When to Go
Alaska is primarily a summer destination, and the vast majority of the 1.5 million annual visitors travel mid-May–mid-September, with the peak in July–August. The advantages of summer travel are obvious: long days, warmer weather, all the attractions are operating, and children are out of school, not to mention the return of salmon and the emergence of bears and other wildlife.
Due to Alaska’s northern location, spring arrives late, and much of the state does not green up until mid-May. The road into Denali National Park is closed by snow until late May, and the landscape can be bleak before leaves emerge. Summer has its drawbacks too, including mosquitoes, high lodging prices, and crowded venues.
Fall comes early. Autumn colors (primarily yellows on the aspen, birch, and willows, with reds and oranges in alpine areas) typically peak in early September across Interior Alaska, and a couple of weeks later for Southcentral Alaska. Days shorten dramatically by October—en route to the December 21 winter solstice—but longer nights also make Alaska’s famous northern lights visible.
Winter visitors come to view the northern lights, and to watch such events as the Iditarod and Yukon Quest. Interior Alaska can be bitterly cold in winter, but Anchorage and points south are typically milder, especially by mid-February.
Spring (especially April) is the ugly season, at least until the trees leaf out. Most winter activities are closed, and the summer fun hasn’t cranked up, so do what Alaskans do and head to Hawaii instead.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition