The Best Time to Visit Alaska According to a Local

By Ryan Wilson

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Best time to visit alaska

The honest truth is that there is no bad time to visit Alaska. Every season in Alaska is beautiful and unique in its own way.

However, not every season may be the best time to visit Alaska if you’re coming to enjoy a specific type of activity. It could even be the worst time to visit Alaska for that activity!

It’s important to find the best time to visit Alaska for the activities you’re planning.

I’ve lived in Alaska for over 17 years and have travelled all over the state for work and pleasure. It is incredible to live in Alaska year-round and see how quickly the weather and daylight can change!

Every spring I feel bad when I see visitors around Anchorage that arrive before most activities are open. Or arrive in fall after most have visitor facilities have closed. I’m certain that they still had a great experience, but if they came to do something like Russian River salmon fishing, they were probably very disappointed.

A trip to Alaska is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience so it’s important to plan your trip to best match what you want to do.

I want to provide you with the same information I provide my friends and family when they ask me what is the best time to visit Alaska. Below you will find my recommendations for when the best time to visit Alaska is for some popular activities. I’ll also let you know the worst time to visit Alaska for those activities.



Camping in Alaska is sure to be an experience you’ll remember for a lifetime. Certain times of summer are much better than other for camping in Alaska.

The main camping season in Alaska typically lasts from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Opportunities for camping start in mid-May when the snow has mostly melted at campgrounds. Campgrounds in the Chugach National Forest don’t open until mid-May, at the earliest. Most state and federal-run campgrounds in Alaska close by mid-September.

Local Tip

Camping in Alaska is popular with residents too! So campground reservations fill up quickly! Don’t wait until the last minute to book a campground because you might not find a site. Most National Forest and National Park campgrounds in Alaska can be booked on up to 6 months in advance.

Best Time to Visit Alaska

The absolute best time to visit Alaska for camping is between mid-June and the end of July. Camping in Alaska is at its peak during this period, with all of the campgrounds, local services like restaurants, and equipment rentals are open for business.

Temperatures are warm and rainfall is usually low.

precip 2
Monthly weather summaries for Anchorage, Alaska from 2012-2022. Gray bars are standard deviations around the mean. Data from NOAA.

Hiking trails near campgrounds are mostly snow-free during this period too. But be warned, mosquitos can be pretty bad during this time!

Worst Time to Visit Alaska

In my opinion, the worst time to visit Alaska for camping is mid-May, at the beginning of the season. There’s no guarantees that the snow will be melted, temperatures can still be cool at night, and a lot of facilities haven’t opened for business yet.

In southcentral Alaska, the month of August can also be the worst time to visit Alaska for camping. August is the beginning of our rainy season. Even so, there can be some beautiful days for camping in Alaska during August; you might just have a higher chance of rain.

Denali National Park

wonder lake

If you’re visiting Alaska during summer, a trip to Denali National Park should be on your list. The park’s scenery is mind-blowing, and you’re likely to see a lot of amazing wildlife, including grizzly bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and maybe even a wolf.

A trip to Denali National Park is always beautiful, but seeing Denali out on a cloudless day will blow your mind! In addition to being the tallest (20,310 ft) mountain in North America, it is the TALLEST mountain in the world when measured from the base of the mountain to the peak.

Local Tip

There a multiple types of bus tours you can take into Denali National Park. If you want to be able to get on-and-off a bus to hike, make sure you take a transit bus. These busses don’t have a guide narrating your trip, but the ability to hike and explore might be worth it.

According to the National Park Service, Denali has an 18,000 ft rise from its base, whereas Mount Everest only has a vertical rise from its base of 12,000 ft. On a clear day, you can appreciate Denali’s massive rise from its base.

I’ll never forget one trip to Denali National Park to camp at the Wonder Lake campground. During the bus ride in, Denali was completely covered in clouds. But when we woke up the next morning, Denali was out in all its glory! Denali National Park weather can be unpredictable. You never know when it will show itself.

When does Denali National Park open? It’s open year-round, but most of the services aren’t available outside the summer season.

Best Time to Visit Alaska

The best time to visit Denali National Park is during the month of July. Denali National Park weather in July is ideal with warmer temperatures and lower chances of rain. So it’s prime time for hiking and exploring Denali National Park. But it’s also the busiest!

