The Alaska adventure travel season has lengthened in recent years. With more options and offerings in regions including the famed Inside Passage, Southcentral Alaska, Southwest Alaska and the Central Interior—plus variable weather conditions—­it’s important to consider timing. At AdventureSmith Explorations, we are frequently asked “when is the best time to visit Alaska?” or “what month has the most sun?” While Alaska weather is notoriously unpredictable, what follows are some tips to get you thinking about what month to visit.

3 kayaks paddling in calm water viewing an Alaskan tidewater glacier.
Photo by AdventureSmith Specialist Andrew Browning

March & April in Alaska

Small ship cruises begin as early as mid-March, with most early spring departures running regularly starting in mid-April. Our early spring offerings center on the Inside Passage, with most spanning a week. During this time, you can also consider a longer 15-day cruise, traveling with boats positioning from Seattle up to Alaska. 

Nights still may reveal the northern lights, while days are longer and animals are beginning to stir.

Nights are still long enough to possibly catch the northern lights, while days are getting longer and animals are beginning to stir. The annual early spring herring migration makes for optimal wildlife viewing opportunities, as hungry bears awake from hibernation and go looking for food. Snowcapped peaks drive mountain goats and other creatures to the shoreline to forage.

Average Coastal Weather:

30-45 °F and 11 hours of daylight

Benefits:

  • Low prices & Alaska travel deals
  • Non-existent crowds
  • Increased offerings for themed cruises & onboard special guests
  • Longer cruises from Seattle

Emerging Wildlife:

  • Water: Steller sea lions, orca, humpback whales
  • Birds: chickadees, wrens, jays, grouse, thrushes, ducks, loons, swans, geese, owls, bald eagles
  • Land: mountain goats, brown & black bears
A group of Alaska travelers hiking along a creek.

May in Alaska

May is considered Alaska’s early shoulder season. Many small ship cruises begin operating, but with kids in school, you can still feel like Alaska is all yours. The Inside Passage remains the focus as many more 6-8-day departures start in earnest, as well as opportunities for longer sailings from Seattle to Alaska, passing British Columbia along the way.

May is an optimal month to view wildlife awakening.

May is one of the driest months and an optimal one to view wildlife awakening, with lots of babies being born, spring migrations ramping up, snow melting and the landscape budding. Mid-month, the shops and attractions also return to life after a winter slumber.

Average Coastal Weather:

40-55 °F and 16 hours of daylight

Benefits:

  • Driest month on average
  • Low prices & Alaska travel deals
  • Few crowds
  • Optional longer cruises embarking in Seattle

Emerging Wildlife:

  • Water: gray whales, harbor seals
  • Birds: migratory songbirds & seabirds
  • Land: Dall sheep, moose, wolves, lynx
A caribou with large antlers munching on grass on a wildflower filled hillside.

June in Alaska

June is when the Alaska tourist season comes into full swing, especially in the latter part of the month. Cruises in the southcentral and southwestern part of the state begin operating, offering adventures along Prince William Sound, Kodiak Island, Katmai National Park and the Aleutian Islands. Some departures even focus in the Arctic waters of the Bering Sea, bringing guests ashore at various points along Russia’s Siberian coastline—you might even spot a polar bear on Wrangel Island.

June is the month to begin taking land trips in Alaska.

June is the month to begin taking land trips in Alaska. The Denali National Park road opens, bear viewing in Katmai is optimal with various salmon runs underway, the Kenai peninsula (including Kenai Fjords National Park) is lush with greenery and the weather is more reliable for flightseeing, floatplane rides, scenic Alaska railroad trips and other special modes of transit for reaching remote wilderness lodges.

Average Weather:

  • Coastal: 40-60 °F and 18 hours of daylight
  • Denali: 50-70 °F and 20 hours of daylight
  • Arctic: 30-40 °F and nearly 24 hours of daylight

Benefits:

  • Longest daylight hours
  • Land + sea tour combinations
  • Opportunities to view an abundance of young wildlife
  • Melted snow enables higher altitude hikes

Emerging Wildlife:

  • Water: habor seal pups, ducks hatching, beluga whales
  • Birds: optimal seabird and alpine bird rookerie viewing
  • Land: caribou, mountain goat kids, black bear cubs, moose calves
A tuffted puffin swimming with bright orange beak long blonde eyebrows and black body.

July in Alaska

July is a choice time to visit Alaska, with wildlife fully active, all trails accessible, long days and Alaska’s warmest average temperatures. This translates into a busy time for The Great Land, with a swell of visitors.

Small ships avoid the crowds during this busy time for The Great Land.

