South Sawyer Glacier Alaska

Best Time to Cruise Alaska

You want to experience the amazing wildlife, breathtaking natural scenery, rich history and adventurous spirit of Alaska, and we don’t blame you. Alaska is gorgeous and full of cultural and natural experiences that every traveler should experience at least once in their lifetime. A cruise will get you the closest to what you want to see, especially if you go during the right month, but when is the best time for an Alaska cruise?

An Alaskan cruise can be a life-changing journey, so you’ll want to go when you can get the most out of the experience. Check out the best time to cruise Alaska below and pick a month that’s right for you.

View of Star Legend from Mt. Dewey Alaska

The Timeline for Cruising Alaska

While the state is beautiful during any season, the best time to cruise Alaska is between May and September. Between these months, there is an average of zero inches of snowfall in Juneau and Anchorage. The days are longer than they are in the winter, and there’s usually much more to do. The Anchorage Market, for instance, runs from mid-May to mid-September on the weekends, so no matter which month you choose, a visit may be a part of your cruise itinerary.

May to September also has the safest and calmest water to cruise on, but which of those months is the best time to take an Alaskan cruise? We’ll break down the pros and cons to help you decide when to experience the great Alaskan wilderness and culture. Some factors to consider include:

  • Hours of daylight
  • Precipitation
  • Potential for snowfall
  • Temperatures
  • Events
  • Wildlife sightings
  • Potential for crowds

Check out our breakdown of the months between May and September to decide when is the best time to visit Alaska based on what you want to see and do.

Cruise Alaska in May

The spring season begins to warm Alaska, but you’ll still find characteristically cooler temperatures in May. This month marks the start of the Alaska cruise season, bringing with it a mix of pros and cons for any traveler looking to take a cruise in May.

Pros

Since May is right at the beginning of the travel season, there may be cheaper rates. Summer vacations haven’t quite started yet, so many travelers have to wait at least another month before taking their trips. This month is also typically the driest month of the cruise season in Alaska. Because the weather is cool and dry, there could still be snow on the ground, which makes for gorgeous scenery.

Cons

Most of the drawbacks for an Alaska cruise in May have to do with the weather. May in Alaska has lower temperatures and the potential for unpredictable weather, with an average high of 56 degrees and an average low of 40 degrees. Since winter is on its way out in May, the foliage won’t be as lush and beautiful as it will be later on in the season.

Shore excursions may get canceled due to unfavorable weather, and there could be unpredictable snow depending on where in Alaska you take your cruise. While we mentioned lingering snow as an advantage for peaceful scenery, it could be a drawback for travelers looking to hike or take in nature in other ways.

Another drawback of this time of year is how early in the warmer seasons it is. Because May marks the start of the cruise and travel season, there may be some attractions that aren’t open or fully open yet. Denali, the highest peak in North America, and the surrounding national park has limited services and facilities earliest in May. Visit later in the month for the best chance at sites being open to visitors.

Best For

Travelers looking for an off-season adventure that may be at a better rate should take an Alaskan cruise in May. You don’t mind the cold, but you’re also not looking for extreme adventures like hiking, since the snow may not have fully melted. You’re not a traveler looking for impressive green foliage, and instead, you want to take in other aspects of the Alaskan wilderness.

You’ll have a better view of some varieties of wildlife because the trees are barer than other seasons. Photographers and nature enthusiasts alike will appreciate the potential to have better visibility of majestic creatures than they could in other months.

With May being the driest month, you’ll be more keen to visit Alaska now if rain typically ruins your parade. You want to take advantage of as many outdoor activities and excursions as you can on your cruise, and you don’t want precipitation to stop you.

If you’re a fisherman traveling to Alaska for the ultimate catch, late May marks the beginning of king salmon runs and the chance to catch Arctic char. Other seasons have even more fishing opportunities for varieties of the perfect catch, so be sure to consider those in addition to May.

Alaskan Cruise in June

With summer comes time for a vacation, and many travelers are thinking Alaska. The combination of free time, more sunlight and warmer temperatures does create peak season, but with a look at the advantages of visiting Alaska in June, you’ll see why it’s such a popular time.

Pros

Many advantages to a visit in June have to do with the weather. The average rainfall is low in June, so if you’re trying to avoid precipitation, that may be your month of choice. It’s also the month with the most hours of sunlight, so night owls can take advantage of the extended light hours to see more sights.

Warmer weather also means a return to lush greenery as the leaves make their way back. The scenery is gorgeous, and with more hours of daylight, you’ll have time to see almost everything you want to in this beautiful state.

Along with the scenery, the wildlife is also impressive during June. Humpback whales come out during this month to feed by bubble-netting, an exciting sight for whale-watching fans and casual nature lovers alike.

Cons

While plenty of sunlight hours are a pro for those who want to see as much as possible in a day, it can be a con for light sleepers. Pack an eye mask and lower the nightshades if extra light makes it harder for you to sleep.

