Among the most common questions we receive, and indeed an important consideration when planning Alaska travel, are “What is the best time to visit Alaska?” or “What is the best time to cruise Alaska?”
The answer is complicated and depends on many factors. Alaska is huge and weather is vastly different in the north vs south or interior vs coast. The travel season is short and can vary greatly between spring, summer and fall. Combine all this with Alaska’s notoriously unpredictable weather and it can be a challenge to determine the best time to visit Alaska.
What follows is our expert advice and a month by month guide with tips on weather, wildlife, daylight and the benefits of each month, to get you thinking about the best time to go to Alaska.
Best Time to Cruise Alaska
The Alaska cruising season begins in March and ends in September. The peak season with best weather and wildlife occurs during summer months. Generally, there is less rain in May and precipitation increases as the summer progresses. As Alaska small ship cruise experts, we advise clients that the best time to cruise Alaska is May 15 through September 1.
If we had to choose one, the best month for an Alaska cruise is July. Typically, there are no scheduled cruises from October through February, but special Alaska charter cruises can be arranged during this time with advanced notice. Families typically visit mid June through mid August. View the best Alaska cruises for families. See our monthly Alaska weather tips and travel advice below to find your best time to take an Alaskan cruise.
Best Time to Travel to Alaska by Land
Alaska’s interior is colder than the coast so the land-based travel season can be shorter than the cruising season. Keep this in mind if you are planning an Alaska small ship cruise and an Alaska land tour combination.
Summer in interior Alaska is short and occurs from mid-June through late-August. Winter in Alaska sees far fewer travelers with December through March being the best months to view the northern lights or aurora borealis. The spring and fall months in Alaska offer unique opportunities and lower prices.
In our opinion the best time to travel to Alaska is in June, July and August. The best month to visit Alaska is July, when travelers will experience the best combination of weather and wildlife. See our below breakdown of Alaska weather by month to learn more about the temperatures, sunlight and wildlife, to find the best time to visit Alaska for you.
Alaska by Month: When to Go & Why
Alaska is open for travel year-round, but the primary tourist season begins in June and ends in August. The Alaska by month travel season calendar below brings in April and early spring, because that is when the yearly travel season kicks off. The guide below will help you determine the best month to visit Alaska. It will outline Alaska weather by month and answer questions such as “When is summer in Alaska?” and “What month is the best time to visit Alaska?” or “When is the best time to go to Alaska?” We strive to give you the information to answer these questions based on your own travel timing and interests. For even more information and detailed climate tables, view our Alaska climate page.
We strive to give you the information to answer these questions based on your own travel timing and interests.
In the monthly guide below we refer to Coastal, Interior and Arctic regions. The coastal region includes Southeast Alaska and the Inside Passage, Southcentral Alaska including Prince WIlliam Sound, Anchorage, Kodiak Island, as well as coastal Katmai National Park and the Aleutian Islands. Interior Alaska is the region north of Anchorage up to the Brooks Range just north of Fairbanks and includes Denali National Park. Arctic Alaska includes the Brooks Range north to the Arctic Ocean.
April & Early Spring in Alaska
Small ship cruises begin plying Alaskan waters as early as mid-March, with most early spring departures running regularly starting in mid-April. Early spring offerings center on the Inside Passage, with most spanning a week. During this time, you can also consider a longer cruise, traveling with small ships positioning from Seattle, Washington up to Alaska. 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.
Alaska Weather in April & Early Spring:
- Coastal temperature in Alaska in April: 30-45 degrees & 11 hours of daylight
- Interior temperature in Alaska in April: 15-40 degrees & 14 hours of daylight
- Arctic temperature in Alaska in April: -10-5 degrees & 16 hours of daylight
Benefits of Alaska Travel in April & Early Spring:
- Travelers in April and early spring will find lower prices & Alaska travel deals
- April & early spring have Alaska to themselves with non-existent crowds
- Increased offerings for themed cruises & onboard special guests
- Longer northbound positioning cruises from Seattle to Alaska
- Dark nights may show northern lights
Emerging Alaska Wildlife in April & Early Spring:
- 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
May in Alaska
May is considered Alaska’s spring and 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 cruise departures start in earnest, as well as opportunities for longer sailings from Seattle to Alaska, passing British Columbia along the way. 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. Land tours are beginning but National Parks in Alaska’s interior are still closed. Mid-month, the shops and attractions also return to life after a winter slumber.