Small ship cruises during this busy month mean you can still enjoy areas inaccessible to the large cruise ships, such as Kake and Wrangell Narrows; plus weather won’t affect your ability to access key Alaskan cities like Sitka. Our land tours, averaging 5-8 days, set you up to thoroughly enjoy some of Alaska’s best national parks during this ideal month.

Average Weather:

  • Coastal: 50-65 °F and 18 hours of daylight
  • Denali: 50-70 °F and 19 hours of daylight
  • Arctic: 32-45 °F and nearly 24 hours of daylight

Benefits:

  • Land + sea tour combinations
  • Long days enable more time to play
  • Warmest temperatures
  • Spawning salmon means ideal fishing

Must-See Wildlife:

  • Water: prime month for humpback whales, salmon runs, sea otters
  • Birds: puffins, shorebirds begin migrating (millions of birds possible in a flock)
  • Land: grizzly, brown and black bears; mountain goats
Three coastal brown bears walking along a pond with their reflections showing and a green meadow behind them in Alaska.
Photo by AdventureSmith Specialist Andrew Browning

August in Alaska

August is still a popular time to visit Alaska, with increased moisture improving the vibrancy of an already verdant landscape. Wildlife remains in abundance and all cruises and land tours are operating on a regular basis. As the month winds down, so do travelers to Alaska, with a shift in weather that signals fall has arrived.

Average Weather:

  • Coastal: 50-60 °F and 18 hours of daylight
  • Denali: 45-65 °F and 18 hours of daylight
  • Arctic: 31-41 °F and 23 hours of daylight

Benefits:

  • Land + sea tour combinations
  • Long days enable more time to play
  • Ideal fishing conditions (halibut, rainbow trout, northern pike, salmon)

Must-See Wildlife:

  • Water: beavers, humpback whales & orca,
  • Birds: peak songbird migration, bald eagles, loons
  • Land: caribou, black and brown bears (including grizzlies)
Alaska travelers in a skiff heading towards a beach under steep mountains in Alaska.

September in Alaska

September brings Alaska’s later shoulder season, with fewer visitors and often Alaska special offers. Longer nights again bring possible opportunities to view the aurora borealis. The cooler weather turns trees and tundra into explosive fall colors of red, gold and purple.

Fewer visitors, and animals busy preparing for winter.

Snow begins to dust mountain peaks. Animals are busy preparing for the oncoming winter—migrating, mating, marking territory, hunting and foraging for food—which increases your odds of viewing all manner of wildlife.

Average Weather:

  • Coastal: 40-55 °F and 15hrs hours of daylight
  • Denali: 35-55 °F and 17 hours of daylight
  • Arctic: 30-32 °F and 19 hours of daylight

Benefits:

  • Land + sea tour combinations
  • Low prices & Alaska travel deals
  • Few-to-no crowds
  • Optional longer cruises disembarking in Seattle

Must-See Wildlife:

  • Water: gray whales, harbor seals, sea lions
  • Birds: gulls and raptors begin migrating, bald eagles, black oystercatchers
  • Land: elk, moose, caribou, deer
A totem of the sun with a face carved in the wood.

A Word about Alaska Weather & Packing for Alaska

Weather in various Alaska destinations is unpredictable and travelers should prepare themselves for a range of conditions, no matter what month you travel. We have developed comprehensive Alaska planning guides for our booked clients, with expertise culled from years of our own living, working, guiding and traveling in Alaska.

Prepare for a range of conditions, no matter what month you travel.

Layers are essential for a comfortable Alaska vacation, using wicking materials that are fast-drying. A raincoat and rain pants are also must-haves, as is a warm hat and gloves. Many boats will provide rubber boots. With a well-packed bag, you can appreciate the opportunities created by varying weather, which in turn creates the cornucopia of landscapes and wildlife that brings travelers to the Last Frontier.

A scenic view of a mountainside of lupine flower plant  overlooking an Alaskan shoreline and water.
Photo by AdventureSmith Specialist Andrew Browning

A Note About Timing & Latitude in Alaska

While this Alaska by Month guide is a valuable resource for planning when to go, wildlife and weather can never be fully predicted, especially in a land as powerful as Alaska. Life in Alaska is greatly affected by latitude variances, as slight latitude shifts can result in big seasonal and light changes. There is no best time to cruise Alaska. The nature of small ship cruising is to be flexible and nimble, and this ethos should be applied to any trip in Alaska, by land or sea. Afterall, the surprise in what you experience while in Alaska is a big part of the fun.

Discover more about our Alaska trips and then contact one of our Alaska experts to help match you with the best trip for your interests, budget and timeline.