Alaska is much more than a frigid landscape, with snow-covered tundra, igloos, dog sledding, and polar bears.
From frozen winter nights to sweeping greenery and sun-basking Alaskan wildlife during the summer months, Alaska is a land of stark contrasts.
Every season has something different to offer and the best time to visit Alaska will depend on what you want to do.
This guide will give you a broad glimpse of a month-by-month breakdown of Alaskan weather and the activities that you can enjoy.
America’s largest and most scantily populated state Alaska, is closer to Russia than it is to New York.
Alaska is bordered by Canada to the east, the Pacific Ocean & the Gulf of Alaska to the south, Russia, the Bering Strait, the Bering Sea & the Chukchi Sea to the west, and the Arctic Ocean & the Beaufort Sea to the north.
Covering more than 424 million acres of land, the state has 57 million acres of federally designated wilderness.
This rugged landscape has vast meadows, deep valleys, and glacier-capped mountains with weather conditions swinging between sub-zero & freezing to sunny & warm.
The state is known for aurora borealis or northern lights, hot springs, national parks, and midnight sun, and among the Alaskan wildlife, one can find grizzly bears, mountain goats, seals, ducks, owls, bald eagles, and more.
If you want to enjoy warm weather, land tours, and wildlife watching, visit Alaska during the high season (May to September).
For pleasant weather and budget traveling and the chance to see Northern Lights, visit Alaska during the shoulder seasons (April & October).
If you want to enjoy winter sports and brave the winter freeze to have the best chance to see the surreal Northern Lights, the low season is the best time to visit Alaska (November to March).
Alaska has four seasons namely:
- Spring (March, April, and May): This is when the maximum temperature averages between 4°C and 13°C, while the minimum temperature ranges between -3°C and 4°C.
- Summer (June, July, and August): During the summer months, the average maximum temperature ranges between 16°C and 18°C, while the average minimum temperature is between 7°C and 9°C.
- Fall (September, October, and November): The average maximum temperature in the autumn months stays between 13°C and 3°C, while the average minimum temperature ranges between 6°C and -2°C.
- Winter (December, January, and February): During the winter months, the average maximum temperature is between -1.5°C and 1°C, while the average minimum temperature ranges between -5°C and -20°C.
Depending on the region, the temperature in the summer season can reach up to 34°C and the winter months can see temperatures as low as -45.6°C.
From a tourism perspective, the seasons are further divided into:
- High Season (May to September): This is when tourism is at its peak and prices are high.
- Shoulder Season (April and October): This is when it is quiet and prices drop, making it perfect for budget travelers.
- Low Season (November to March): This is best for hardcore travelers who can brave the winter freeze and want to enjoy winter sports and the Northern Lights.
The best time to visit Alaska depends on what you want to do. For instance, if you want to experience most of Alaska and witness its wildlife and Midnight Sun, July is the best time, but if the Northern Lights are on your bucket list, the clear night skies of the winter months are the best.
Here is a month-by-month breakdown of the best time to visit Alaska:
January is cold with daytime temperatures dropping as low as -16°C. In the south, there are about 3-4 hours of daylight.
Plenty of snow means winter activities like dog sledding in coastal mountain valleys are quite common.
This is a great time for watching the Northern Lights, and you can also enjoy uncrowded skiing and ice sculpting.
January is when the Aurora winter train runs between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Willow Winter Carnival is the key event in January.
In February, the days start getting longer, and by the end of the month, you can enjoy 10 hours of daylight.
The snowy peak of Denali (the highest mountain peak in North America), can be seen shimmering like a mirage against the backdrop of blue skies. However, the winter freeze continues.
Prices are very cheap at this time of the year and hot springs are the main attraction. Bears are still hibernating, but you can spot wolves, moose, bald eagles, and sea lions. Fishing is also limited.
Northern Lights can still be spotted in February. The Cordova Ice-worm festival and Yukon Quest (Fairbanks) are the key events in February.
Though the daylight hours increase, the chill continues, and despite the night hours decreasing, the skies get clearer, making March the best time to spot Aurora Borealis.
In Fairbanks, you can enjoy snowshoeing and dog sledding. You can see the footprints of caribou, lynx, and moose on the snow as their presence starts to increase. Gray whales are the first whales to start arriving in Alaska.
The Iditarod dogsledding race – one of the biggest events in Alaska takes place this month.
This is the time of the spring melt, and summer preparations start. Melting snow means winter sports come to a halt and Alaska becomes quieter with fewer crowds.
This is when the first hiking trails open, but the mid-melt trails may not be very attractive due to the damp and the sludge. In Fairbanks, daylight can stretch up to 9 PM. Nights are short now and Northern Lights viewing is not easy.
Locals enjoy kayaking as the shorelines awaken. You can participate to have fun! The key event this month is the Alaska Folk Festival.
The Alaskan ports such as Seward and Ketchikan Skagway become busy hubs as the cruise ship season begins. The tourist season is just starting and so the prices are still quite low.
Grizzly bears come out of hibernation and curious cubs follow them. Humpbacks also start showing up now.
The coastlines look pretty because of the wildflowers, making hiking a pleasant experience. Small ship cruises start in May.
Temperatures are pleasant and daytime temperatures in Anchorage can reach 13°C. May is usually the driest month.
Little Norway Festival and Kodiak Crab Festival are the two key events in May.
The travel season starts in early June and is in full swing by mid-June. Depending on where you are in Alaska, you can experience up to 24 hours of daylight.
