The Best Time to Visit Alaska for Temperate Weather and Stunning Scenery

From peak season to shoulder season and every month in between, timing is everything when visiting the 49th state. Here's the best time to visit Alaska for great deals and an unforgettable vacation.

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Denali National Park. The iconic Steward Highway. Whales. Rich native culture. The northern lights. Glaciers. Moose. Mountains and oceans as far as the eye can see. Yes, the list of reasons to visit Alaska is long—but timing, as they say, is everything. Whether you plan to explore with a great Alaskan road trip or via one of the best cruise lines, you’ll want to choose the best time to visit Alaska carefully. And that timing may not be the same for every traveler, as it largely depends on the goals of the adventure.

Home to some of the most peaceful places on earth, Alaska truly offers a little something for everyone, whether you’re looking for the best getaways for 4th of July weekend or even cheap places to travel. This bucket list trip is popular among cruisers, wildlife and nature enthusiasts, and hikers and backpackers, but there’s also no shortage of museums, spas, hot springs and markets to add to your Alaskan agenda. But first, let’s talk timing.

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When is the weather best in Alaska?

That’s the million-dollar question for every tourist planning an epic Alaskan vacation. Thankfully, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Alaska, as every season offers opportunities for a trip to remember. It all comes down to what you’re hoping to get out of your visit.

So, when is the best time to go to Alaska for warmer and longer days? The summer months, of course! From May through September, you’ll enjoy temperatures in the 60s and 70s, along with 16 to 24 hours of daylight.

If you’re into winter activities and hoping to catch the northern lights, then the time frame between December and April is your best bet. Just brace yourself for colder temperatures, snow on the ground (which you’ll need to be comfortable driving in) and short days the further north you go.

The weather also varies depending on the region of Alaska you’re visiting. Whether you’re looking for the Southwest, South Central, Inside Passage, Interior or Arctic, Travel Alaska offers helpful advice on the climate and types of clothing you’ll want to pack.

What is the most popular month to go to Alaska?

There’s just something special about an Alaska summer—the days are long, the temperatures are mild and everything is open to tourists. It’s no wonder that peak season is during the summertime, which means that the best time to visit Alaska falls from mid-May to mid-September.

September is shoulder season, and that means you will find discounts on hotels and excursions, not to mention fewer crowds to contend with. Sure, you may run into some wetter and cooler weather, but there are some glorious days in the mix too, and you’re almost guaranteed to catch a few rainbows. All things considered, it may be wise to consider taking a gamble on September.

Want to see some snow but don’t want to deal with arctic temps and super-short days? Plan your trip for March, which has 12 to 15 hours of daylight, plenty of snow (the Iditarod sled dog race happens the first Saturday of the month) and temps in the 20s and 30s.

If seeing the northern lights is at the top of your Alaskan bucket list, visit between Aug. 21 and April 21. That’s prime aurora-viewing season—the darker the skies, the better your chance of seeing these magical lights dance across the sky. (FYI, the best time to visit Iceland to see the aurora borealis is between September and April.) To increase your chances of seeing the northern lights, plan to allocate at least three nights to aurora-focused activities, because clouds and weather could disrupt your plans for a few evenings.

When is the best time to take an Alaskan cruise?

Glacier Bay National Park Alaska USAMaridav/Getty Images

The Alaskan cruise season is relatively short, though cruise companies continue to look for opportunities to expand the season. For instance, UnCruise Adventures has announced Alaska’s first-ever small-ship winter-sports cruise, set to sail in February 2024. It’ll feature such activities as skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating, along with exploring glaciers and the northern lights.

With that in mind, the best time to visit Alaska on a cruise is from May through September.

You’ll find cruise cabins hardest to come by in July and August, when crowds descend, but don’t overlook May, June and September. When it comes to planning an Alaskan cruise, there are two ways to go: planning a year in advance to ensure you get the exact dates and cabin style you want, or waiting for a last-minute deal on a ship that is looking to fill unsold cabins. The latter approach requires flexibility in dates and cabin amenities but should result in impressive savings, making it ideal for those traveling on a budget.

When is the cheapest time to go to Alaska?

With basic supply-and-demand principles in place for peak season, the best time to visit Alaska as far as your wallet is concerned is slightly off-season. You’re sure to find some savings if you choose early summer (May) or shoulder season (mid-September to early December) for your travels, because some companies will offer deals as an incentive to book during those times.

Flight pricing will vary depending on fuel costs, so the best time to book your flight is as far in advance as possible. (The opposite may be true when it comes to the best time to book a hotel, but some properties in Alaska do book out very far in advance.) For even bigger savings, travel on a budget airline.

For those interested in cruising, look for early- and late-season deals or the last-minute specials cruise lines offer in lieu of letting a cabin set sail empty. Finally, keep an eye on the best travel apps, and take note of ways to travel for free to really keep your budget in check.

How many days are enough to visit Alaska?

Now that you know the best time to go to Alaska, it’s time to think about the duration of your visit. Alaska is enormous, so it’s wise to start your planning by determining which regions you’d like to see. Aim to stay for at least five days, visiting at least two different regions, such as Denali in the interior and the brown bears of the southwest, or the coastline in the Arctic and the fjords of the Inside Passage. Since this bucket-list trip may only happen once in your life, consider extending your travels to a full week or longer.

For instance, a road trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks could easily last nine days if you’d like to give yourself plenty of time for sightseeing and visiting hidden gems (even though you could drive straight through in a little over six hours). Most Alaskan cruises last a full week, with some as long as 14 days.

Consider, too, how far you’ll have to travel just to get to Alaska. If you’re coming from the East Coast of the United States, you probably don’t want this to be a quick trip. Make sure those hours traveling on a plane are worth it by staying a week (or more!).

Book your Alaskan stay

Turn your travel dream into a reality by booking a stay in Alaska. These three hotels are the best of the bunch. Want to view the northern lights? Go with Borealis Basecamp. Looking for a place to lay your head after a road trip along Steward Highway? The inexpensive Harbor 360 Hotel is for you. And if you want to experience a château-style resort with natural hot springs? Get a room at Alyeska Resort.

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Jill Schildhouse
Jill is an award-winning travel writer and editor with 23 years of experience. She covers travel cruises and hospitality for Reader's Digest and regularly contributes to Travel + Leisure, Brides, TripSavvy, Insider, USA Today, Taste of Home, and Southern Living. An avid traveler, Jill has visited 37 countries but makes her home in Phoenix, where she lives with her fiancé and toy schnauzer.