Honestly, the best time to visit Alaska is whenever you can make it. It’s that dang good!
But if you’re looking for more details on when to see whales and bears, go fishing and explore the idyllic state, keep reading for everything you’ll need to plan one helluva trip to Alaska!
Helping Plan Your Trip: The Best Time to Visit Alaska
When is the best time to visit Alaska?
Book that trip for summer, and you’ll have the most magical time in Alaska. With long, long days (sunset times around midnight), you can explore all over Alaska without being confined to traditional daytime hours.
I spent 22 days in Alaska, going from the Kenai Fjords to Denali National Park, across the Denali Highway, to the largest National Park in the USA, and down to gorgeous Valdez. The sights were excellent, and they truly showed how diverse the state is. It also made me want to move there! (Well, maybe for the summer months.)
Lastly, I should note that Juneau does start to see more rain in late summer vs. Anchorage/mainland area, which stays dry later. Keep this in the memory bank when booking your trip and pack accordingly.
Honestly, the best time to visit Alaska is whenever you can, but during the summer, you’ll be able to get out and truly enjoy the sightseeing, hiking, wildlife, and views.
So, book that trip and go adventure throughout the Last Frontier.
8 Things to Know about Visiting Alaska
1. It’s going to be pricey.
Alaska’s one of the most expensive states to visit. But that’s understandable, considering they make almost all of their money over three to five months. Many people save up for years (my parents) before taking a trip of a lifetime there.
My girlfriend and I did half the trip in a campervan and then camped the rest of our time. Nevertheless, we still spent around $5,000 over our 22 days.
2. It’ll be the best trip you ever take.
I’ve already said this, and I say it more below, Alaska is friggin’ incredible. Maybe my experience was unique because we spent 22 days here, but the place is photogenic, people are friendly, so much wildlife to see, and you can avoid people if you want to.
My memories from this trip fill me with joy whenever I think about it! (Which is a lot, haha.)
3. Driving takes a long time. If you have the financial means, fly.
You won’t grasp Alaska’s size until you drive or fly around it. Due to this, you’ll spend a lot of time driving. I spent eight hours driving a 134-mile dirt road across the heart of Alaska, which was incredible but also sucked up half a day.
So if you have the financial means to do bush plane flights to harder-to-reach locations, do it. You’ll have more money. You won’t always have more time in Alaska.
4. Do not spend less than 12 days in Alaska
This adds to the above. Because of the state’s size and how much there is to see, you want a good chunk of time to explore. Plus, you may want to account for a day or two of less-than-ideal weather that may put your plans on pause. (Or keep pushing through!)
You can spend 5-6 days just on the Kenai Peninsula and haven’t scratched the surface of Denali, Chugach Mountains, or anything in the eastern parts. So my advice, book a nice long trip during the best time to visit Alaska so you don’t have any regrets.
5. Splurge on seafood. It’s amazing.
It’s damn good food! Our two favorite places to eat seafood in Alaska were Seward and Homer. Both major fishing hubs, we knew it would be delicious, and we weren’t disappointed! Our meals, with wine, were about $65 each. While expensive, it’s about par for the course, and we enjoyed treating ourselves a couple of times!
6. Be smart around wildlife
People visit Alaska for many reasons, and wildlife is high on that list. But not everyone acts intelligently around them. Remember, they are wild and will act out if they feel threatened.
Do not get closer than 25 yards when it comes to nonpredators, and stay 100 yards away from bears, wolves, or other apex carnivores. You also want to always hike with bear spray in case of an adverse reaction with a brown bear.
However, most bears are uninterested in you and will continue their lives even if you’re around. Just remember to let them move freely and always provide an escape route.
7. A camper van is an incredible way to see Alaska
Most of Alaska is public lands, meaning if there’s no sign telling you no, you are free to camp in some pretty amazing locations. Or, if you’re looking for more established camping, Alaska’s campgrounds are numerous and beautiful.
