Best time to cruise Alaska
Boasting years of rich history, miles of rugged wilderness and endless stretches of picturesque coasts, Alaska is undoubtedly a bucket-list cruise destination. With so much to do, you may be wondering when is the best time to make the journey. Whether you’re eager to hike or are hoping to spot some whales, find out the best time to cruise Alaska below.
The Alaska cruise season typically lasts from the end of April to September, with the busiest period being June to August. However, the best season to go totally depends on what activities you’d like to try, what kind of weather you enjoy and how flexible your budget is. You may also need to take into account school holidays if you’re travelling with your family.
If embracing peace and quiet is top of your list, then opt for cruising in the low season, which includes May and September. Because this is during school term-time, you’ll see less families and more couples and solo travellers, meaning excursions will be less crowded. However, due to the unpredictable weather during these months, be aware that some excursions may be postponed.
With warmer weather to encourage wildlife and flora to truly flourish, June, July and August are the most popular months to cruise to Alaska. You’ll see a wider range of marine life which makes the high season especially appealing for fishing fans, although it’s wise to keep in mind that July and August can be quite wet.
Alaska cruises in May
Price range: Low when booking in advance
Temperature range: 3 to 12 degrees celsius
Kicking off the start of the Alaska cruise season, May is said to be one of the best times to cruise Alaska - even the locals recommend it!. With beautiful weather and less crowds due to children attending school, May is a great option, particularly if you’re on a budget.
Best Alaska wildlife opportunities in MayFlora and fauna begin to bloom in the spring, and with it, you’ll see animals beginning to emerge from hibernation. Black bears are easier to observe as they forage and hunt for the first swarms of salmon, and birds begin to gather in nesting colonies. In Juneau, you’ll begin to spot humpback whales.
Best excursions for Alaska cruises in MayWhile the weather may be unpredictable at the start of the cruise season, you’ll still be able to experience some of the best excursions Alaska has to offer.
|Whale watching tour||Whales can be spotted throughout the entire cruise season, with numerous tour companies offering half and full day excursions. You’ll have the opportunity to spot humpback whales, porpoises, eagles and more.|
|Flightseeing tour||Perhaps one of the most breathtaking excursions you can enjoy in Alaska, a flightseeing tour over an imposing mountain range is a truly humbling, once-in-a-lifetime experience.|
|Glacier tour||A mini cruise to a glacier field is a quintessential part of an Alaska cruise holiday. As well as otherworldly glaciers, you’ll also have the chance to spot whales, puffins and seals.|
Alaska cruises in June
Price range: Mid to high
Temperature range: 8 to 16 degrees celsius
Though it’s considered part of the peak season, June is often quieter than the rest of the summer with families and crowds arriving later on in the month. Though there is a slight increase in rainfall, daylight hours increase (up to 24 during the summer solstice!), and the weather is very pleasant, making outdoor excursions such as hiking particularly enjoyable.
Best Alaska wildlife opportunities in JuneWith June being a strong season for birthing animals, you may be lucky enough to spot a moose calf or even bear cubs! Visit a wildlife refuge and you may also spot herds of caribou, as well as unusual bird life, wolves, porcupines and wood bison.
Best excursions for Alaska cruises in JuneMake the most of this summer sweet spot! Since there will be fewer families and crowds, you’ll be able to enjoy excursions without as many tourists and with drier, sunnier weather.
|Denali National Park||Whether you’re looking to take your time and spot plenty of animals, or you’re after an adrenaline rush such as whitewater rafting, Denali National Park has no shortage of fantastic excursions to enjoy.|
|Fishing||With numerous species beginning to emerge at this time of year, including rainbow trout, salmon and pike, you’ll be sure to reel in some great catches in June.|
|Alaska Railroad||If you’re eager to soak up the sights of Alaska in comfort, hop onboard the Alaska Railroad. Visiting a range of top destinations such as Denali, Anchorage and Fairbanks, you’ll witness breathtaking sights, so don’t forget your camera.|
Alaska cruises in July
Price range: High
Temperature range: 10 to 18 degrees celsius
Being the peak of the high season for Alaska cruises, July may be the busiest, but it is also the warmest month in Alaska. Like most areas of North America, Independence Day is celebrated in Alaska with great gusto – the fireworks display in Anchorage is a particular highlight. Outdoor events take place across the state, including music, arts and cultural festivals featuring homegrown harvests. While excursions may draw bigger crowds, there’s less chance of them being postponed due to bad weather, making July one of the best times to cruise Alaska.
Best Alaska wildlife opportunities in JulyWith salmon thriving in the rivers, bear activity tends to increase throughout July. Seals and sea lions give birth at the beginning of the month, so be prepared with your camera on the top deck of your ship.
