A lot of readers – and a lot of friends in real life – ask me for my tips about visiting Alaska. Since I grew up there, they assume I’m full of handy tips on how to do it for less money, with less stress, and for an even more unforgettable trip. After years of writing about Alaska, I do have loads of tips… and I write most of them here on my blog!
One of the biggest questions I get is about when to visit Alaska. Summer is peak season – but winter allows you to see the northern lights and try dog-sledding… And what about the shoulder seasons? It’s a tricky choice!
In this post, I’m addressing why one of the shoulder seasons – spring – is a great time to visit Alaska. Visiting Alaska in the spring helps you save money and still have a great experience. You’ll feel like you have (more) Alaska to yourself but can still book the flights, cruises, and tours on your Alaska bucket list.
Now that you’re inspired to plan your trip, let me try and convince you why to visit Alaska in spring!
This post was originally published in August 2017, and was updated in January 2020.
1. You’ll Experience Wintery Weather – without the Winter Cold!
If you want to experience a taste of what Alaska is like in the winter, spring is a great time to do so. It’s not uncommon for snow in late April and early May, particularly in Southcentral Alaska near Anchorage. Rain is common year-round in Southeast Alaska too, so don’t let that stop you!
You can certainly see glaciers in the summer in Alaska, but many of them diminish each year. If you want to get up close and personal with ice bergs and snow drifts, there’s no time like spring – right before “Breakup” turns it into a muddy, slushy mess. Here’s a quick breakdown of each Alaskan spring month and the weather.
Alaska in March
I personally count March as mostly-winter – spring officially begins on March 21st, after all! It’s still cold and you probably won’t find any tulips popping up from the (still) frozen ground – but you’ll experience more sunlight and warmer weather. It’s also one of two peaks in aurora activity each year.
In March, temperatures in Alaska range from an average low of 18°F (-8°C) to an average high of 34°F (1°C) – above freezing! There won’t be much snow in March, and you’ll get to enjoy the average 10 hours of daylight per day.
Alaska in April
By April, spring arrives in earnest to Alaska. In Alaska, temperatures in Alaska range from an average low of 29°F (-2°C) to an average high of 44°F (7°C), which feels downright balmy after months of sub-freezing temperatures. This also signals the start of the unofficial season of spring, – “Breakup” – when all the snow and ice starts to melt and turns into a downright mess.
The good thing is that off-setting the slushy puddles and mud, April is moderately clear and it usually doesn’t rain or snow much this month.
Alaska in May
May signals the true change in seasons – if you visit Alaska in May, you can feel that summer is just around the corner. This is probably why many cruise companies and tour operators are increasingly offering services in May… there’s still a nip of winter in the air, but each day feels more and more like summer.
In May, temperatures in Alaska range from an average low of 40°F (4°C) to an average high of 55°F (13°C). Heat wave! It’s clear about 50% of days on average and while there might be a late season snow or rainy day, May is a good month to visit Alaska based on the weather.
In case the spring weather is still too cold for you, I’ve got a suggestion…
2. You can Warm Up with Hearty Food & Drink
Alaskan food, like the food of most northern (and far southern) climates, is great for weather with a little chill – like spring (and autumn).
After growing up in Alaska, I’ve greatly enjoyed my trips back as an adult that have allowed me to enjoy the craft beer scene that’s booming across the state – some of the breweries I’ve had the chance to enjoy include Alaskan Brewing Company (Juneau; always good!), 49th State Brewing (Anchorage), and Seward Brewing Company (Seward).
There’s also a good dining scene, which mostly focused on American and local foods. You can easily find great burgers on the same menu as fresh salmon, and increasingly you’ll see other fun Alaskan local ingredients cropping up on the menu, like reindeer sausage, halibut chowder, and local blueberries on a quinoa salad.
3. You’ll Encounter Fewer Crowds
There’s no doubt that traveling in the shoulder season to any destination means you’ll encounter fewer crowds. That’s one of the perks of traveling to Alaska in the springtime too!
These photos from Juneau (left) and Ketchikan (right) show how empty Alaska is during the “off” season – even just a week or two before the summer season begins. In particular, this photo of the main dock in Juneau will literally be swarming with tourists when a cruise ship pulls in – when I visited in May, it was empty!
If you want to visit Alaska but don’t love the idea of rubbing elbows with white-sneaker clad tourists, spring is a great season to plan your trip.
4. You’ll See Alaskan Scenery in Transition
Personally, I find the ‘transitional’ seasons to be the most beautiful anywhere in the world. Just think about the leaves changing color every Autumn in Vermont or the Cherry blossom blooms in Japan each spring. Alaska is the same way!
In the spring, Alaska slowly transitions from a land of black, white, and gray to one of greens and blues. Waterfalls cascade down mountains that were once covered in snow and the few leafy trees slowly erupt into vibrant green tones. (In the autumn, the trees and leaves take on red, yellow, purple, and brown tones to rival the colors you’ll see anywhere else in the world.)
I love these transitional seasons in Alaska because they remind me that the beauty in the world is both fleeting and cyclical: the seasons always change and the colors always change, and they’ll come back next year too.
5. Lower Prices will Stretch Your Budget Further
Yet another reason – aside from all of the others listed above – to visit Alaska in the spring, is that prices are going to be lower. Since Alaska is a bucket list destination, most people save up for years to make the trip. By visiting in the spring, you’ll stretch those savings further, maybe getting to stay a day or two longer, or visit an additional destination or book an extra tour.
For example, flights for a week-long trip from Seattle to Anchorage in April and May start at just $297; as of June 1st, flights jump up to $350 right away.
If you don’t care about your budget, this might not matter to you. If like me you try and stick to a budget and save when you can, traveling to Alaska in spring is a great way to keep your costs down.
Is Spring a Good Time to Take an Alaska Cruise?
Sure! Most travelers to Alaska take a cruise when they visit, and there are several reasons to do this in spring.
As mentioned, prices will be lower across the board. Most cruise companies actually offer a lower price in the spring (May) compared with Summer (June/July).
Another reason people avoid cruising in spring is that they want great weather when they visit Alaska. Southeast Alaska (the route most cruise ships take) is one of the rainiest parts of the U.S. Juneau, a common cruise port, averages 223 days of rain per year! Hashtag pack-your-raincoat.
If you’re looking for a great company to cruise to Alaska in the spring, try UnCruise Adventures. I wrote a super-long post about my 7-night cruise in May 2017 which will convince you why I think UnCruise is the best way to see Alaska.
Have other questions about how to visit Alaska in spring? Let me know in the comments.
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