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Are winter months or the summer season the right time to visit Alaska? Yes, in this article, we will get all the questions answered. But before that, let us find out where Alaska is and a lot more things before planning the trip.
Alaska is a state located in the northwest extremity of North America in the United States. The beauty of Alaska’s landscapes and wildlife make it one of the world’s most incredible tourist destinations.
The natural beauty of Alaska covers millions of acres. Visitors can enjoy this natural beauty with the world’s largest national parks and snow-covered mountains. The weather in Alaska keeps changing at any time of the year round.
Alaska is a fascinating place to visit at any time of the year. But the best time to visit Alaska is in the summer months. The summer progresses from mid-May till mid-September.
The summer season is short and warm, with long daylight hours, making it a pleasant time for most travelers to visit Alaska. One also gets the best view of blooming leaves and flowers, flowing rivers, and the best wildlife viewing chances.
According to comprehensive research by Alaska Visitors Statistics Program (AVSP) 7, there was about $1.97 billion in visitor spending during the summer of 2016.
Let’s see the salient features and other vital facts about Alaska.
1. Best Time to Visit Alaska: Summer
While visiting Alaska in summer, one can experience the most sunlight and the best weather.
1.1. Peak Season
Peak season months to visit Alaska are from mid-June to mid-August. July is the peak and warmest summer month, making the popularity of travel and the arrival of summer crowds. Day trips are mostly in full swing for summer activities in June and July.
1.2. Cruise Season
Cruise season months to visit Alaska are from May through September. It is the best time to visit Alaska for an Alaska cruise. Small ship cruises start from mid-April through September. Alaska cruise experts advise that the best time to cruise is mid-May through early September. But the best month to go for an Alaska cruise is July.
1.3. Shoulder Season
Shoulder season months are early May and late September. May being the leading shoulder season, visitors enjoy discounts on hotels, tickets, and other day tours. Shoulder seasons are also considerable time for Alaska cruises. Typically, there is no scheduled Alaska cruise from mid-October through February.
1.4. Summer Activities in Alaska
The best summer activities are hiking, glacier tours, boat tours, land tours, helicopter tours, fishing, bear watching, kayaking, mountaineering, dog carting, and whale watching.
Hiking in the Denali, the highest peak in North America, is the best thing Alaska can offer. Fishing in freshwater and saltwater are some fishing types you can enjoy, with more than 627 species inhabiting Alaska’s waters.
Kayaking is where you use a kayak (small, narrow equipment) to move over the water. Alaska sea kayaking tours on Alaska’s icebergs give the best view of marine wildlife.
2. Additional Facts on Alaskan Summer
There are more daylight hours in summer. June season provides the most daylight, June 21st being the longest day of the year-round, called the summer solstice.
In Anchorage, there are around 19 hours of daylight and 22 hours in Fairbanks. In some parts of Alaska, there is no sunset for three months.
With long days, it is a chance to experience the midnight sun. The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon where the sun remains visible at midnight in the Arctic Circle. There are 16 and 24 hours of daylight in the land of the midnight sun. In the Arctic Circle, there is no sunset most of the time in June.
In summer, the temperature during the daytime is between 60°- 80°F. During the night, the temperatures drop between 40°- 50°F. In May and September, one can expect temperatures of 5°- 10°cooler. One can also expect a 25% chance of rain in May, with a 50% chance in September.
Summer is the only season accessible to all tourists. Denali is visible only after June and closes in mid-September. Visitors interested in hiking can enjoy it in the mountains only during summer.
2.4. Alaskan Wildlife
From May to September, summer is the best time for viewing Alaskan wildlife. Watching fly-in bears usually begins in mid-June but is best viewed in July. One can observe moose all year round.
Wildlife is active, especially during September, and it is the best time to visit Alaska to see this wildlife getting ready for winter hibernation to stock food and hunt.
In March and April, one can see gray whales over the coast. Humpback whales appear from May to September. These humpback whales are omnivores that feed on abundant fish, plankton, and crustaceans. Orcas are killer whales that one can find year-round.
