The best time to visit Alaska

Autumn starts early in Alaska, with the Northern Lights appearing over the horizon from the end of August.
The best time to visit Alaska is from May until the end of September. May is great for wildflowers and mosquito-free days. Mid-June until the end of July, on the other hand, is notorious for mosquitoes, so take precautions, particularly at dawn and dusk. The night frost starts to kill them off by August. If you want to see bears banqueting, the best time to travel to Alaska is autumn (late August onwards), when they come out to feast upon migratory salmon and berries before settling down to snooze the winter away. You will also see more moose at this time of year as rutting season begins. Whales appear in May and disappear in September, along with the cruise ships that seek them out. Winter (October-March) is for hardy snow lovers only.

When is the best time to go on a cruise in Alaska?

May to September is the best time to go on a cruise in Alaska. In fact, many ships only sail during this window, when the thickest ice has cleared and whales have moseyed up from their southern breeding grounds. July and August are the busiest times for cruising, so try early June and late August for a more peaceful experience in popular places like Glacier Bay National Park. You’ll get the best experience for you, local people and the planet if you travel on a small ship. Find out more in our small ship cruising in Alaska guide

A month by month guide on when to go to Alaska

January in Alaska

    Northern Lights Winter wilderness Dogsledding
No one can accuse the days in January of being long – there are still only about 3-4 hours of daylight in the south – but the days are certainly getting longer. There’s plenty of snow for dogsledding among the valleys of the coastal mountains. It’s still seriously wintry in Alaska in January, so brace yourself for daytime temperatures of -16°C – and that’s in milder inland cities like Fairbanks.

February in Alaska

    Lighter days Hot springs Cheaper prices
The days get progressively longer in February until, before you know it, you’ve got a full 10 hours of daylight at the end of the month. Denali is much more visible, when its reflective snowy peak shimmers on the horizon like a mirage on blue-sky days (which happen increasingly often as spring approaches). There are few tourists, so prices are cheaper in Alaska in February too. Approach the weather like an Alaskan. They generally think that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

March in Alaska

    Winter activities Northern Lights Snow and sunshine
March is one of the best times to see the Northern Lights in Alaska. While the nights get shorter, the skies get clearer – excellent news for those with their eyes on the skies. Expect up to 15 hours of daylight for winter activities like dog sledding and snowshoeing around Fairbanks. There’s a feeling of winter sidling into spring, especially as moose, lynx and caribou start to move around more, leaving tell-tale prints and trails in the snow. The first whales begin to arrive in Alaska in March, completing their epic migration from Baja California.

March is great for an Alaska Northern Lights tour

April in Alaska

    Very quiet First hiking trails open Last of winter
Alaska takes a breather in April, with many hotels and activity centers shutting up shop. Melting snow means that it’s not the best time for winter activities. Nights are shorter, so there’s also less chance of seeing the Northern Lights. The perks of Alaska in April? It’s a decent time to experience the state as local people know it. The mid-melt landscapes aren’t as attractive for tourists; many Alaskans, however, take this chance to celebrate the first clear trails and awakening shorelines by pulling on their hiking boots and slipping into their kayaks.

May in Alaska

    Bear watching begins Small ship cruises start A short, dry spring
Alaska opens for business in May, when it starts beating the lower US states for daylight hours. It’s the very start of the tourist season, so prices are cheaper and there are fewer visitors. Spring is short and sweet in Alaska, but May is when you’ll catch it. If you’re wondering about what to do in Alaska in May, wildflowers along the coastlines make for pretty hikes and bear watching starts as grizzlies emerge from hibernation with curious cubs in tow. Temperatures become pleasant at the end of the month, reaching 13°C in Anchorage. May often sees the driest weather – even drier than the summer.

June in Alaska

    Wildlife watching Midnight sun Approaching peak Alaska summer season
June is one of the best times to be in Alaska, with up to 24 hours of sunlight depending on where you are… and what seems like 24 hours’ worth of activities and festivals. Sunshine and temperatures of around 20°C in the south make for near limitless visibility that’s great for bear and whale watching. Denali Park Road – the only road in this spectacularly mountainous national park – opens in June. By the end of the month, even the most northerly trails are usually accessible. Alaska in June comes with one warning, however: watch out for the worst of mozzie season.

