Why Summer Is the Best Time to Visit Alaska

Mild temperatures, endless activities, wildlife spotting, and long days are enough of a draw on their own.

Mountains and glacier in background of Juneau field of wildflowers

Patrick J. Endres/Getty Images

With the tallest mountains in North America, streams teeming with salmon, glaciers galore, millions of acres of boreal forest, quiet fishing villages, and culture-rich cities, Alaska is on just about everyone's list. As for the best time to visit The Last Frontier? That would be summer, Alaska's brief interlude between many months of extreme winter.

From mid-May through mid-September, the days in Alaska are long, the temperatures are pleasant, and summer festival season is in full swing. Jackets give way to short-sleeved tops (well, in some places), and businesses that close their doors for the winter come roaring back to life.

With its cool temperatures and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure, Alaska provides travelers with the kind of summer you really can’t experience anywhere else. Here's why this time of year is the best time to visit.

Temperatures Are Comfortable

People hiking in Denali National Park during summer

Rosanna U/Getty Images

Summer temperatures vary across the vast state of Alaska. Most of the major tourist destinations are in the south. At the southern entrance of the Inside Passage, a popular cruise route, Ketchikan experiences highs of only about 65 during the warmest months — the same goes for Juneau, Anchorage, and the Denali National Park Headquarters. Fairbanks is largely considered to be the warmest place in Alaska, but even it tops out in the low to mid-70s. Occasionally, low elevations in the Interior will reach 90 degrees.

Summers here are mild and refreshing, ideal for spending time doing quintessentially Alaskan things like hiking, kayaking, and fishing. Of course, the climate in the Alaskan Arctic is quite different. Up north, you'll definitely need a coat to be comfortable in 40-degree daytime temperatures.

No matter where you're headed to in Alaska, rain gear is essential. Summer gets increasingly wetter as it progresses. May is the driest month of the year.

The Days Are Long

Midnight sun over a bay on Kodiak Island

Paul A. Souders/Getty Images

In the summer, parts of Alaska experience about two months of continuous sun. Along the Arctic Circle, the sun literally does not set — south of that, it does, but there remains a twilight from the time it sets to when it rises. Long days make it easy to squeeze in many activities during your summer trip to Alaska. Plus, the midnight sun is cause for celebration, particularly in Fairbanks.

The city's annual Midnight Sun Festival is the largest single-day event in the state. Held on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice each June, the festival features a street fair, live music on multiple stages, performances, kids' activities, and more. Fairbanks also hosts a Midnight Sun Run and midnight sun baseball game at which you can cheer on the Pan‑Alaska Goldpanners from 10 p.m.

Outdoor Activities Abound

Kayakers surrounded by glaciers and mountains

David Madison/Getty Images

Alaska is a place where travel itineraries are dictated by nature. With 17 national parks, more than 150 state parks, 16 national wildlife refuges, and 22 million acres of national forest, you're guaranteed to not run out of public land to explore. One of the most popular places to visit is, of course, Denali National Park, home to North America's tallest mountain of the same name. Here, hiking and camping are the dominant activities, but you can also cycle parts of the park, book a "flightseeing" excursion, birdwatch, stargaze, berry pick, create your own photography tour, and more.

Glacier hiking is a popular activity, too, as Alaska has tens of thousands of them. Some trails lead you to stunning overlooks — like the one leading to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park — while other glaciers are accessible only by helicopter.

For travelers who don’t want to venture quite so far off the beaten path, the Alaska Railroad and the Alaska Highway provide additional ways to experience the state’s sprawling and undeveloped Interior.

Wildlife Is Most Easily Seen During Summer

Many grizzly bears catching salmon in Alaska stream

Mark Kostich/Getty Images

In the spring, the superstars of Alaska — grizzlies, obviously — emerge from hibernation. Throughout the summer, they can be seen along streams fishing for salmon. They also frequent hiking trails, so it's important to stay vigilant, carry bear spray, and know how to behave while in bear country. Summer is also prime time for moose and caribou spotting. The avian life is spectacular, with hundreds of birds traveling from as far as Antarctica, sub-Saharan Africa, and New Zealand to spend a short breeding season in Alaska.

Along the coast, you're likely to spot seals and sea lions sunning on rocks and islands, plus orcas, humpbacks, and belugas swimming. Book a whale-watching tour for the best chance of seeing marine life — from otters to walruses and more — off Alaska's shore.

Seasonal Businesses Are Open

Colorful businesses along Ketchikan Creek

Artie Photography (Artie Ng)/Getty Images

Alaskan winters are so harsh many of the businesses — not to mention roads — close for the season. Visitors centers, tour companies, hotels, some public transportation, and many tourism facilities are up and running only during the high season, which means visitors get the most access to Alaska in the summer. Restaurants will be working with their widest variety of Alaskan fare for the year, accommodations will offer the maximum amenities, businesses will be fully staffed with the influx of seasonal workers, and guides will be able to provide the most outdoor programming this time of year.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles