Q: When is the best time to visit Alaska? And--are there any optimum times other than the summer? --Jeanette
A: The classic tourist season is May 15 – September 15—roughly the same dates Denali National Park is open. Temperatures are the warmest of the year: highs during the day range from 60 - 70 and lows at night go down to 40 – 50.
Days are long, too—roughly 20 hours of daylight on June 21, the summer solstice, and close to that for the month before and after. Certainly, for most of the summer you’ll have light well after 10 p.m. See Alaska Daylight and Alaska Sunset Calculator.
Depending on your priorities, though, you can fine-tune this timeframe—or even go outside it for a different kind of experience.
- I peg the absolute optimal time to visit Alaska as between June 20 – July 10. Read my Visit Alaska page to see why.
- If you want a slightly better chance of seeing wildlife, come May to July. Late spring and early summer are when the calves and cubs are born, so moose, caribou and bears tend be moving slower, thanks to their little ones, and staying at lower elevations, below the snow line, where there’s more to eat.
- If you’re looking for bargains, come during the shoulder season: May or September. You can get up to 25% off rates on hotels and tours. Peak pricing generally begins the first or second week of June and extends throughout August.
- If you don’t want rain, come in May. Alaska gets plenty of rain during the warmer months, but May is the driest, with only a 25 percent chance on any given day.
- If you want fall colors, come in late August or early September. The foliage in the high interior—like inside Denali, or at Fairbanks—peaks first, and is followed by popping color in the south central regions around Anchorage. A bonus: During this time of year, you might also spot auroras at night. See September In Alaska.
- For good snow and awe-inspiring aurora borealis viewing, come in February or March. Come any earlier, and you’d get too much darkness to enjoy the skiing, dog-mushing, or snowshoeing at winter resort spots such as Girdwood. Come after April 20th, and your chances of seeing the northern lights go way down. See Alaska in March and Alaska Northern Lights in April.
- If you want to fish, talk to your prospective hotel or tour operator before you book. The fishing seasons vary wildly, depending on both species and locations. A local tour operator or hotel-owner will likely be able to pinpoint the exact weeks that, say, sockeye salmon will be out in droves in the river near them.