June is great for an Alaska salmon run adventure
Don’t be put off Alaska because you think it’ll be too cold… You can arrive at the campsite at 9pm and sit at the fire with the sun shining on your face in summer.
– Natalie Morawietz, from our partner Infinite Adventures

July in Alaska

    Family activity vacations Wildlife watching, especially bears Most hiking trails open
July is still summer in Alaska. This is a great time for families to travel to Alaska, and things get busier as schools break up. Wildlife is very active in Alaska in July, so it’s an excellent time for seeking out bears, whales and orcas. It’s light almost all day long, although you’ll notice sunset coming on slightly sooner – but still at a respectable 10pm or so. July is one of the best times to encounter bears… as well as mozzies.

August in Alaska

    Plenty of warm sunshine End of school vacations Beginning of autumn
As the weather dampens a little and days shorten, the visitor numbers at Denali National Park ease off – good news if you want to spy animals in peace. Autumn creeps in from mid-August, starting in the north and sweeping swiftly south. Insects stop pestering, dying off as the weather cools. Alaska in August also sees the end of peak season, with children heading back to school. The Northern Lights become visible again towards the end of the August.

August is great for a Denali National Park vacation

September in Alaska

    Autumn colours Last of the cruises Rainy in the south-east
Is September a good time to visit Alaska? For the first two weeks, yes. Early September is a chance to combine the Northern Lights with summer activities such as hiking and wildlife watching boat trips. The main tourist season ends in mid-September, with some hotels and activity centers following the bears into hibernation. Small ship cruises wind down as ice forms and humpback whales depart. Evenings cool in Alaska in September, with autumn a brief flash of gold leaves and snowy mountaintops. The beginning and end of the month feel like two very different seasons as temperatures dip by 10°C. South-east Alaska can be grim, with fog obscuring marine wildlife trips.

October in Alaska

    Northern Lights Winter begins Wildlife watching ends
Wildlife watching halts in Alaska in October, when the whales have migrated to warmer waters and the bears are deep in their dens. This month is a gasp of relatively mild weather before snowy, dark months set in. October is a good month to visit Alaska if you want the hiking trails to yourself, although they’ll start to close midway through the month in preparation for the winter sports season. Some of the first snow arrives in October too.

November in Alaska

    Northern Lights Shorter, colder days Winter activities start at the end of the month
Winter arrives in Alaska in November – think 6-7 hours of daylight and -12°C temperatures (-20°C at night) in Fairbanks. Darker skies mean that it’s easier to see the Northern Lights. Winter activities like dog sledding and snowshoeing really get going at the end of the month, when the snow becomes deep enough. Things also liven up indoors as ice hockey season is in full swing. Wildlife disappears from view, apart from bald eagles who descend on Haines in their thousands to pick off the last of the salmon. Winter is another world in Alaska, with wilderness lodges and husky sledding outfits open for business.

December in Alaska

    Northern Lights Snow activities Wilderness lodges
The Northern Lights aren’t the only festive lights if you visit Alaska in December – snowshoeing trails, huge Christmas trees and cabins are strung with cheery fairy lights for Christmas. The snow is deep enough for dogsledding. If you’re traveling to Alaska in December, remember that temperatures are cold all over and you’ll experience 3-4 hours of daylight in Fairbanks – and even less the further north you head. You won’t find bears on the trails, but you might see lynx prints as they pad after snowshoe hares. The hot springs around Fairbanks are ideal for warming up.