I also love visiting Denali National Park in the fall. Fall in Denali National Park begins in late August and at the time, the colors are incredible! Yellows and oranges from the birch and willows, and reds on the tundra from bear berry. Denali National Park weather in fall can be cool and you can expect more rain or even snow! But the Denali National Park is at its peak beauty in fall!

The drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park is also beautiful during these times. During the approximately 4 hour drive, you’ll get a lot of great views of Denali from its south side, if you’re lucky!

Worst Time to Visit Alaska

The only worst time visit Alaska for a trip to Denali National Park is when the road into the park is closed. To get the iconic Denali views, you have to drive into the park past the Savage River.

Tour buses run from May 20th through the second week after Labor Day in September. Although the busses aren’t able to access the entire road until early June.

Even though the busses operate until mid-September, I probably wouldn’t time a trip to Denali then. Most services in Alaska shut down for the summer season after Labor Day. So, while the park will still be accessible, few of the shops, hotels, or restaurants are likely to be open outside the park.

IMPORTANT: During the 2023 summer season, the road will not be open all the way into the park due to a landslide. Denali National Park is working to fix this, but it will be some time. Check for updates to the park road conditions here.

Alaska Glacier Cruise


The one thing we always do with friends and family that visit us is take them on an Alaska glacier cruise. You will be blown away!

Glacier cruises out of Whittier and Seward operate between early May and late September. There are a variety of cruises of differing durations that depart from both locations. Not all operate for the full season, so be sure to check if a particular cruise is operating when you’re visiting.

Local Tip

Some Alaska glacier cruises are better for viewing glaciers, while others are better for viewing our impressive marine life. If you’re visiting Anchorage or the Kenai Peninsula, I find the tours based out of Seward to be better for wildlife (whales, marine birds, orcas), and the tours out of Whittier to be the best for glacier viewing. You’ll see glaciers and wildlife on both, just not in the same amounts.

A beautiful day in Prince William Sound or along the coast of Kenai Fjords National Park is a site to see. But both locations can have torrential rains given their maritime climates. So it’s important to time your trip when you’ll have the best chance of a beautiful day.

I’ve been on glacier cruises in beautiful weather and when there has been a lot of rain. In both conditions, the trips have still been wonderful. But if you’re lucky enough to take a cruise on a bluebird day, you’re in for a treat!

Best Time to Visit Alaska

Weather-wise, the best time of year for glacier cruises is late June through July. As with camping, the weather will be warmest and you’ll have the best chances of a beautiful bluebird day out on the water.

There are two different types of whales you might see during an Alaska glacier cruise, especially a cruise based out of Seward. Gray whales are most frequently seen between March and May. Whereas humpback whales are most frequently seen between May and August. You might also see orcas (or Killer whales) which are primarily seen between May and June during an Alaska glacier cruise based out of Seward, or any time of year for cruises based out of Whittier.

Worst Time to Visit Alaska

Given that you can see marine wildlife any time the Alaska glacier cruises are operating, the worst time to take a glacier cruise is mostly related to weather. August tends to be a very raining period in southcentral Alaska, so if you have flexible dates for your trip, consider coming in July. Even August is not a horrible time and there will be beautiful days for an Alaska glacier cruise!

I would also personally avoid going on an Alaska glacier cruise in early/mid May. It can still be pretty chilly early in the season, and if there is any wind on the water, you’ll probably spend a lot of time inside the boat!

Alaska Salmon Fishing

kayak fishing

Salmon are an iconic Alaskan species and a major draw for a lot of visitors. There’s nothing quite like landing a 9 lb Sockeye Salmon, or a massive 40 lb King Salmon! Salmon fishing in Alaska is invigorating. Not to mention, delicious!

There are three types of salmon in Alaska that most visitors target.

  • King Salmon, also known as Chinook Salmon
  • Sockeye Salmon, also known as Red Salmon
  • Silver Salmon, also known as Coho Salmon

Local Tip

Pay very close attention to fishing regulations in Alaska. They are very detailed and can be quite confusing. Fishing can be closed on a given river at different times of day, or have different regulations on different sections of the same river. Regulations can also vary on the same river but for different species. Importantly, be aware that fishing regulations can change at any time, so it’s important to check the current Emergency Orders to make sure you can fish before casting your lure.