As a peak month, June may have more expensive cruises than other months of the season. More people will be traveling during the summer, and with warmer and more pleasant temperatures, they’ll flock to Alaska.

Even the locals come out more to specific areas throughout Alaska. The Kasilof River Beach sees locals and visitors swarming the beaches from mid-June to mid-August to fish for salmon with dip nets.

Best For

As a traveler, you don’t mind spending a bit more to visit during peak times. You don’t mind extended daylight, and you want the opportunity to see awe-inspiring sights on and off the water, from lush greenery to the chance to see majestic whales.

The natural experiences don’t stop there. Like late May, June is excellent for travelers who enjoy fishing. This month starts the season for plenty of great catches like:

  • King salmon
  • Sockeye salmon
  • Rainbow trout
  • Northern pike

June is also an ideal time for runners who want to experience a marathon among the wild Alaskan scenery. The Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage takes runners through 26 miles of trail, but there are half-marathon, four-mile and a 1.6-mile Youth Cup options.

Experience Alaska in July

As the middle of the Alaska cruise season, July has a fair mix of pros and cons. Be flexible if you visit during this month, as it gets more rainfall than May and June, and plenty of visitors and locals crowd destinations.

Pros

Plenty of events happen in July, as the state comes alive with longer days and warmer temperatures. Some popular events happening during this month include:

Enjoy these events knowing the average temperatures are highest in July, with Anchorage having an average high of 65 and low of 52. You’ll still want to pack layers, but you’ll have a better chance of enjoying outdoor activities and visits to Alaska’s 33,000 miles of shoreline.

Warmer weather also means more wildlife, with humpback whales bubble-net feeding during this month as well. Sea birds, seal pups, walruses and more are typical sights.

Cons

Mid-July is the most popular part of peak season, meaning availability could be low and prices could be higher. The peak season impacts areas throughout the state, like the Mouth of the Kenai River. The beaches here are popular for sightseeing and beachcombing, but in July, they become crowded with locals and visitors fishing for salmon with dip nets. That means you won’t get much relaxing done if you hit up these and other favored areas.

Best For

Travelers who want to soak in all the culture of wherever they visit will fit right in with a July cruise. The events we mentioned above are great ways to experience Alaska, but the state shines the most at the Girdwood Forest Fair in July. The event celebrates all things Alaska, from music to arts and crafts, but its primary focus is presenting an array of musical genres across its three stages.

You also want to experience the abundant wildlife of Alaska, and you’ll get your chance with a cruise during this month. If you don’t mind crowds or higher prices, a visit in July is for you.

August Alaskan Cruises

Early and mid-August are also part of peak season, but one look at the advantages and you’ll understand why. As the season and summer vacation approach their end, travelers try to get in one last trip, and August is a popular time to do so.

Pros

In August, wildlife is plentiful, and with warmer weather, you’ll be happy to spend time in the outdoors for a chance to catch a glimpse. Eagles are common, but you can also see bears, deer, moose, birds and more during this month. With fewer hours of daylight, the wildlife may also be more active during the day, especially if the weather cooperates.

Just like the other summer months, August offers plenty of events for almost every type of traveler, but be sure to plan for any possible cancellations due to rain.

Cons

Bring your rain gear because, while the temperatures are warmer, there is often a greater chance of rain. August sees the highest inches of rainfall on average of every other month in Alaska, so be sure to pack accordingly. There are also fewer hours of daylight in August, which may be good for light sleepers, but it won’t give you as much time as other months do to experience the outdoors.

As part of peak season, August in Alaska can include more crowds than other months unless you time your visit just right and go later in the month. Even with smart planning, you’re not as likely to get great deals as you would in other months.

Best For

Foodies with a very particular taste will enjoy Alaska in August. Blueberries are at their peak during this month, and the Alyeska Resort Blueberry Festival celebrates the fruit with pie-eating contests, cooking demonstrations, dessert contests and more.

Runners can also find something to do with an August visit to Alaska. The Anchorage RunFest hosts various running events and is a Boston Marathon qualifying race, letting marathon runners experience the scenery of Alaska while potentially qualifying for other marathons.

Any travelers looking for an extra dose of fun with their cruise can also enjoy the Alaska State Fair. The fair is a late-August staple and has something to offer almost every type of traveler:

  • Hungry travelers with adventurous palates will enjoy the vendor booths that serve anything from classic carnival fare to Alaskan favorites.
  • Culture, history and agriculture buffs will enjoy the thousands of exhibits that show off everything from handmade goods to livestock.
  • Thrill-seekers can enjoy carnival rides set among the gorgeous Alaskan backdrop.
  • Entertainment-seekers will find plenty of activities, concerts and more to witness at the fair.

Overall, August is best for a traveler who enjoys variety and doesn’t mind dealing with a bit of rain to experience it all.

September Cruises to Alaska

End the Alaska cruise season with one final visit in September. As this month rounds out the season, it has similar pros and cons to the start of it.