Anchorage Weather Chart

 
MIN °C
MAX °C
RAIN (mm)
JAN
-10
-5
14
FEB
-8
-2
15
MAR
-7
-1
16
APR
0
6
9
MAY
6
12
14
JUN
10
15
27
JUL
13
17
46
AUG
12
16
70
SEP
7
13
84
OCT
1
6
37
NOV
-7
-2
17
DEC
-9
-5
23
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Alaska, USA or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best times to visit Alaska for festivals & events

World Ice Art Championships (mid-February to mid-March)

The interior of Alaska generates tons of natural ice that Fairbanks celebrates each year at the World Ice Art Championships. This month-long festival of ice sculptures is partly a homage to the winter carnivals of the 1930s and partly a chance to set ice sculptors from all over the world against each other in a series of competitions set in open-air forest galleries. Previous years have starred life-size totem poles, orcas jumping from icy waves and even a glowing Tardis.

Celebration (June)

Juneau – the barely-known capital city of Alaska – hosts Celebration over four days in June, during the long, sunny hours leading up to the summer solstice. Southeast Alaska Native peoples gather, including thousands of dancers and musicians celebrating the survival of their culture, which has faced a myriad of perils, from erasure by European colonists to climate change. Events include Indigenous fashion shows, art exhibitions, craft markets and dance groups.

Summer solstice (21 June)

“Summer solstice in Anchorage is one big festival, as it never gets dark,” says Natalie Morawietz, co-founder of our Alaska specialist Infinite Adventures. “The town of Hope has music every weekend during the height of the long summer days, people dancing in their rubber boots, and just a wonderful atmosphere.” The hardest part is knowing when to stop dancing.

Independence Day (4 July)

This far north, it’s easy to forget that Alaska is the most northerly US state. But there’s no chance of forgetting on Independence Day. Many communities in Alaska – including Fairbanks, Anchorage and Seward – get their red, white and blue glad rags on for this larger-than-life national vacation. Barbecues sizzle, baseball games go on all day, and whole streets shut down for parades filled with marching bands and flag-bedecked floats. Seward bravely starts the fireworks off first at 12.01am.

Alaska State Fair (end of August to early September)

The Alaska State Fair is still going strong, first celebrated in 1924 as a last hurrah to summer for the workers of the Alaskan State Railway. It pops up in the last two weeks of August and early September in Palmer, an hour’s drive north of Anchorage. Ride the rollercoasters, admire the record-breaking homegrown veg, and catch a show at the open-air Borealis Theatre. Expect some great food and drink too – summer berries are catnip for Alaskan chefs, who pack them in everything from pies to beer.

Alaska Bald Eagle Festival (mid-November)

Up to 4,000 regal bald eagles descend on Haines, a city near Glacier Bay National Park, in mid-November, chasing the late-running salmon along the Chilkat River Valley. The American Bald Eagle Association has turned this wildlife spectacle into the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival. There’s live music and educational talks, but your best bet is to sign up to a guided hike to see these man-sized raptors perched in the trees along the riverbanks as they wait patiently to pick off the weakest salmon.

Our travelers also ask…

What time of year is warmest in Alaska?

June and July are the warmest months in Alaska. This is summer, so plenty of sunshine combines with long hours of daylight. Temperatures range from an average of 17°C (and up to 20°C) in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Summer is also the warmest time to be in northern Alaska… although up above the Arctic Circle, warm is all relative, with highs of 10°C.

When can you see the Northern Lights in Alaska?

Technically, all year round – but the Northern Lights are most visible in Alaska from November to March, when the nights are at their longest and darkest. Also called the aurora borealis, the Northern Lights really get grooving on the spring equinox (around 20 March), when solar storms cause twice as many disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field as usual.

When is the best time to go to Anchorage, Alaska?

The best time of year to travel to Anchorage is June, when the whole city seems to revel in the long hours of daylight with a packed calendar of al fresco gigs, barbecues and sports events. However, the months either side are also good times to explore Anchorage with fewer crowds.

Spring, summer and autumn (May-September) are the best times to see wildlife in Alaska. Grizzly bears are busy catching salmon between late June and early September, humpback whales are particularly prolific in June and July, and orcas are usually around May-June.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Paxson Woelber] [Intro: frostnip907] [Natalie Morawietz quote: Paxson Woelber] [World Ice Art Championships: FairbanksMike]