Best excursions for Alaska cruises in JulyRainfall continues, however, with warmer temperatures and longer days, there’s plenty of time to get out into the great outdoors.
|Hiking||With countless national parks to choose from, there’s no end to hiking trails. Whether you’re looking for a gentle stroll or a rewarding climb, there’s a hike that’s suitable for all ages and skill levels.|
|Whitewater rafting||With the sun at its strongest, this is the best month to make the most of water sports! Brave the bright blue rivers and enjoy an afternoon of whitewater rafting where you’ll be able to sightsee along the way.|
|Girdwood Forest Fair||Artists, musicians and visitors flock to Girdwood for this fun celebration of Alaskan culture. Kids will especially love the arts and crafts, while adults can sit back and enjoy the music with a craft beer.|
Alaska cruises in August
Price range: High
Temperature range: 8 to 17 degrees celsius
Though it’s still considered to be the ‘summer’ season, August has a very high chance of rain. While you’ll need to keep a raincoat on you at all times, there’s still plenty to enjoy including concerts, markets and festivals to celebrate the end of summer. Meanwhile, offshore, you’ll also be able to experience the stunning glacier fields.
Best Alaska wildlife opportunities in AugustWith salmon continuing to thrive throughout the end of summer, bears will still be active. You may also spot bald eagles snatching fish from the rivers.
Best excursions for Alaska cruises in AugustIf you’re not a fan of wet weather, don’t worry- there are countless museums dedicated to showcasing the heritage of Alaska.
|Tracy Arm Fjord||No matter the month, a visit to Tracy Arm Fjord is breathtaking, but with the added rainfall, you’ll see more waterfalls cascading down the imposing rock faces.|
|Alaska Native Heritage Centre||If you’re looking for something indoors to escape the rain, visit one of the many fascinating museums such as the Alaska Native Heritage Centre, teeming with exhibits and artefacts.|
|Alaska Railroad||Another great escape from wet weather, seeing the sights of Alaska from the comfort of a cosy train is a must in August.|
Alaska cruises in September
Price range: Mid range, with some last minute low deals
Temperature range: 5 to 12 degrees celsius
Rounding off the Alaska cruise season, September is when kids go back to school and the weather begins to cool down, resulting in quieter and more budget-friendly options. If rain and cold temperatures aren’t a problem for you and you’re eager for a glimpse of the Northern Lights, September is the best time to cruise Alaska.
Best Alaska wildlife opportunities in SeptemberMating season begins in autumn for some animals, including moose. You may see male moose fighting with their impressive antlers, and will also see bears hunting in the streams for salmon. Autumn is also a great time for fishing, with an abundance of species in the waters, including rainbow trout.
Best excursions for Alaska cruises in SeptemberWith the wilderness turning vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red, September is a particularly picturesque month to get out and about with some amazing excursions.
|Northern Lights viewing||As the skies finally begin to get darker, this is a great time for catching the phenomenal Northern Lights. Fairbanks is one of the best places to spot them, though guides will also take you to the best viewing areas for better chances.|
|Flightseeing||While some roads may close in Denali as the season draws to an end, a flightseeing tour is a great way to admire the spectacular colours of the national park.|
|Salmon fishing||Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned fisherman, throwing in your line in September will be sure to reward you with some impressive catches!|
Top tips for Alaska cruises
No matter when you choose to embark on your Alaska cruise, there are some tips that will be useful to keep in mind all year round.
1. Pack sensibly
The weather in Alaska is incredibly unpredictable, even when visiting during the summer season. Rain can arrive at any moment, so keep a lightweight waterproof jacket in your bag at all times. Waterproof daypacks are also a great investment to keep your belongings safe and dry. Finally, pack plenty of layers! It’s better to be too warm and take layers off than be too cold and have nothing left, but keep your luggage allowance in mind at all times.
The essentials we recommend are:
- Thermal base layers
- Waterproof jacket
- Waterproof trousers
- Sturdy hiking shoes
- Sun screen
- Insect repellent
2. Combine your cruise with a hotel stay
Alaska is a huge state with an endless list of sights, activities, food and culture to explore. If you’re eager to get the most out of Alaska in one trip, opt for Cruise & Stay. This will give you time at the start or end of your cruise to continue your adventure inland, and can even be combined with a railway journey such as the Rocky Mountaineer.
3. Be respectful of wildlife
There are endless opportunities to get up close to Alaska’s wildlife in its natural, untouched habitat, but you must remember to keep your distance. Being disturbed can be very distressing for animals, particularly when their young are present. Opt to explore the wilderness with a qualified guide who can enhance your experience safely and respectfully.
4. Invest in good quality camera equipment
As well as the fascinating wildlife, Alaska boasts epic scenery, including snow-capped mountain ranges, miles and miles of colourful trees, vibrant blue glaciers and quaint coastal towns. You won’t want to forget any of these sights, so bring a sturdy camera with a telephoto lens, which will allow you to photograph subjects that are further away. Remember to bring spare batteries and memory cards too.
Though the best time to cruise Alaska depends on your own preferences, you can be sure that your chances of seeing breathtaking scenery, fascinating wildlife and vibrant culture are high. Cruise ships tend to stay close to the shore, meaning that you will be able to see all kinds of flora and fauna from the ship, with minimal effort, while adventures onshore will bring you to the very heart of the destination. All that remains for you to do is keep your camera nearby! Check out our range of Alaska cruises and discover your next dream cruise holiday.