Given the enormous size of Alaska and its location, the weather varies greatly depending on where your flight takes you. Some places go into the mid-20s (Celsius) and 30s in summer, others make it into the 30s. Along the southern coast winter temperatures are in low single digits, while farther north they drop to -50 and lower. The southern areas have well-defined four seasons and northern areas have winter and summer. The northern coast has the most dramatic change in daylight hours. In Barrow, the sun sets at 12.50pm on November 18 and rises at 11.51am on January 24. By 1.06am on May 10 there is 24-hour daylight. Alaskan weather is famously unpredictable; a snow storm on July 4 followed by a hot July 5 is not out of character.
When to fly to Alaska
Alaska’s peak season is June, July, and August. When booking your flight to Alaska bear in mind that prices are high and you need to make reservations in advance.
Winter is the off season, but a great time to take a flight if you enjoy winter sports and activities. You can save up to half the cost of hotel rooms in winter. Early fall can be mild and May beautiful in Alaska. In fall, some places charge discounted summer rates.
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Getting around Alaska
Alaska is huge. If you cut it in half, you would still have the two largest states in the US. RVs are a popular mode of transportation through the state, and Alaskan cities are fairly easy to drive in and park; the exception is parking an RV in downtown Anchorage during the week. All sorts of vehicles travel the Alaska Highway, which is open year-round and is paved for all but a few miles.
Other popular ways to get around Alaska are by water and by air; in fact, the only way to many towns, including Juneau, is via air or water. Many cruise lines offer tours of Alaska, and state-owned ferries can get you from one point to another. Another option is to travel through Alaska by rail, bush plane, air taxi, or helicopter. Taking a commercial flight between destinations is often the best, and cheapest, mode of transportation. Alaska has several regional airports that make flying around the state straightforward.
Alaska insider information
- Anchorage is Alaska’s largest and most sophisticated city, and nearly half the state’s population lives here. It’s a favourite tourist destination and has plenty of attractions in town, but the city can also be your base camp just minutes away from hiking, climbing a mountain, or fishing for salmon or trout. If you take a flight to Alaska in winter, you might catch the Iditarod and northern lights.
- At the end of the Alaska Highway, Fairbanks is Alaska’s second-largest city and it marches to its own drummer. Mining interests are strong here, and it’s the birthplace of the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party. Fairbanks is a great place for families to visit: Pioneerland celebrates Alaskan history, museums, the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in summer, and aurora borealis in winter.
- The state capital is the third largest city in Alaska, and Juneau bustles with tourists, politicians, bureaucrats, miners, and loggers. Along with shops and fine restaurants, Juneau has plenty to see: the Mendenhall glacier; fish hatchery, brewery, and abandoned mine; sea kayaking; and whale watching. From the city you can hike Mount Juneau or the Perseverance Trail, or walk the beach.
- A fun place to visit, Sitka preserves the look of the 1799 Russian invasion. The invaders attempted to enslave the Tlingit who resisted and won the war. Sitka is where the formal purchase of Alaska (Seward’s Folly) from the Russians took place. The ocean halibut and salmon fishing are excellent and the bird- and wildlife-watching exceptional.
- Barrow, on the shore of the Arctic Ocean, is Alaska’s northernmost city. It is home to North America's largest oil field, Alaska’s largest corporation, and a large Eskimo settlement. Barrow has a wealth of wildlife, more than 250 bird species, and polar bears approach town looking for food. And the winter darkness here makes the aurora borealis even more spectacular.