2.5. Alaska Festivals in Summer
Alaska State Fair is a famous event in Palmer celebrated from late August till early September. It is an annual celebration of all things to enjoy rides, delicious food, and midnight sun.
2.6. Peak Fall Foliage
Peak Fall Foliage is a unique experience in Alaska in late August and September with cooler weather. One can witness this in the tundra, where trees change colors and light up the forests in fall colors of purple, red, yellow, gold, and orange, illuminating the night sky.
2.7. Northern Lights
Northern Lights are one of the most popular attractions in Alaska. They are beautiful natural phenomena when electrically charged particles from the sun’s surface interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Northern Lights are also called Aurora Borealis.
One can notice Northern Lights viewing during the late fall (late August and early September) on cold nights when the sky is clear. So, it is not visible for most of the summer as there is little darkness at night.
3. Alaska Railroad Routes in Summer
During the summer, Alaska Railroad operates daily scheduled services to eight different Alaska communities along its 470-mile route. Each railway route has special features based on which the railroad has a name.
3.1. Coastal Classic Route
Alaska’s Coastal Classic Train Route is the most scenic route for summer crowds that departs from Anchorage depot to Seward each morning. It takes 4 hours to travel 114 miles. The train also stops at Girdwood station, 40 miles outside of Anchorage.
3.2. Denali Star Route
Alaska’s Denali Star Train Route, called Alaska railroad’s flagship train, departs from Anchorage depot to Fairbanks, with stops at Wasilla, Talkeetna, and Denali. Denali National Park is a lovely attraction on this rail route.
Two trains depart from Anchorage and Fairbanks every morning at 8.15 am, crossing each other and arriving at their destinations around 8 pm. Visitors spend their night or two in Denali Park or Talkeetna due to the long distance.
3.3. Glacier Discovery Route
Glacier Discovery Train Route departs from Anchorage for Whittier every morning and returns from Whittier to Anchorage in the evening with stops at Girdwood and Portage. One gets plenty of time in Whittier to see the glaciers of Prince William Sound.
During the middle of the day, the train starts from Whittier and heads to Spencer Glacier and Grandview. One can explore the backcountry with glacier views at Spencer Glacier through the Kenai Mountains to Grandview.
3.4. Summer Hurricane Turn Route
Summer Hurricane Turn Train Route departs from Talkeetna to Hurricane every Thursday to Monday, making a round-trip journey through the turn wilds of Indian River Valley. It stops at Chase, Curry, Sherman, Gold Creek, Twin Bridges, and Chulitna.
Along the way, passengers benefit from Hurricane’s unique flag stop service to get on and off the train anywhere.
4. Alaska Mosquito Season
Mosquitoes in Alaska are prevalent during summer. Due to their large size, they are often called Alaska State Birds. The Arctic tundra region gets a lot of mosquitoes and other bugs during the summer months. The bugs don’t spike until early June and vanish in early August.
Especially during late summer, the mosquitoes could be so bad. So, your packing list to visit Alaska must have bug sprays and other remedies like long-sleeve clothes to do away with them.
5. Visiting Alaska in Winter
Alaskan winter starts in October and goes on till March. During this long winter, days get shorter, and nights are longer. One will expect low freezing temperatures, darkness, and snow to begin to cover mountain peaks.
5.1. Winter Activities in Alaska
Alaska winter usually begins in November when there is heavy snowfall across the state. Right from August, the days become slightly colder, with daylight around 18 hours daily.
One can enjoy the northern lights along with winter sports of all types. Winter sports include skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice climbing, hot springs, dog sledding, and ice fishing. Alaskans love to get out in the snow to enjoy snow sports, run, ski, hike, and climb.
Dog sledding is where you use dogs to pull sleds on ice and snow. Particular breeds of dogs are given training and raised for this activity. Dog sledding requires well-fed and well-trained dogs with quality equipment to move on the snow.
6. Additional Facts on Alaskan Winter
Days in winter are shorter than nights as sunrise starts at around 8 am and sunset around 4 pm. This timezone depends on the time of the year and location in Alaska.
Anchorage, for example, has 9 hours of daylight in December and 5 hours in June. Also, Denali National Park has an extensive 16-hour daylight in June.
