Revel in nature: Prime time to explore Alaska
Towering glaciers, epic salmon runs, dazzling displays of the northern lights – it's safe to say that there are plenty of good reasons to make Alaska the setting for your next outdoor adventure. Still, the question remains, when is the best time to go? Weather and crowds are both major factors to consider, but the best time to visit the largest and northernmost state depends mostly on your reason for visiting.
Experience the best weather
Surely it comes as no surprise that winters in Alaska are a little on the nippy side. The average January high in Fairbanks is a balmy 1 F, so it's safe to say you'll want to bring a coat. Temps start to creep up above freezing by April, but lows in the 30s are the norm from September to May.
If warm weather is important to you, chances are you're not even reading this anymore, but in case you're still here, you should know that summers in Alaska are gorgeous. Temperatures frequently hit the 70s, and Alaska's high latitude means that it experiences some of the longest, sunniest summer days in North America.
Find the smallest crowds
Summer is, unsurprisingly, the busiest tourist season in Alaska. If you're planning on doing some hiking, fishing, mountain biking or any other outdoor activity that doesn't involve skis, it makes sense to plan your visit during the warmest part of the year. So if you're okay with some tourist traffic, go ahead and book your flight for July.
If you'd prefer a little more solitude, Alaska offers a brief "shoulder season" when the weather is still fairly accommodating, but the crowds are much thinner. Plan your trip during May or September for lower hotel rates and fewer tourists; just be prepared for chilly nights and a somewhat higher chance of rain, especially in spring.
See the northern lights
If you arrive in Alaska in June hoping to see the northern lights, you'll be dismayed to learn that the 20-ish hours of daylight keep them mostly out of sight during summer. The aurora borealis are best seen when there is the most darkness, which essentially means September to April. The earlier and later parts of this range offer more comfortable weather, but keep in mind that the northern lights are at their most vivid on the darkest, clearest nights of winter.
Take a cruise
Summer is the most popular season to take a cruise to Alaska, but the shoulder seasons offer some major perks. Cruises get booked up fast in summer, especially if they're headed to popular destinations like Glacier Bay or Denali National Park. Planning your cruise in May or September offers not only fewer crowds and better availability, but also reduced ticket prices.
Ride the rails
Taking a train is a beautiful way to experience the landscape of Alaska. The primary Alaska Railroad routes run only from mid-May to mid-September, so your options are somewhat limited when it comes to timing. Riding the rails is one activity that might be worth braving the crowds and experiencing at the peak of summer, as this season offers the best weather and wildlife viewing opportunities. That said, you can cut down your travel costs by taking your train trip during the first or last couple weeks of the season.