Pros

You may not expect the end of the Alaskan cruise season to have many advantages, but there’s a lot to enjoy this time of year. Some major pros of visiting Alaska in September include the following.

  • The sights: September offers the potential to see the Northern Lights, but that can be difficult to plan. Some sights are more of a guarantee. The first week of September often has the best fall foliage, making it an ideal time to visit for anyone who wants to experience vibrant, warm colors.
  • The deals: End-of-season deals extend to almost everything from traveling fees to souvenirs. You may find sales at local shops trying to close out peak tourist season, and many cruise and travel companies offer discounts to try to attract more travelers.
  • The lack of crowds: Unless every traveler takes advantage of the end-of-season deals, you’re likely to see fewer crowds with a September cruise to Alaska. Many summer vacations end by September, and the weather gets cooler, meaning fewer people can or want to travel. Even if the weather becomes unfavorable, you can still have the chance to experience coastal towns that allow visitors even during bad weather, and inclement weather often means less congestion from visitors and tourists.

Along with those advantages, Alaska also offers some events during this month to end the warm season with one last celebration.

Cons

One of the main drawbacks of a September cruise is choppy water. As the seasons change, the water gets rougher, so try to go toward the beginning of September to try to avoid choppy sailing conditions.

Of course, as fall approaches, the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, and Alaska is no exception. Out of the months in Alaska’s cruise season, September has the shortest hours of daylight, but the average temperatures are similar to May’s. In late September, parts of Denali National Park and other areas begin to close for the season, so you could have limited access as you would in May.

Best For

Travelers who aren’t prone to seasickness and who want to see the world’s most beautiful events, from the Northern Lights to the changing colors of the leaves, should visit during September. While fewer daylight hours may not be ideal for some travelers, light sleepers will appreciate having more time in the dark to fuel up for the adventures to come. It may be the end of the season, but there’s still a lot to experience in Alaska during September.

Remember that early September includes half of the Alaska State Fair, perfect for travelers who didn’t visit in late August, but there are other festivals to enjoy. Art lovers or travelers looking to immerse themselves in culture will enjoy the Alaska World Arts Festival in September that features celebrations of:

  • Music
  • Visual arts
  • Written word
  • Film
  • Comedy
  • Theater
  • Dance

These and other exciting events will draw crowds, but you likely won’t experience as much congestion as you would during peak travel times in Alaska.

So When’s the Best Time to Cruise Alaska?

May to September marks the best of Alaska cruise season, with the fall and winter being a bit too unpredictable. But of those months, which is the best time for an Alaska cruise? That’s difficult to say because every traveler is unique. If we had to pick just one month, we’d lean toward June for its low rainfall and abundance of daylight hours, but you can’t go wrong any time during cruise season. When you decide on what month to take your Alaskan cruise, be sure to think about factors such as the following.

  • The weather: The temperatures, on average, are milder during the Alaska cruise season. That doesn’t mean you can always know what to expect, though. Have waterproof layers at the ready, and don’t forget to bring extra socks! Pack the layers no matter when you visit, because Alaska’s weather has a reputation for changing rapidly within a week. May is among the most unpredictable months because of the transition between winter to spring, but you want to be prepared any time of year.
  • Your interests: As we pointed out above, some months are best for travelers looking to see or experience different things. Keep those in mind, because not every part of Alaska’s cruise season offers the same thrilling experiences. Whale-watchers, for instance, should lean toward June or July visits.
  • Your budget: When it comes to pricing, you need to think about peak, off-peak and “shoulder” seasons. The shoulder season is at the beginning and end of peak travel times, where you could find the lowest prices. For an Alaskan cruise, May and September often have lower prices because they bookend the cruise season.
  • The availability: As shoulder seasons, May and September often have higher availability than other months. Peak times may be more difficult to find availability for, depending on how early you book. No matter when you decide to go, be sure to book far enough in advance to guarantee you get the trip you want.

Consider what you and any travel partners want to experience and any other needs you have before you book. Are you prone to seasickness? Do you need optimal conditions to get some sleep and prepare for the next day? If you can’t decide on one month or don’t have any particular concerns, you can always make multiple trips to experience all that Alaska has to offer!

Plan Your Alaskan Cruise With Windstar

Now that you know the best time to take an Alaskan cruise, it’s time to make it happen! Why not turn your dreams into reality with us at Windstar Cruises? Connect with fellow travelers and the crew as you sail the Alaskan waters on our intimate cruises. Our smaller ships give us access to ports the other ships can’t reach, meaning you get a unique experience and opportunities you couldn’t anywhere else.

Take a look at the Alaskan cruises we offer to see what will take you on the adventure of a lifetime. We’ll take you on guided fishing trips, through scenic forests and close to legendary fjords and glaciers for the Alaskan trip of a lifetime. Plan your voyage today by calling us at 800-258-7245 or requesting a call. We can’t wait to have you aboard a Windstar Cruise!

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David Porter
1 year ago

Excellent Article!

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