Alaska is the last real wilderness left in the United States, an untouched, rugged and pristine destination that’s just waiting to be explored by intrepid travelers.
The northernmost state though, is a very seasonal place to visit, because the vast landscapes and sporadic towns and small cities are at the mercy of the weather.
This far north, you find a land of extremes. Alaska endures long, dark winters with some areas having no daylight for weeks at a time. There are fierce snowstorms and temperatures are well below zero for much of the year.
Summer is beautiful, and arguably it’s the best time to visit Alaska because the days are long and the temperatures relatively high.
You’ll even catch the midnight sun in some locations. But the summer season is short, lasting only from late May to September, and this is when it’s peak season, and the cities and glaciers are full of cruise ship tourists.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Alaska (Regional Guide)
Best Time to Visit Alaska: Month by Month Breakdown
To be able to plan the ultimate trip to the national parks, and to remote destinations, you’ll need to know the best time to visit Alaska.
Here’s our month by month guide on the weather and the best places to go!
January in Alaska
January is a cold, cold time to be in Alaska, but it’s also a unique time of the year to explore the state, as you’ll experience the region in the throes of winter.
The far north of Alaska sees almost no daylight in January, being well within the Arctic Circle, but stay south in Anchorage or Juneau and you can enjoy a few hours each day of sunlight.
In fact, the skies are beautiful clear when the sun is out for its brief stint each day, making January the best time to visit for flightseeing trips over the glaciers and mountains.
At night you’ll likely see the Northern Lights too, especially if you head further north.
There’s ample opportunity for snow sports, including dog sledding and snowshoeing of course, and you can learn more about local cultures during the dead winter months too.
Remember though that travel in January can be difficult, especially if you want to head to the Arctic areas.
Overland travel is almost non-existent, even in summer, and even less so in winter, of course.
February in Alaska
In February, it’s just as cold and just as dark as in January, perhaps even colder depending on the weather patterns.
This is not the best time to visit Alaska, because there’s almost perpetual darkness and you’ll be at the mercy of the extreme weather.
This is still very much winter, but as in January, stick to the cities and you can enjoy Alaskan culture at this unique time of the year.
You can still take the odd flightseeing trip if the skies stay clear and of course, this is a great time to see the Northern Lights.
Head out from the cities and you’ll likely catch the Northern Lights in the sky, while there’s lots of chance to go dog sledding or snowshoeing too, all across Alaska.
March in Alaska
While March sees the beginning of Spring in more southern areas of the USA, in Alaska, it’s a completely different story.
It’s still winter, but in March the temperatures are rising incrementally, and the darkest days are now over.
The days are getting longer and this is a good time to visit if you want to enjoy outdoor activities in the snowy wilds of the Alaskan national parks.
In fact, if you want to enjoy the Northern Lights, this can be the best time to visit Alaska, because you’ll catch them in the night, but still be able to enjoy the daylight hours too.
April in Alaska
April is when the weather begins to transition from winter to summer. This is the short Alaskan springtime and it’s the best time to visit Alaska before the summer crowds arrive.
Small numbers of cruise ships begin to dock in places such as Anchorage or Juneau, while it’s much easier to travel overland.
The wildlife begins to emerge from hibernation and if you head into the national parks you’ll begin to see all sorts of animals, including moose and perhaps even the odd bear.
May in Alaska
May is the start of summer, or at least, the end of spring, and temperatures continue to rise all through the month.
The days are now incredibly long, and the further north you travel the longer they’ll become.
You’ll start to see whales in the ocean and more and more wildlife in the national parks.
In fact, this is probably the best time to visit Alaska if you want to spot wildlife because as the ice thaws across the state new life emerges into the sunlight.
Alaska is well and truly in bloom in May, and luckily, this is still very much a shoulder season too, because the summer crowds have yet to arrive in port.
June in Alaska
Those summer crowds really make their first appearance in June, because this is the start of the high season.
This is not the best time to visit Alaska if you want the most popular places, such as Denali National Park or the famous glaciers around either Juneau or Anchorage, to yourself.
Remember though, that Alaska is a vast place and there is so much more to see than just the tourist hot spots.
Take the time to head north, and you’ll quickly find the cruise crowds dissipate, and you’ll have the backcountry all to yourself.
Go to Fairbanks or head to the Kenai Peninsula, or better yet, head far, far north for the Midnight Sun in the Arctic Circle, where the sun never sets for most of the month of June.
July in Alaska
July is still peak season and it’s still the height of summer in the state. If you’re looking to explore the national parks and to go hiking then this is the best time to visit Alaska.
All the national parks are now well and truly open as the snow has melted in most locations, and you can enjoy trekking deep into Denali National Park or even attempt to summit Mount Denali if mountaineering is your pursuit of choice.
The days are long and there is little darkness in July, and you’ll find wildlife everywhere, both in the oceans and on land.
For an off the beaten track experience, take a cruise to the little-visited Aleutian Islands, which are glorious this time of the year.
August in Alaska
In August, the days begin to get slightly colder but there’s still a lot of daylight, with sunshine averaging around 18 hours per day across the state.
The wildlife is out and about and enjoying the weather before the short autumn soon arrives and before Alaska is then plunged into darkness when winter begins all too soon.
The last of the summer crowds are here in August, but by the end of the month, things are getting quieter.
This is a great last chance to enjoy the best of the national parks and outdoor activities in Alaska, while the waters off the coast will be teeming with humpback whales and orcas.
September in Alaska
As early as September the beautiful summer weather is gone, but it’s prefaced with a resplendent autumnal glow across the state.
The wildlife is very active in September, and this is the best time to visit Alaska to see the wildlife preparing for their winter hibernation, by stocking up on food and hunting.
You might have the chance to see the Northern Lights too, but you’ll need to head up north and get lucky.
The nights are getting longer but there’s still plenty of daylight too, and none of the summer crowds of the previous few months either.
October in Alaska
By October, winter is almost upon Alaska, and the days are getting much shorter and the nights are much longer.
Wildlife begins to slow down in the wilderness and you’ll have a harder time spotting them in the wild as they prepare for the cold weather.
This is very much a shoulder season meaning that there are few other tourists around.
Unfortunately, this is also a transition month and not just in terms of the weather but in terms of touristic activities too.
Many summer activities such as hiking are difficult now, while there’s also not much snowfall, meaning winter activities have yet to actually begin.
All of this ensures that October isn’t the first choice for many travelers and really isn’t the best time to visit Alaska.
November in Alaska
November sees the beginning of winter and the start of heavy snowfall across the state.
The days are much shorter now and temperatures are extremely low, especially at night time.
You’ll have a great chance of seeing the Northern Lights however and winter activities will be in action, and you can enjoy snowshoeing and dog sledding.
December in Alaska
December is a dark time to be in Alaska, but if you’re after a truly winter escape and a guaranteed white Christmas, then this would make for an unusual getaway.
Be prepared to be cold, but also be prepared for unique winter experiences. Stick to the south for better weather, and because you’ll have a high chance of seeing the Northern Lights too, rather than needing to venture too far north.
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