The season in which you visit a wilderness haven like Alaska can impact not just the weather but the prices, population, and activities you can physically do. As always, there are pros and cons to any season, so, to help you make the best decision for the type of vacation you’re looking for, here is a list of things to consider when planning when to visit Alaska.
The day/night hours are much more dramatic. Alaska is much farther north than you might realize, so the ‘length’ of the day increases by more than a few hours of sunlight. June 21, also known as the summer solstice on non-leap years, holds around 19 hours of daylight (depending on where in Alaska you are). This makes your outdoor excursions less time-dependent, and may change the energy/mood of other activities. As for weather, August is usually the rainiest.
Wildlife has a schedule, too. If you’re excited to see orcas and humpback whales, you’ll most likely catch them between April and November. Bears (grizzly, black and brown) come out mostly between July and September. June, as the driest month, has a lot of mosquitoes.
The northern lights (aurora borealis). So pretty in postcards and science magazines, these colors can be seen in person from many places around Fairbanks, for example, such as up Ester Dome, along the Gilmore Trail and near Chatanika. Because the sky is darker, December through March is the best time to see them.
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, when mushers and their dogs race from Anchorage to Nome in just under two weeks, is in March. Other events include the Iron Dog Snowmobile Race (Feb), the Tour of Anchorage Nordic Ski Race (March), and the Tesoro Arctic Man (April), one of the largest gatherings in Alaska.
Other tourists. High season is June through August, and low season is November through March. Remember that more people around might also mean higher prices, and fewer people means potential closures or bad weather. Book ahead if coming in summer to make sure there’s availability, and check to see if your anticipated attraction is open at all in winter, as some are seasonal. To get a nice balance, you could visit in what’s called ‘shoulder season’ (September and May).
Snow. If anything you want to do involves winter sports like skiing, skating, snowmobiling, or snowshoeing, February and March is the time to go. The sun is up longer than in dead winter, and activities are plentiful.
Overall, you’ll never be able to do everything on the same trip, because so much in Alaska depends on the time of year. Decide on your priorities (and those of people going with you) and plan accordingly. Don’t forget to bring backup clothing just in case the weather is fickle—it often is!