Traveling in an RV or campervan means you don’t have to worry about a rental car, hotels, or camping in crappy weather. It simplifies your trip and gives you everything you need for a fantastic trip.
8. Summer light will last until midnight or later
With how late the sun sets, you may lose track of time. I know we did! Remember to eat at normal hours and to bring an eye mask to help you sleep. But also keep exploring when you can! Most people go inside after 9 pm, and the best places to visit in Alaska are empty.
Why is Alaska so expensive to visit? (And ways to minimize costs)
Experience genuine adventure by driving to Alaska
The best things to do in Homer, Alaska
Four exciting things to do in Cooper Landing, Alaska
What is the Best Month to see the Most Sights?
Summer, summer, and summer is the best time to visit Alaska to see everything (minus the northern lights). July and August specifically will allow you free reign for hiking, salmon, bear watching, flightseeing, and warm temperatures.
The only downside is this is also when everyone else is visiting (the secret is out on Alaska, haha!), and the mosquitoes are on the attack. Luckily, Alaska is big enough that you can get away from people (check out the Denali highway), but sadly, you probably can’t escape the mosquitoes forever.
When is the Best Month for Northern Lights
Fun fact, you don’t have to brave sub-zero temperatures to see the northern lights. It is generally thought that you must be in the dead of winter to see the northern lights, but that’s not true. It’s just that the best chance to see it is with the most darkness, which is in the middle of winter.
However, you can still see the northern lights in early September (I did in Iceland), and you can do this in Alaska too.
If you’re looking for the best time to visit Alaska for the northern lights, anytime from the end of September to April will give you a pretty good shot to see them.
Now, where should you go?
The further north, the better. This means Fairbanks is your go-to place for long dark skies, the best chances to see them overhead, and plenty of amenities as it’s an actual city – not just some small town in the middle of nowhere.
The Best months for whales
You can theoretically get whales year-round in Alaska, but the odds are exactly in your favor. Ideally, summer is when you’d want to experience whale watching as the weather is nicer (who wants to get slammed with wind and rain on choppy waters?), and whales migrate to Alaska in the warmer months.
Juneau and Seward are world-renowned whale-watching destinations and have a lot of tours that satisfy all your whale-watching desires! You’ll see more than just whales but also other oceanic wildlife, which makes it an incredibly well-rounded trip!
Is Alaska worth visiting? Here are my Top 5 Experiences in Alaska
The 10 best activities in Wrangell St Elias NP
Denali Flightseeing: A Remarkably Beautiful Flightseeing Tour Around Denali
The Ultimate Guide to Kenai Fjords National Park
Juneau Whale Watching Trips
I haven’t been to Juneau yet, but you can’t go wrong with whale watching here! The best time to visit Alaska for this trip is late May, June, July, and August!
Seward/Kenai Fjords National Park Whale-Watching Trips
My Kenai Fjords trip (6-7 hours) was genuinely the most amazing thing I’ve ever done on the ocean. We saw humpbacks, orcas, stellar sea lions, a black bear, puffins, and more birds than I can count. Truly, truly an amazing experience.
The best time to visit Alaska for this trip is late May, June, July, and August!
The Best months for bears
Alaska is one of the world’s most magnificent places to view brown bears. Due to the remoteness of these destinations and how we’ve protected them, most coastal brown bears in Alaska have little fear of humans but are also accustomed to us.
This means they are rarely aggressive and will come close during bear viewings if they want to.
However, bears, as we all know, hibernate, so you can only see them when they’re out. This makes the summer months the best time to view bears in Alaska. Furthermore, Lake Clark National Park and Katmai National Park are the best places to see them. Both require boats or planes to access, but your views will be life-changing.
I traveled to Lake Clark and saw over a dozen brown bears.
If you want to see brown bears inland at places that do not require sightseeing trips, you will want the salmon to be running, or they stay higher in the mountains.
Should I book a bear-viewing trip?
If finances are removed, yes, you should. It’s part flightseeing tour, part bear-watching tour, and it’s perfect. It’s the best of all worlds, and you can see many cool places!
