We frequently are asked to advise our guests as to the optimal dates to visit Alaska, or to go on an Alaskan cruise. While it is true that Alaska is amazing no matter when you are there, depending on your interests, there may be on optimal time to come that can improve your chances of doing and seeing what is most important to you while on your cruise.
As you read this post it is important to remember that we are dealing with Alaska’s statistical averages, what is typical over the years. What does occur in a given year may vary considerably. The information here is for Southeast Alaska. Other regions can be quite different.
- Weather – Sunshine, Temperatures and Rainfall – Southeast Alaska is the northern reach of the earth’s largest temperate rainforest. A rainforest is, by definition, a place where the average rainfall exceeds 100 inches (2.54meters) annually.
- May is normally the driest month with the greatest number of sunny days. However, it is still a bit on the cool side with daytime high temperatures averaging in the mid-50s. As the months progress after May you can expect more rainy days but warmer temperatures peaking out in the mid-sixties in late July. If you prefer milder temperatures and dryer days, May might be your choice as the best month to cruise Alaska.
- Temperatures – When on the water, the factor that has the strongest influence on air temperature is the water temperature. In May the water is normally in the mid-forties and rises to the mid-fifties in mid-August. While May is cooler when it is cloudy it can warm up into the seventies when the sun comes out. Sunny days typically feature low humidity in this part of the world, making for some really comfortable conditions.
- Scenery – The scenery is at its most impressive in the spring as there is still lots of snow left on the mountains adding to their visual impact. With all the increased sunshine and warming temperatures, that snow is melting fast, filling the waterfalls and cascades to their annual maximum flows. Nevertheless, the scenery is impressively grand at all times.
- Fishing – Fishing for salmon and halibut is typically slow in early May, but picks by the end of the month.
- King Salmon are most prevalent starting in June peaking out near the end of the month. Silver Salmon start jumping on our hooks in June gaining steadily till their peak in mid to late August.
- Trout are most abundant in the spring months.
- Crab and shrimp are abundant all season long, however during the commercial crab season, typically June 15 through August 15, crabbing becomes less productive.
- Whales – Humpback whales are already in Alaska in large numbers but the beginning of our charter season in May and persist right through till our departure in September. Group feeding (bubble net feeding) can be seen all season but is more prevalent in July and August.
- Orca are present all season long but are less likely to be seen than humpbacks.
- Bears – Brown bears are out of hibernation and typically grazing along the shoreline on the fresh grasses in May and June. In early July they become less visible as they are mostly in the woods feeding on berries. By the end of July and all through August the salmon are entering the streams on their way up to spawn, with the bears gathered to intercept and feast on them as they make their way.
- Birds – There are many different birds to be seen in Alaska with a somewhat larger and varied group during the spring northbound migration. There are approximately one pair of nesting bald eagles for every quarter mile of shoreline. They are nearly as common as crows and ravens. There is an amazing variety of shore and sea birds to be seen. Everyone’s favorite, the puffin, is normally seen off the cliffs adjoining open ocean waters, not in inside waters.
- Note that during the months of May and June there are far fewer private yachts from Seattle and points southward cruise in Alaska. They start arriving toward the end of June. As a result, there is far more solitude and way less other boat traffic during the early season. The same is true during the last half of August as most private cruising boats head back south by then.
The best time to cruise Alaska depends on what type of weather you are most comfortable in, what sites you are hoping to see, and what activities you are hoping to participate in. We are always happy to consult with our guests regarding the best time for them to plan their trip with us. This article summarized much of the advice we have given over the years.
The following link give you a nice array of month-to-month climate charts including; average rainfall, precipitation, hours of sunlight, sunny days and more. https://weatherspark.com/y/289/Average-Weather-in-Juneau-Alaska-United-States-Year-Round