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.
Having visited Alaska three times in the last three years, I have one helpful tip to make your trip all of these: skip summer! Visiting Alaska in the Spring is a great way to save money and still have a great experience. To help convince you, I’ve rounded up a few of the top reasons why.
Note: These reasons also hold true for Autumn, if you want to visit then.
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!
The reason most visitors avoid Alaska in the Spring is the weather. To be honest, most Alaskans joke that “Spring” should be called “Breakup,” a season where all of the snow and ice turns to rain and slush. It’s not uncommon to have “bad” weather, but you can think of this as a perk in some ways…
Wintery Weather and Experiences
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.
In case it’s too cold, there are plenty of ways to warm up…
Hearty Food and 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.
Bonus: that last pick in the gallery above is of my friend Marissa drinking peppermint schnapps from a small iceberg. Where else but Alaska can you do that?
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 times 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.
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.
For example, flights from Seattle to Anchorage for a week in May 2018 start from $279 on Alaska Airlines; in July, they start from $329 per person. You can expect those kinds of price differences across the board when it comes to all aspects of your trip to Alaska (hotels, flights, tours, etc.). 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). For example, Norwegian Cruise Lines’ 7-Day Alaska Cruise with Glacier Bay from Seattle starts from $879 per person in May – in June, prices start from $1039 (15% more!).
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.
Need tips on planning your trip to Alaska in Spring? I’m happy to help in the comments!