaska – especially along the Arctic coast – it gets unbelievably cold and into the negative digits each day. Know that rain and severe weather is common in spring, fall, and winter and showers can happen even on summer days. Prepare yourself well with the right gear to have an enjoyable time despite the weather! 

So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Alaska?

Best time to visit Alaska featured image with a bear in a mountain's foreground

Robert Frashure/Shutterstock

The absolute best time to visit Alaska is in mid-June through mid-July. You’ll get the warmth (60F – 70F+) and longer daylight hours of the Alaskan summer. Wildlife is abundant and active. Hiking, fishing, and outdoor exploring are all at their peak.

The only real downsides to visiting during June and July are the increased airfare, cruise, and accommodations rates and the lack of darkness to view the Northern Lights.

Since these are the warmest months in Alaska with the most activity and tour options, tourists flock to the state. Increased demand drives the prices up slightly, but if you’re after a truly memorable vacation, you might not mind paying a little more to visit in summer. 

And if the Northern Lights are one of the main reasons for your visit, book an up to 25% cheaper trip in September to catch a better glimpse while still taking advantage of moderate weather.

Temperatures are a little lower – typically in the 40s and 50s – and there’s a nice balance of daylight and night for good aurora borealis viewing. No matter when you plan your Alaska vacation, you’re going to witness some incredible landscapes, wildlife, and natural wonders.

If you’re looking for another chilly locale to visit, check out this guide next: The 10 Best Things to Do in Iceland in 2022.