In winter, the temperature in Alaska goes low at -40°F. Due to this cold weather, one can expect fewer crowds during this season. In Anchorage, the temperature in January is between 11°F and 22°F. In the place called Fairbanks, the temperature in January lies around 5°F – 20°F.
In this low temperature, it is a marvelous time to see snow that reaches up to 12 feet in Alaska. Denali National Park is one great place to see the snow. Also, you can witness snowy days in early spring.
In this cooler weather, it is usually tedious to move around the state due to the lack of transportation accessibility. Exploring the interior of Alaska is possible by train or plane. There are a few glaciers that you can visit by car. One of the best options is to take a ferry ride, which is a great way to see Alaska’s scenery.
The Alaska Department of Transportation website gives information on road conditions in Alaska. Hence, check out the website before planning a trip to Alaska.
6.4. Wildlife Spotting
Winter in Alaska is cold but also a significant chance for wildlife spotting. There is an abundance of wildlife to witness, from harbor seals, sea lions, moose, bears, Dall sheep, eagles, and a variety of other wild animals.
Apart from this wildlife, one can find mountain goats in all mountain ranges in Alaska. Mountain goats are large white mammals with black horns. These animals are adaptive to extreme cold conditions as they have long, woolly coats.
6.5. Alaska Festivals in Winter
Although summer is the best time to visit Alaska, several festivals and events are there in winter. The Christmas Parade is a famous event in Anchorage that attracts crowds.
Fur Rendezvous festival is another well-known festival in February that celebrates Alaska’s fur trapping history. World Ice Art Championships also take place in February, featuring sculptures made from ice.
7. Alaska Railroad Routes in Winter
Winter travel is for those who love adventure wonderlands with snowy landscapes and long nights for dazzling displays of northern lights. Alaska railroad operates throughout the winter, connecting Anchorage, Talkeetna, and Fairbanks.
With fewer visitors, prices are lower, and the availability of tours for tourists is effortless and better.
7.1. Winter Hurricane Turn Route
Winter Hurricane Turn Train Route departs from Anchorage North to Hurricane on the first Thursday of the month, from October to May, making a round-trip journey. It halts at Wasilla, Talkeetna, Chase, Curry, Sherman, Gold Creek, Twin Bridges, and Chulitna.
Passengers can flag down the train for the south return ride. This train is also an excellent option for a day trip from Anchorage to explore Talkeetna or enjoy a full day of winter landscapes by rail.
7.2. Aurora Winter Train
Aurora Winter Train Route travels between Anchorage and Fairbanks on weekends, starting with a 12-hour journey on Saturday and returning on Sunday. On its way, the train stops at Wasilla, Talkeetna, Hurricane, Healy, and Nenana.
Passengers enjoy the beautiful land tours of Alaska’s backcountry sitting inside a rail with comfortable seats, large windows, and onboard dining. Along the tracks, one can also witness moose in the wild.
Aurora’s Train is also a perfect choice for a weekend getaway to Talkeetna. Between Anchorage and Fairbanks, there is an option for rail-fly packages. You can take the train in one direction and flight the other way.
8. Visiting Alaska in Spring
As spring approaches, Alaska’s weather begins to warm up. The spring starts in late April and goes on till May. Visitors during this early spring will find lower prices and travel deals.
8.1. Spring Activities in Alaska
Since spring has warmer weather similar to summer, some of the best activities to enjoy in spring are hiking, fishing, boat tours, whale watching, hot springs, mushing, etc.
9. Additional Facts on Alaskan Spring
During spring, Alaska has more daylight, similar to summer. It is the shoulder season in Alaska. The roads look clear and active. In Anchorage, the sun rises at 6 am and sets around 9.50 pm. Again, the days are longer, and northern lights look bright and visible.
The temperature in Alaska during spring lies in the range of 29°F – 44°F. Although the climate is warmer, it still feels cold. So, moving around Alaska and exploring more of the state is easier.
Hiking in the northern regions of Alaska is possible after the end of the spring. Lower-altitude places are the best to hike in spring. Seasonal place visits start in May with cheaper rates.
