Alaska's Prime Time: Witnessing Northern Lights, Spotting Bears, and Exploring National Parks.
Experience the raw beauty of Alaska, where the wonders of nature will leave you breathless. The untamed coastal plains are stunning, the towering mountains are awe-inspiring, and the glacier-rimmed fjords are simply out of this world.
For a truly unforgettable adventure, head up north to the Brooks Range, which extends 700 miles into Canada's Yukon Territory. And don't miss Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America, standing tall at 20,310 feet. Further down the coast, you'll find smaller, lush green mountains poking over the stunning tidewater glaciers.
But with so many diverse regions to explore in Alaska, planning a trip can be daunting. So before you book your flights, consult our comprehensive guide on the best time to visit Alaska.
The weather in Alaska varies greatly, from a chilly three degrees Fahrenheit in Fairbanks during January to a warm 72 degrees in July. And while December in Fairbanks only sees an average of 5.1 inches of snow, the state's capital city of Juneau gets an average of 23 inches in January. But this diverse climate means there's something for everyone here, whether you're seeking a snowy getaway under the northern lights or a few warm-weather days for a backcountry hike.
No trip to Alaska is complete without witnessing the mesmerizing aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights. August through the middle of April is the best time to spot them, with the spring and fall equinoxes in March and September being the peak times. But to get the best view, head to a remote location away from the city lights. You can also use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center to track the northern lights and plan your visit around solar events.
Alaska is an ideal destination for cruising, with ships sailing all summer long. But for the best experience, visit in May for its reduced crowds, lower fares, and better wildlife viewing. June has the longest daylight hours, and July has the warmest temperatures.
And let's not forget about fishing. Alaska's multi-billion dollar fishing industry and seafood exports make it a prime destination for fishing enthusiasts. Ketchikan, also known as the salmon capital of the world, is a popular stop for fishing excursions and boasts water temperatures of up to 65 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.
Alaska's countless Pacific ocean side towns boast some form of fishing culture, with over three million natural lakes supplying ample opportunities for angling in the northernmost state in the US. For those desiring the classic flavor of Alaskan King salmon, May to July represents the best period for their harvesting. On the other hand, pursuing ice fishing prompts a trip to Quartz Lake inland after October.
July and August's warmer temperatures and increased daylight make it ideal for exploring Denali and Glacier Bay National Parks. Conversely, it is more convenient to visit during the later part of the season, when the crowd is less compared to the early season. Still, there is sufficient ample daylight to embark on a self-guided hike in the backcountry. Only the Denali Park Road remains operational before the early part of September, allowing for bus tours customized to spotting wildlife.
The stunning shades of fall in September make it renowned for its magnificence. "The mountains turn gold, the berry bushes ripen to a bright red, with berries ready for picking as you enjoy the night sky," according to Jillian Simpson, the vice president of the Alaska Travel Industry Association.
The busiest season for Alaska tourism remains from May to September, but winter appeals to many because of snow. December through March provide an excellent opportunity to experience the state's snow-laden terrain through Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, and Alaskan dog mushing.
The prospect of witnessing Alaska's famous wildlife is a significant allure. To ensure a glimpse of the bear population, the best option is to visit Katmai National Park and Lake Clark National Park during the summer months (around mid-May to mid-September) when the salmon run, a time of high activity for bears, is predictable along rivers.
Those choosing to watch whales have a slightly longer season. Gray whales tend to arrive in April accompanying humpbacks in June. Both usually stick around till September, but Orcas stay all year long, with more arriving during spring. Animal sightings, aside from the ones mentioned here, are contingent on the time and location of a visit. Alaska's Department of Fish and Game website provides a comprehensive rundown of the numerous wildlife calendars.
Alaska is a unique destination, distinct from the contiguous US, with a non-comprehensive network of roads connecting towns and regions. This means that flying is a popular way to explore the state while admiring stunning aerial views of the mountains. However, the availability of air taxis and summit tours varies depending on your desired location in Alaska. For instance, you can take a helicopter tour of Denali between May and September, but you can book a journey to Mount Redoubt Volcano on Natron Air at any time of the year.
While Alaska is always a great destination, the optimal time to visit for breathtaking hikes and favorable flying conditions is between May and September. It's also crucial to consider the abundance of daylight, particularly in some regions where the sun never sets during summers. Depending on your preferences, this could either be a boon or a bane. Use a sunrise and sunset planner to calculate the amount of daylight you'll be encountering during your Alaska adventure.
April to May and September are the shoulder seasons, offering the best value for budget travelers, especially if you're on an Alaskan cruise. During this time, many cruises offer discounts and excursion credits, making it a pocket-friendly option for visitors. Hotel prices also fluctuate significantly, with rates for a weekend stay in Anchorage in July being notably higher than earlier or later in the season. Therefore, pre- or post-summer visits are an excellent way to explore this highly underrated state without breaking the bank.
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