When planning a trip for salmon fishing in Alaska, you need to KNOW when the different species of salmon are running. Salmon spend most of their adult life in the ocean and then return to freshwater bodies to spawn. But when salmon move up river is different for the different salmon species, and varies across the state!

So it’s important to consider when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game generally opens salmon fishing when planning your trip.

Best Time to Visit Alaska

So when do the salmon run in Alaska? In general, the King Salmon run between May and July in Alaska. But be aware, a lot of the state is closed to King Salmon fishing due to poor returns in recent years.

Sockeye salmon usually run during June and July across the state. If you’re visiting Alaska for the famous Russian River salmon fishing, the peak season is usually in late June, with another in late July and August. Fishing is not allowed on the Russian River (or the upper Kenai River) before June 11th.

Sockeye RussianRiver 1
Daily average counts of Sockeye Salmon in the Russian River, Alaska from 2012-2022. The green line represents the date you can start fishing on the Russian River. Gray bars are standard deviations around the mean. Data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Coho run between July and November in Alaska, but the peak is usually in July and August in southcentral Alaska.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a handy online tool for determining when salmon runs are most likely to occur across different parts of the state.

Worst Time to Visit Alaska

The good news is that there will usually be salmon available to fish somewhere in Alaska if you come during the summer. Especially because offshore saltwater charters make salmon fishing in Alaska available all summer.

But if you are mostly interested in fishing a salmon run in Alaska, it’s probably best to avoid coming early or late in the summer. You might still catch some salmon, but the fishing might be slower and more frustrating.

Northern Lights

northern lights

Northern lights are one of most magical things about living in Alaska. Even after living in Alaska for many years, they are always a treat to see. You’ll never forget the first time you experience them.

But, if your main reason for coming to Alaska is to see the northern lights, you’ll want to carefully plan when to come.

Local Tip

Many hotels offer a wake-up service in the middle of the night if the northern lights are out. But make sure to pick lodging that is not surrounded by city lights as they can significantly affect your ability to see the northern lights.
My favorite place to stay for seeing the northern lights is Chena Hot Springs Resort, about an hour outside of Fairbanks.

When can you see the northern lights in Alaska? If you stay in Fairbanks at least 3 days between late August and late April, you have a really good chance of seeing the northern lights.

The best chance of seeing the the northern lights is between 9 pm and 3 am each night.

You can see northern lights anywhere in Alaska, but the further south you are the lower your chances of seeing them. Between Fairbanks and Coldfoot, Alaska is going to give you the best chance of seeing a spectacular northern light show!

Best Time to Visit Alaska

When is the best time to see the northern lights in Alaska? According the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, it is in March during the dark phase of the moon.

Aurora activity is at its peak near the equinoxes (when day and night are equal length) which occur in late September and late March.

Spring is probably a better time simply because the skies tend to be clearer and the weather is getting warmer.

Worst Time to Visit Alaska

Summer is NOT the best time to see the northern lights in Alaska. During the summer months, the long days in Alaska make it impossible to see the northern lights. In Fairbanks, the northern lights are not visible between April 21st and August 21st each year.

I would also not recommend coming a couple of weeks on either side of this date range too as your viewing opportunities will be more limited.

You should also time your trip to avoid viewing the northern lights when there is a full moon. The less moonlight the better for viewing northern lights. You can still see the northern lights when there is moonlight, but the colors usually won’t be as striking and they’ll be harder to see in the sky.


No matter what time of year you chose to visit Alaska, you will always be amazed and see incredible sites. The best time of to visit Alaska is whenever you have a chance to come!

Don’t stress too much about timing your trip perfectly. There’s quite a bit of luck involved in when the weather will be perfect for your trip. It can be torrential rain in the morning and be absolutely gorgeous in the afternoon. Every year is different. For example, last summer, the wet-rainy season started in late July, much earlier than we all expected.

Check out our posts Alaska campground reviews to help plan your next trip!

Photo of author


Ryan is an avid outdoorsman who loves camping, hiking, and backpacking. He was initially reluctant to join the camper world, but after his first camping trip in one, he became a convert. He especially loves how camper ownership extends the camping season and makes it easier to be more adventurous with young kids. When not enjoying his free time, he works as a professional wildlife biologist studying the ecology and conservation of large mammals in Alaska.