With temperatures around 20°C, June is great for whale watching. By late June, grizzlies are busy catching salmon.
Denali National Park opens up and the Kenai Peninsula including the Kenai Fjords National Park is lush green.
You can enjoy scenic Alaska railroad trips to reach remote wilderness lodges or book a small ship cruising tour to Katmai National Park, Kodiak Island, etc.
June 21 is the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year. The land north of the Arctic Circle becomes magical because of the Midnight Sun.
The Midnight Sun Festival (Fairbanks), Spenard Jazz Fest (Anchorage), and Nalukataq are the key events.
Warning! The mosquito season begins and the locals call it the mozzie season.
As summer progresses, July becomes the best time to visit Alaska. Wildlife is completely active, days are long, and average temperatures are the warmest. It is the peak tourist season with land tours becoming common.
Small ship cruises can now take you to places that big ships cannot reach. The best national parks are all open. Days are slightly shorter now, but you can expect daylight till 10 PM.
Active salmon runs in Kodiak Island and Katmai National Park attract a lot of bears. It is also a great time to watch orcas and whales.
The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks and Mt Marathon Race in Seward are the key events.
Remember! The mozzies are still about so take plenty of insect repellant.
Days shorten in August, and as the school holidays end, the peak season gradually dies out. Denali National Park eases and with fewer crowds, spotting wildlife becomes easier.
By mid-August, autumn creeps in from the north and quickly sweeps to the south. Insects die off as the weather gets cooler. This makes long-distance hiking a great choice.
The scenic beauty of the tundra turning brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow is breathtaking. Look out for hungry bears hunting for ripe berries.
By late August, the Northern Lights start showing up again.
Early September is a great time to combine Northern Lights watching and summer activities like wildlife spotting and hiking. By mid-September, tourist activities come to a halt.
Humpback whales start to depart as the ice starts forming. Bears depart for hibernation, and small ship cruises come to an end, but the vivid fall colors are there.
Weather changes rapidly in September and temperatures can drop by 10°C by the end of the month. Southeast Alaska becomes rainy and fog obscures marine wildlife tours.
Seward Music & Arts Festival is the key event this month.
Long and dark nights set in, but the weather is mild and good for Northern Lights viewing. Deers and grizzly bears now retire to their dens and whales migrate to warmer waters. Some trails are still open and you can have them to yourself till mid-October.
You’ll even manage to get specialty and fishing tours, and if you like, you can have a custom tour arranged for yourself. This is when the preparation for a long winter and winter sports starts.
The Alaska Day Festival is the main event this month.
Winter has come with an average daytime temperature of -12°C and night temperatures can dip to -20°C in Fairbanks. It becomes easier to spot the surreal Northern Lights because of darker nights.
By the end of the month, there are fewer visitors but winter activities like snowshoeing and dog sledding start in full swing. Ice hockey keeps the indoors lively.
Wildlife disappears but thousands of bald eagles come in to pick the last of the salmon in Haines.
Alaska Bald Eagle Festival and Sitka WhaleFest are the major events in November.
Snow-draped trees, a thick blanket of snow covering everything, the Northern Lights – Alaska looks nothing less than a romantic fairyland in December.
But aurora viewing is not the only activity. You can witness cherry fairy lights strung everywhere in Christmas preparations.
The snow is deep enough for dog sledding and lynx footprints are quite common.
Northern Lights or aurora borealis technically occur year-round, but the best time for aurora viewing is when the nights are dark and long. This makes September to March the best time to watch the elusive Northern Lights.
May through September is the best time for cruise tours. Though the whales start coming in March, the longer days between May and August are perfect, and small ship cruises can take you to predictable feeding pods where the whales congregate and put on quite a show.
The high season of May to September is the best time to spot Alaskan wildlife. Wildlife in Alaska is most active during the summer season of May to August, and they start retreating for winter by mid-September.
Any Alaska expert will tell you to visit Alaska during the summer season, which is the warmest time in Alaska and wildlife is at its best. Land tours are possible and so is small ship cruising. However, summer falls in the high season and prices will be high.
I, however, recommend the shoulder season (April and October) when tourist activities are almost nill and prices drop significantly. The temperature is pleasant – not too hot, and not freezing, either.
April will give you the last glimpses of winter when the snow melts and October will give you the last sight of summer. With fewer crowds, you can explore Alaska at your own pace.
June is the best time to witness Midnight Sun in Alaska. June 21 is the summer solstice and certain areas receive almost 24 hours of sunlight. Alaskans refer to this time as White Nights. You can enjoy limitless visibility.
If cozying up and watching the Northern Lights is on your bucket list of to-do activities for your honeymoon, visit Alaska during October.
Being a shoulder month it is cheap but winter is yet to arrive. It is not freezing either. You can also have custom tours arranged and travel without the crowds bothering you.
The perfect time to visit Alaska depends on your personal preferences. Peak season or high season is great if you want plenty of sunlight and don’t mind the crowd. However, this is the best time for enjoying wildlife watching and experiencing the white nights.
If you have a tight budget, I recommend the shoulder months of April and October. Crowds dissipate during these months and prices drop. Spotting the Northern Lights in April will be a little difficult but you will have opportune moments till mid-April. October is a great time to watch the Northern Lights.
If you enjoy winter sports, the low season from November to March will be best suited.
No matter what’s on your mind, Alaska is a beautiful and exciting country to visit. I hope this article on the best time to visit Alaska has helped with your travel plans.
Have an amazing trip. 🙂