9.4. Wildlife in Spring
Spring is also the best time to visit Alaska for wildlife viewing. The animals start to come out of winter hibernation and can watch bears, moose, eagles, and other wild animals. Spring also offers the best time to see national parks in Alaska.
9.5. Festivals in Spring
Anchorage Festival of the Arts is a 3-day festival highlighting art displays, musical performances, and food from local restaurants.
Alaska Native Heritage Festival features the culture and history of Alaska’s native people. Alaska Folk Festival is an annual celebration of the music of Alaska in spring. It is the leading folklore festival in Alaska.
Many fishing tournaments happen during spring, like the Homer Halibut Tournament and the Kenai River King Salmon Tournament. Ice Cream Festival is one unique food festival in Alaska.
10. Visiting Alaska in Autumn (Fall)
Autumn or fall lasts in Alaska from September to October. The fall is again the best time to visit Alaska. The temperature starts cooling down, and leaves fall from the trees. The weather is mild, with beautiful scenery. Northern lights are also the best sight to view as the sky is clear.
With fewer tourists, you can enjoy the scenery and road trips exploring various beautiful places in Alaska.
10.1. Fall Activities in Alaska
The best outdoor activities in the fall are hiking, glacier tours, and helicopter tours in mild weather. Additionally, you can enjoy whale watching, northern lights, hot springs, and mushing.
11. Additional Facts on Alaska Fall
In September, Alaska has 12 hours of daylight. Hence, there are long days, but by October, nights draw in. The temperature is cold, but one can experience mild weather.
By November, you can experience 6 hours of daylight. Northern lights are again the best view in fall as well.
The average temperature in Anchorage during fall is between 50°F and 62°F in the daytime and looks mostly cloudy. At night, the temperature is between 39°F – 49°F. During October, the temperature decreases from 50°F – 35°F.
In November, there is snow with temperatures around 23°F-33°F during the day and 10°F – 23°F at night.
Hiking is possible in early September. Later, by mid to late September, mountains are off-limits for hiking. Seasonal places get shut by October.
11.4. Wildlife in Autumn
In autumn, you can observe animals like moose, goats, caribou, bears, muskoxen, and other animals migrating to different locations. You can go on whale-watching tours or visit national parks.
11.5. Festivals in Autumn
Although there are festivals celebrated in summer, you can find a few of them in fall as well. Sitka WhaleFest is an event that is a tribute to Alaska’s whale population. Alaska Day is another popular event celebrated in October.
12. Weather and Packing for the Alaska Trip
What should you pack for an Alaska trip? Packing for a trip can be tricky. The weather in Alaska is unpredictable as it has diverse climates and weather conditions.
Hence, it is mandatory to prepare well for weather conditions, irrespective of the month of travel.
12.1 Alaska Summer and Spring Packing List
- Waterproof Hiking Boots and Jacket
- Sandals and Sneakers
- Wool Socks
- Rain Boots, Rain Pants, and Rain Jacket
- Fleece Jacket
- Pants and Shorts
- Short and Long-Sleeve Tops
- Bras and Underwears
- Sun Hat, Sunscreen, and Sunglasses
- Jeans and T-shirts
- Reusable Waterbottles
- Mosquito repellent
- Digital Cameras, Eye Masks, and Binoculars
- Portable Chargers
12.2 Alaska Winter and Fall Packing List
- Merino Long-Sleeves, Socks, and Pants
- Jeans, Snow Pants, and Quick-dry Pants
- Hiking and Rain Boots
- Rain, Fleece, and windproof Jacket
- Gloves and Scarf
- Warm Boots
- Tri-Climate Jacket
So the question arises again: when is the best time to visit Alaska? Alaska is an ideal place to visit any time of the year based on travel preferences and interests. But summer is the best time to visit Alaska to enjoy all activities in mild weather. For enjoyment in sports adventure, winter is Sureshot’s best season.
So, plan your journey to Alaska accordingly and enjoy it well!!! Cheers!!
Last Updated on March 1, 2024 by Sathi Chakraborty