Alaska Weather in May:
- Coastal temperature in Alaska in May: 40-55 degrees & 16 hours of daylight
- Interior temperature in Alaska in May: 30-55 degrees & 18 hours of daylight
- Arctic temperature in Alaska in May: 15-24 degrees & 22 hours of daylight
Benefits of Alaska Travel in May:
- On average the month of May has the least amount of rain
- Travelers in May will find lower prices and Alaska travel deals
- May has fewer tourist crowds than the prime summer months
- May offers longer northbound positioning cruises from Seattle to Alaska
Emerging Alaska Wildlife in May:
- Water: gray whales, harbor seals
- Birds: migratory songbirds & pelagic seabirds arriving on coast
- Land: Dall sheep, moose, wolves, lynx
June in Alaska
June is when the Alaska travel season comes into full swing, especially in the latter part of the month, and marks the beginning of the best time to visit Alaska. Glacier Bay National Park cruises and tours are in full swing. 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 on 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. 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.
Alaska Weather in June:
- Coastal temperature in Alaska in June: 40-60 degrees & 18 hours of daylight
- Interior temperature in Alaska in June: 50-70 degrees & 20 hours of daylight
- Arctic temperature in Alaska in June: 29-38 degrees & nearly 24 hours of daylight
Benefits of Alaska Travel in June:
- Longest daylight hours make active wildlife & ample time for exploration
- Denali National Park & other interior parks open
- Popular towns such as Juneau, Sitka, Anchorage & Fairbanks are in full swing
- Opportunities for cruise & land tour combinations begin
- Wildlife is active with opportunities to view young animals
- Melted snow enables higher altitude hikes
Emerging Alaska Wildlife in June:
- Water: harbor seal pups, ducks hatching, beluga whales
- Birds: optimal seabird & alpine bird rookery viewing
- Land: caribou, mountain goat kids, black bear cubs, moose calves
July in Alaska
For many people, the answer to the question “When is the best time to go to Alaska?” is July. With wildlife fully active, all trails accessible, long days and Alaska’s warmest average temperatures, July can be the best month to visit Alaska. This translates into a busy time for The Great Land, with a swell of visitors. 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. Land tours, averaging 5-8 days, set you up to thoroughly enjoy some of Alaska’s best national parks during this ideal month. If you are planning travel to Alaska in July, then plan ahead and book early.
Alaska Weather in July:
- Coastal temperature in Alaska in July: 50-65 degrees & 18 hours of daylight
- Denali temperature in Alaska in July: 50-70 degrees & 19 hours of daylight
- Arctic temperature in Alaska in July: 33-45 degrees & nearly 24 hours of daylight
Benefits of Alaska Travel in July:
- Opportunities for cruise & land tour combinations continue
- Long daylight hours make active wildlife & ample time for exploration
- Alaska’s warmest temperatures of the year occur in July
- Spawning salmon means ideal fishing
Must-See Alaska Wildlife in July:
- Water: prime month for humpback whales, salmon runs, sea otters
- Birds: puffins, shorebirds begin migrating (millions of birds possible in a flock)
- Land: black & brown bears (including grizzlies); mountain goats
August in Alaska
August is a popular time to visit Alaska and marks the end of the high travel season. Increased moisture improves the vibrancy of an already verdant landscape. Midway through August, colder temperatures encourage brilliant fall foliage, especially in the interior and Denali National Park. Wildlife remains in abundance and all cruises and land tours are operating on a regular basis. As the month winds down, so do the number of travelers to Alaska, with a shift in weather that signals fall has arrived.
