Destination Guides

Alaska in May: How to Plan a Shoulder Season Visit

My blog posts likely contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program.
If you click, book, or buy from one of these links, I may earn a commission. Read more in my Privacy Policy.

There’s a stark difference between living in Alaska and visiting: when I lived in Alaska, I would have told you that the best time to visit is “during the summer” or maybe – if I was feeling like a less-petulant and more helpful teenager – “June.” Now that I’ve moved away and I plan my own trips each year, I know better: shoulder season is the sweet spot.

In Alask, shoulder season can be roughly defined as early May until Memorial Day and from Labor Day to mid-September. During these short windows, the weather is still good, the cruise crowds are less crowdy, and most tours, restaurants, and hotels are open either in preparation for or winding down from the peak summer season.

Alaska in May Hero

In this post, I’ll cover that first shoulder season in Alaska: May. May is a fantastic time to visit Alaska, and one I’ve taken advantage of a few times in recent years (most notably my Uncruise in 2017 and aboard Windstar in 2022). In this post, I’ll share what you need to know to visit Alaska in May: weather, daylight hours, things to do, and what to pack. Let’s jump right in!

In this post, I promote travel to destinations that is the traditional lands of many Alaska Native groups, including the Aleut, Athabascan, Haida, Inupiat, Tlingit, and Yuit peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

Weather in Alaska in May

Talking about the weather in Alaska is a tricky matter, mainly because the weather varies a lot across the regions. On average, the month of May’s weather typically ranges from an average low of 40°F to an average high of 55°F – but there’s a huge range as the month goes on too, with temps warming as summer approaches.

So that you can get a general picture, I’ll briefly mention the weather you can expect in Alaska’s three regions as well. 

  • The coastal regions (like Southcentral and Southeast) boast the warmest temperatures in May in Alaska. The temperature in the coastal region averages lows around 40°F and highs around 55°F. 
  • The Interior is right in the middle weather-wise, with temperatures ranging between 30 °F and 55 °F. 
  • In the Arctic, you’ll find the coldest temperatures during May. You can expect temperatures around 15°F and 24°F. 

May is also the month with the least amount of precipitation, though it is not completely impossible to experience a late-season snowy or rainy day. The latest snow I remember growing up in Alaska was on May 11th. (I had a middle school track meet, and quit the next day – I hate running, I’m definitely not running in the snow!)

Daylight Hours in Alaska in May

Alaska - Fireweed

Just like the weather, how much sunlight Alaska receives varies depending on the region. Leading toward the summer solstice on June 21st, May boasts some of the longest days of the year and gets longer as the month goes on.

  • In Anchorage, days extend from about 16 hours at the start of the month to over 18.5 hours by the end.
  • Further north, Fairbanks has even longer days, starting at 17 hours on the 1st and over 20.5 hours by the 31st.
  • Down in Juneau, days are about 15.75 hours long at the start of the month and 17.75 hours at the end.

In general, you should plan for nice, long days you can take advantage of to pack even more into each day of your Alaska itinerary.

Top 5 Events in Alaska in May

As May signifies the end of spring and beginning of summer, it’s the month where most of the big summer activities and events kick off. Tours begin, hotels re-open, and restaurants shift to summer hours by no later than the Memorial Day weekend (May 27-29 in 2023).

There are also some fantastic events happening across the state specifically this year, and I want to highlight those in case you find yourself in these places and want to experience something truly special that doesn’t happen all summer long.

All Aboard: The Alaska Railroad Centennial Exhibit

  • Where? Anchorage (the Anchorage Museum)
  • When? Starts May 5 (runs through 2024)

While Alaska is famous for being an outdoorsy destination, there’s tons of history and culture to be enjoyed here. Anchorage Museum is hosting a new exhibition All Aboard: The Alaska Railroad Centennial Exhibit.

The event celebrates the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Alaska Railroad and aims to bring people closer to its significance. You’ll be able to learn about the history of the railroad, how it facilitated economic development, and the ways the AKRR has influenced local lives for the past century.

A Taste of Homer

  • Where? Homer (obviously!)
  • When? May 13-20, 2023

Whether you’re sybarite or not, it’s impossible to deny how thrilling it’s to discover a new place’s gastronomy. Homer is famous for being a “foodies town.” Those visiting Alaska in May are lucky to be on time to enjoy A Taste of Homer. The festival reunites Homer’s best restaurants so you can delight your palate with exquisite dishes. There’ll be a huge variety, from decadent seafood to succulent burgers. 

North Words Writing Symposium

  • Where? Skagway
  • When? May 24-27, 2023

If you love writing or reading, the North Words Writing Symposium is a wonderful way to celebrate the power of the written word. This event brings together writers from across Alaska and other states to share their works in beautiful Skagway.

There’ll be numerous workshops where writers can hone their skills and panels with prominent figures discussing various literary topics. Not everything is about writing, though. The event organizes outdoor activities to unleash the senses and, why not, find some inspiration in the wonders of nature.

Kodiak Crab Festival

  • Where? Kodiak (naturally)
  • When? May 25-29, 2023

The Kodiak Crab Festival is another event for those who adhere to the to travel is to eat ideology… This festival spans five days, where there’ll be a little bit of everything: traditional tournaments, games, races, competitions, and of course, lots of food.

You can participate in all the activities you want, although the most signed-up is eating fresh crab meals. There’ll also be cooking demonstrations by famous Alaskan chefs and workshops with tons of tips to help you take your cooking arsenal to the next level.

Sitka Salmon Derby

  • Where? Sitka
  • When? Starts May 27 (through July 2023)

For all the fishing lovers out there, Sitka Salmon Derby is your opportunity to show how well you know how to handle that fishing rod. The Sitka Salmon Derby has been going on for 68 years already. drawing people from Alaska and other states who want to catch “the big one” in Sitka’s waters. It’s also a great plan if you’re traveling with your family as everyone can participate. 

What to Pack for Alaska in May

Okay, now you know the weather, how long the days are, and some special things to do in Alaska in May… but what on earth do you pack for such a dynamic month?!

While I already have a packing list for Alaska (as well as one specific to cruising), here are a few tips specific to visiting in the shoulder season (like May):

  • Layers, layers, layers. In all my packing lists, this is my top advice – and it’s true in between, too. I always start with Unbound Merino base layers and add on from there depending on the day’s forecast.
  • Prepare for rain, even if the forecast doesn’t call for it. Alaskan weather changes rapidly in the good season, so you should be ready for it in the shoulder season too. I love a long rain coat to stay dry even if the wind kicks up too.
  • Waterproof boots will do you well. Again, it just helps to keep your feet dry and warm if you want to have a goo trip. Alaskans sport their Xtratufs all year, so take their lead and invest in a pair too.
  • Pack an eye mask. As the days are long, you’ll be glad to block those long sunlight hours out. My favorite (which I use literally every day) is the funky-looking but super effective and comfy OwlzzZ Sleep Mask.
  • Don’t forget a hat, gloves, and sunglasses to be prepared for everything.

Follow that advice, consult my packing lists, and you’ll be all set!

Have any other questions about visiting Alaska in May? Let me know in the comments below!

Alaska eBook Bundle Hero

Need More Alaska Travel Advice?

My Alaska ebook bundle will help you plan an unforgettable Alaska trip, with tips on what to do in Alaska (including on a cruise), where to go, and the best Alaska itineraries.

Get the bundle for just $19.99!

Help others discover this post too!

Avatar photo

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *