The folks who say “there is no bad time to travel” are dirty stinkin’ liars. There most certainly are better times to travel and I’m here to prevent you from showing up in Alaska
when the average low is 20*….BELOW ZERO! When should you travel to Alaska? What should you do while visiting? Read on, my friends…
We’re going off of climatology for Juneau, Alaska for these stats because it’s a popular spot to visit (for good reason, it’s amazing) and a lot of cruises leave out of this spot. Here’s the deal, though. Juneau is on the ocean, the great moderator of temperatures. The farther inland you are exploring, the more extreme your temperatures will be. Highs will be higher, lows will be lower. There are a lot of climate zones, if you’re heading to Fairbanks you may get up to 90* in the summer but in the winter you could be -60*F. Köppen climate classifications are important, the majority of the state is designated as Subarctic.
Good But Not Great: April-May. This is when the days start their glorious stretch and by the end of April the sun is up nearly 16 hours, by the end of May you’re up to 18.
Climatologically, this is when the daily average high temperature starts to break into the mid 40s and by May they’re statistically in the mid 50s…but the nights are a different story. Average lows are around freezing in April and warm to around 40* by May. So if you’re looking for a little more warmth, let’s look at my pick for the best time to travel.
What about the dreaded rain when you’re there to enjoy the great outdoors? April is your driest month of the year! On average, only about 3″ of rain. May isn’t bad either, only about 3.5″
Kait’s Meteorological Pick: June-July. And if you can, June 21st specifically. If you count dusk and dawn (and you should, they add hours onto your day and you still have plenty of light for outdoor activities), you get a whopping 21 hours of sunlight on the Summer Solstice. So many hours for outdoor adventures!
It gets better from here, let’s talk temps. Average high temperatures in June are in the low 60s, not bad, right? July reaches the mid 60s on average but remember, these are just statistically averages! It’s not uncommon to find days well into the 70s…but that also means some days will be in the 50s or potentially even cooler. Nightime temps drop into the mid-to-upper 40s. August isn’t bad either, very similar climatology to July but the days start to get a bit shorter.
June isn’t bad for rain, you’ll see about 3″ or so on average but getting into July and thereafter is when rain chances jump up.
Do Not Go Unless You Are Elsa From Frozen or Trying to See the Northern Lights: October-March. There’s a bit of a shoulder season in April and September, but other than that, you are facing difficult conditions to get outside and enjoy Alaska’s natural beauty. The days get increasingly short, topping it off with the Winter Solstice on December 21st that has a puny 6 hours and 22 minutes of daylight in Juneau. And if you’re in Fairbanks, forgettaboutit. Just over 3 hours of sunlight!
Average high temperatures in Juneau in December are just above freezing. October takes the cake for the wettest month of the year with over 8″ of rain on average.
If you’re trying to see the Aurora Borealis, I would pick February or March and head toward Fairbanks. Temperatures are going to be brutal but those are the darkest months that have the least precipitation. You want clear skies to see the phenomenon!
What did I do in Alaska?
As I approach 30 and think about my own future family, I find myself saying silent prayers of thanks for the things that my parents instilled in me. Without my father’s passion for weather and my mother’s intuitive skill of explaining math, I may never have pursued my degree in Atmospheric Science. There are countless examples of their guidance that have lead me to where I am today but the single thing I am most grateful for is my love of travel.
While still in diapers, my parents took me with them everywhere. I had been to Hawaii three times before the age of 10! And before you go off thinking I was raised with immense wealth, my mom was a teacher and my father a fireman. They made travel their top priority.
I’ll start with one of my favorite trips that instilled my sense of adventure: Alaska. I was still in middle school when my parents put three kids under the age of 13 on a plane to
Anchorage. From there, we drove to Denali National Park. Since it was summer, the sun stayed up for most of the night and my then three year old sister just couldn’t take it—she wanted a vacation with a hotel and a bed, she wasn’t into the idea of the sun never setting! (It probably didn’t help that we teased her that we wouldn’t sleep on this trip since the sun was still up)
Seeing your first grizzly bear is a pretty amazing experience. We were on the bus in Denali National Park, making our way to Mt. McKinley (as it was then known), when we turned a bend and a grizzly was right there in the middle of the road. We shut down the bus and the bear decided to come up and inspect us, an incredible memory. We saw bald eagles, countless deer, and gazed in awe of the giant mountain.
My dad has always been a lover of aviation. I was up in a plane “helping” him fly before I
was in kindergarten. We took a small bush plane around Mt. McKinley and landed on a glacier! Talk about a shaping experience. Now, every day that I study climate and how various glaciers and ice sheets are melting or growing, I think back to this experience. How the glacier looked, felt, the enormity of it all.
From there, we traveled to Juneau where we boarded a cruise ship to explore the inside passage. Even in the summer months, the deck of that ship was COLD! Otters, whales and icebergs were constant companions on our trip south toward Victoria. Cruising is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to travel with a family. It turned the hard days of driving and
travel from the first part of the trip into an easy but exciting experience. This was my first cruise, but I certainly have kept that trend going as I’ve aged.
Travel. Not necessarily vacation, but travel is my favorite part of myself. And I’m itchin’ to get going again…