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Best Time to Visit Alaska

Mid-May to mid-September is the ideal time to visit Alaska. From late spring to early autumn, the days are long, wildlife viewing is at its peak and there’s a wide choice of things to do, from whale watching in Kenai Fjords and grizzly bear viewing in Denali National Park to small-ship cruises along the Inside Passage and train journeys on the Alaska Railroad. Spring and summer are also great times to plan a self-drive in Alaska.

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When to visit Alaska… at a glance

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Spring & Summer

  • Long hours of daylight and warmest
  • Bears active and feeding on salmon runs
  • Humpback whales can be seen
  • Denali National Park fully open
  • All activities available
alaska denali national park autumn colours do

Autumn & Winter

  • Shorter days and much cooler nights
  • Bears preparing to hibernate; bird migrations
  • Chance of seeing the northern lights
  • Golden autumn colours on the tundra
  • Less busy, but also less activities available
  • Prime northern lights watching season (Winter)

When is the best time to see bears in Alaska?

During spring, the warmer temperatures and longer hours of daylight stir bears from hibernation. Optimum bear viewing coincides with the salmon runs when grizzlies concentrate around rivers. In prime spots, like Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park, this occurs during July and September. When the salmon are not running, bears (both black and brown) range further afield and can be found foraging along coasts or prowling the tundra of inland national parks like Denali.

alaska south katmai peninsula brown bear and cubs istk

When is the best time to see whales in Alaska?

Summer witnesses the arrival of humpback whales, migrating from Hawaii to feed in Alaska’s coastal waters, including the Kenai Fjords and Inside Passage. June and July are the best months to observe their unique bubble-net feeding tactics. Summer is also prime time for spotting Alaska’s resident pods of orca. Blue whales are rarer and more often seen further offshore, while beluga whales are frequently sighted in Cook Inlet near Anchorage.

Are there mosquitoes in Alaska?
Mosquitoes are mainly active in early summer and are more often found in the interior where lakes and saturated areas of tundra provide ideal breeding conditions. By August they have usually disappeared from all but the wettest areas. Come prepared with insect repellant – and remember that mosquitoes are a crucial part of the food chain that sustains Alaska’s extraordinary wildlife.

alaska sitka humpback whales atia

Alaska in spring and summer

Most tours operate from mid-May to mid-September, so if you want the maximum choice of things to do, this is the best time to visit Alaska. The sky is light for much of the night between late May and late July, with 21 June (the longest day) boasting 19 hours of daylight in Anchorage and 21 hours in Fairbanks. Venture to the Arctic Circle (about 200 miles north of Fairbanks) and you can experience the midnight sun. The shoulder months of May and September are less busy, but can still enjoy good weather. During the peak season, July to mid-August, you should book as far in advance as possible.

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Alaska weather

Temperature In Anchorage, average maximum daytime temperatures reach around 17-19°C during June, July and August. In May and September, this drops to around 13°C. During winter, expect daytime highs of around -3°C. Juneau is slightly milder during winter months, while Fairbanks has more extremes of temperature – up to 23°C in July and down to -17°C in January.

Rainfall Average monthly precipitation in Anchorage ranges from 12mm in April to 83mm in August; Juneau is generally wetter, while Fairbanks is drier. June and July are the sunniest months.

Important dates
  • February: Cordova Iceworm Festival
  • March: Iditarod Dog Sled Race
  • Mid-March: Bering Sea Ice Golf Classic in Nome
  • Early May: Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival
  • July to mid-August: Peak season
  • July through September: black bears, grizzlies and brown bears fish the salmon runs
  • Late August: Thousands of sandhill cranes migrate through Fairbanks
  • September to March: Sightings of the northern lights possible
  • Mid-November: Haines Alaska Bald Eagle Festival

Alaska in autumn

Autumn is a beautiful season in Alaska with much going for it. The tundra turns gold and orange (a magnet to photographers), while bears are busy feeding on berries and the last scraps of the September salmon run to put on weight before hibernation. As days draw in, there is always the possibility of the northern lights appearing, particularly around Fairbanks and the north. September also sees a dramatic drop-off in visitor numbers. The flip-side is that autumn inevitably has cooler, more changeable weather; wildlife activity is tailing off and many tours and attractions will start running reduced schedules – or close until the following spring.

alaska denali hwy bca

Alaska in winter

Northern lights and winter activity holidays are available from December to March/April, set against a spectacular backdrop of snow-covered mountains and frozen lakes. Prices are lower and excursions include dog-sledding, skiing and aurora hunting. Barrow, Alaska’s northernmost town, experiences the polar night during mid-winter when, for 67 days, the sun does not rise.

alaska far north winter natc

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