Now, let’s return to the real world, where you must pay for things.
Bear-watching trips are expensive, with many running around $1,000 daily. This is usually an 8-10 hour experience when you account for everything involved. So, I understand this can deter many who already put a lot of money into a trip to Alaska.
The best time to visit Alaska for this experience is mid-June, July, August, and September!
The best time to Visit Alaska for Fishing
Again, summer is the best time to go fishing, as the salmon run throughout Alaska. As you can tell, the best time to visit Alaska is mainly in the summer, and the locals joke that everything runs off of salmon around there.
I visited in mid-May to early June, and the salmon were a bit tardy (I reported them), so we didn’t get to experience an authentic fishing excursion. Next time though!
But a few great places are in Homer, Seward, or Cooper Landing.
The best time to visit Alaska for this experience is mid-June, July, August, and September!
My Favorites: The Best Places to See in Alaska
Below are places I’ve physically been to, and I can attest to how great they are. It would be longer than a CVS receipt if I listed every incredible place.
Denali National Park
The most visited National Park in Alaska, Denali attracts visitors thanks to its immense size, propensity to see wildlife, and the largest mountain on the continent. Denali is a great place to adventure, and I’d recommend two to three days here.
If you can, book the hop-on hop-off bus to see the sights and still get to go hiking.
Kenai Fjords National Park
The closest national park to Anchorage, Kenai Fjords National Park is super beautiful but also not generally accessible. Most of the National Park is glaciers and frozen mountains with few trails or roads.
The only area to quickly get to is the Exit Glacier hike which can be easy to an overlook or hard at 9 miles and 3,000 feet of gain (best done in the summer).
The best way to see the park is to book a boat cruise.
Wrangell St Elias National Park
Possibly our favorite part of our Alaska trip. Getting to Wrangell St Elias isn’t easy.
First, you have to get across the state, then drive 60 miles on a dirt road (that many rental companies prohibit). But once you make it to McCarthy, Alaska, it’s heaven.
This small town is the only one in Wrangell St Elias, and spending three days here was the perfect amount of time. We hiked on a glacier, spent time in town, and took a flightseeing trip over the largest National Park in the USA.
Lake Clark National Park
This was where our bear-watching trip went, and I fell in love with the beauty, remoteness, and of course, the bears. Lake Clark National Park is only accessible by boat or plane, which makes a trip out here extra special.
They have glacial lakes, a volcano, wildflowers, and so many more gems it’ll make your head spin. I look forward to planning a backpacking trip here to get some good views of the park’s heartland.
Old Denali Highway
This was the surprise of the trip. Initially, we didn’t plan on doing this because horror stories say the road was terrible. But a local friend in Alaska said it’s been dramatically improved, and when we drove it in late May, it was in decent condition.
The road is 134 miles from Cantwell to Paxson and is one of the most desolate roads in Alaska and America. It cuts through the heart of Alaska and south of the beautiful Alaskan Range.
You’d only do this if you were coming from Denali and didn’t want to drive up to Fairbanks and then down to Glenallen.
The Best Time to Visit Alaska and do this is the summer, though we encountered snowy conditions in late May.
The best time to visit Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula
Last but not least, the Kenai Peninsula, which includes the Kenai Fjords, is so much more than the National Park. We spent six days exploring here and loved the stunning turquoise rivers and lakes, hiking views, and peacefulness.
The main cities here are Seward, Cooper Landing, and Homer at the very end of the peninsula.
Should I visit Alaska?
I hope that if you’ve made it this far, you know what the answer is. I know it’s a financial hurdle, but there are ways to minimize costs by camping and buying groceries. If you can make it happen, please do. It’ll be the best thing you ever do!
Wrapping Up – The best time to visit Alaska
Alaska is the best place in America and will be one of the best trips you will ever take! Thanks for taking the time to read my “Best time to Visit Alaska” piece, and if you have any questions, follow me on Instagram and shoot me some questions!
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.