Alaska Weather in August:
- Coastal temperature in Alaska in August: 50-60 degrees & 18 hours of daylight
- Denali temperature in Alaska in August: 45-65 degrees & 18 hours of daylight
- Arctic temperature in Alaska in August: 33-41 degrees & 20 hours of daylight
Benefits of Alaska Travel in August:
- Cruise & land tour combinations
- Long daylight hours make active wildlife & ample time for exploration
- Ideal fishing conditions (halibut, rainbow trout, northern pike, salmon)
Must-See Alaska Wildlife in August:
- Water: beavers, humpback whales & orca,
- Birds: peak songbird migration, bald eagles, loons
- Land: caribou, black & brown bears (including grizzlies)
September in Alaska
September brings Alaska’s fall 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. 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. September marks the end of the Alaska travel season and is the best time to travel to Alaska for low prices and Alaska travel deals.
Alaska Weather in September:
- Coastal temperature in Alaska in September: 40-55 degrees & 15 hours of daylight
- Denali temperature in Alaska in September: 35-55 degrees & 17 hours of daylight
- Arctic temperature in Alaska in September: 28-33 degrees & 14 hours of daylight
Benefits of Alaska Travel in September:
- Travelers in September will find lower prices & Alaska travel deals
- September has fewer tourist crowds than the prime summer months
- September offers longer southbound positioning cruises from Alaska to Seattle
Alaska Must-See Wildlife in September:
- Water: gray whales, harbor seals, sea lions
- Birds: gulls & raptors begin migrating, bald eagles, black oystercatchers
- Land: elk, moose, caribou, deer
October & November in Alaska
Late fall in Alaska is not known for cruises and land tours. Weather is wet and increasingly cold. Alaskan wildlife and Alaskan residents are preparing for the cold dark winter to come. Specialty tours and fishing can attract hearty travelers and custom tours can be arranged.
Winter in Alaska—December Through March
Winters in Alaska can be harsh and beautiful. Weather is extremely cold and storms are severe. Winter activities such as dog sledding, snow shoeing and skiing are possible. A popular attraction during Alaska’s winter is viewing the northern lights (aurora borealis). Specialty lodges offer comfortable accommodations for hearty travelers willing to brave cold long nights to witness this spectacle of nature.
Alaska Mosquito Season
Mosquitoes, sometimes jokingly referred to as the Alaskan state bird, are a fact of life during the summer travel season. But they are more annoyance than deterrent so don’t let bugs affect your travel plans. Mosquitoes and other bugs are most prevalent in the boggy interior and Arctic tundra regions during mid-summer. Populations spike in late June and dissipate in early August. They can’t fly in a light breeze and they aren’t as active in rain, which keeps coastal and mountainous regions relatively bug-free. You will not encounter bugs on small ship cruises, except when venturing ashore on calm days and even then, they are seldom troublesome. Your packing list should recommend remedies to repel bugs and long-sleeve clothing to keep them at bay when they are encountered. Being equipped for weather and conditions will make your Alaskan experience more enjoyable.
Alaska Weather & Packing for Alaska Travel
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.
Layers are essential for a comfortable Alaska vacation, using fast-drying wicking materials. A raincoat and rain pants are also must-haves, as is a warm hat and gloves. Many boats and some lodges 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.
Checking the Weather Before Your Alaska Trip
Many travelers incessantly check the daily weather in Alaska as their trip approaches. We advise you to resist this temptation, it will only drive you crazy. Local forecasts in Alaska are astoundingly inaccurate and weather changes by the hour. Checking daily forecasts does little to help you prepare. Stick to the broad guidelines above and as previously stated, follow the advice of your packing lists. Checking the weather before your Alaska trip will only serve to frustrate your preparations and offers little insight into what conditions will be like when you arrive.
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. 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.
So, When is the Best Time to Visit Alaska?
Considering everything stated above, we advise travelers that June 15 through August 15 is the best time to go to Alaska. But not everyone can schedule their trip during this time and as we’ve noted, each season has its benefits. If you plan your trip during the peak season, then plan ahead and book early as these are the dates that sell out first. For more information on when to visit Alaska, view our How to Choose Your Alaska Cruise guide. If you are still looking for advice on the best time of year to visit Alaska, just give us a call, our experts are ready to help.
This guide on the best time to visit Alaska is among AdventureSmith Explorations’ extensive collection of travel guides; the content is regularly updated by our team for accuracy. Visit our Alaska Travel Guides for even more resources and inspiration in planning your Alaska trip.