Article Overview: Worst Time to Visit Alaska
With its pristine wilderness and breathtaking landscapes, Alaska has always been a coveted destination for adventure enthusiasts, nature lovers, and senior citizen cruise ship goers. But every coin has two sides, and even the last frontier has moments when it doesn’t shine so brightly; or depending on how thick the snow clouds are, at all.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the worst time to visit Alaska. Because when you finally get the opportunity to make that epic trip to the 49th state, you want to make sure it’s the best, most enjoyable adventure possible. We’ll explore traveling to Alaska in the dead of winter, shedding light on the challenges that travelers might face during this period and helping you make an informed decision about when to plan your Alaskan adventure.
Why Trust Us On the Worst Time to Visit Alaska
AlaskaExplored is THE DESTINATION for all things Alaska. Wether you’re planning a trip and trying to avoid the worst time to visit Alaska; or if you’re just curious about the last frontier, we got you covered. Here at AlaskaExplored.com you’ll find expert tips, detailed guides, stunning photographs, and so much more.
Together AlaskaExplored has more than twenty years of experience traveling, working, and exploring the beautifully rugged, 49th state. Working in television has taken us all around the world, and no place more than Alaska. During our time here we’ve documented countless stories from every corner and crevasse of the state. We’ve helped showcase the grandeur of this wild place for National Geographic, Discovery, Disney, Animal Planet, and more. Now we want to share our knowledge and real life experiences with you!
My Experience with the Worst Time to Visit Alaska
Working in television has sent me to every corner of Alaska during every month of the year. The networks always want to showcase extreme weather and the drama and challenges that surround life in Alaska during the harshest times to be there.
So wether its braving the raging waters of the Bering Sea during January storms that cause freezing waves to take down entire crab boats. Or camping in minus 40 degree weather to film a dog sled training while trying to not get frost bitten. Or hiking steep snow covered cliffs with mountain goat hunters, I’ve had my fare share of winter experiences in Alaska. And I can declare without a doubt, that the worst time to visit Alaska is during the dead of winter, January and February.
I’ve lived through the short lightless 4 hour days, worn endless layers of clothing, felt my nostril hairs freeze instantly upon stepping outside, and been delayed for days in small airports with no services. Trust me, Alaska in January and February can just plain suck.
Table of Contents: Worst Time to Visit Alaska
Table of contents
- Why Trust Us On the Worst Time to Visit Alaska
- My Experience with the Worst Time to Visit Alaska
- Worst Time to Visit Alaska
- Reasons to Avoid Alaska from January to February
- Worst Time to Visit Alaska, Work Arounds & Benefits
- Worst Time to Visit Alaska, Summary
- Worst Time to Visit Alaska, Outside of Winter
Worst Time to Visit Alaska
Reasons to Avoid Alaska from January to February
Alaska holds a unique allure for travelers year round. Yet, like any destination it has its “less than ideal times” to explore its wonders. From January to February, Alaska experiences its harshest winter months, offering a challenge that even the most intrepid adventurers might find daunting. Here are some reasons why January and February are the worst times to visit Alaska.
Coldest months in Alaska
There’s no sugarcoating it, winter in Alaska can be brutally f*cking cold. While some travelers relish the idea of a true winter wonderland, others might find the bone-chilling cold a bit too much to handle. Activities that are popular during the warmer months, like hiking and camping, become near impossible in sub-zero temperatures.
Alaska’s temperatures in January and February can vary widely depending on the region, but it’s safe to say that it gets extremely freaking cold throughout the state during the winter months. Here’s a breakdown of temperature ranges in various regions during the worst time to visit Alaska.
- The North/Arctic: Communities like Barrow/Utqiaġvik in northern Alaska experience extremely extreme cold during January and February, temperatures can dip to -30°F to -50°F or even lower. This isn’t just not fun, its unsafe.
- The Interior: Cities like Fairbanks experience some of the coldest temperatures in the state. In January and February, temperatures can plummet to as low as -40°F or more. Like… why?
- South Central: Anchorage and the surrounding areas, tend to be milder compared to the interior but still experiences frigid temperatures. In January and February, typical temperatures range from 0°F to 20°F.
- Southeast: The coastal areas in the southeastern part of the state, including Juneau and Ketchikan, have a warmer maritime climate. While temperatures are generally milder they can still drop to around 20°F to 30°F in the winter months, making this the best place to go during the worst time to go to Alaska.
If you do decide to come to Alaska during its coldest months, be prepared and bring the appropriate winter gear. Base layers, wool socks, proper boots, and face coverings are all essential to navigating the worst time to visit Alaska.
Limited Accessibility & Closures
Another thing to consider in regards to the worst time to visit Alaska, is accessibility. Many areas of Alaska become difficult to reach during the winter months due to icy road conditions, closures, and reduced flight schedules.
If your dream is to explore the vast expanse of Alaska, you might find your options limited when certain roads and trails are closed off due to weather conditions. Furthermore, many tourist services and facilities might be closed or operating on a reduced schedule during the off-season.
Here’s a list of some of the limited access or closures you might experience during the worst time to visit Alaska:
- Denali National Park: Access to Denali National Park becomes limited in the winter. The park road is typically closed beyond a certain point, and shuttle buses and other services are unavailable. I’ve been during the winter months, it looks like the rest of Alaska during the worst time to visit… white.
- Cruise Ships: Cruise ship operations are virtually non existent during the winter months. Additionally, services and accommodations in popular cruise ship port towns, like Seward, experience a steep decline. Cold beer on the lido deck anymore!?
- Alaska’s Arctic: Remote communities in northern Alaska, such as Utqiaġvik and Nome, can experience transportation delays due to icy runways and limited flight schedules. Travel to these areas can be highly weather-dependent. The ocean freezes in Nome during this time… which is f@*ked up!
- Alaska Marine Highway System: The ferry system connecting various coastal communities may have reduced schedules and cancellations during the winter due to weather-related concerns and icy waters.
Alaska’s Shortest Days
One of the most significant challenges during the worst time to visit Alaska is the limited daylight hours. In the dead of winter, Alaska experiences polar nights when the sun barely rises above the horizon. Depending on your location you can be left with only a few hours of twilight each day.
While the days start to get a little longer in February, and the northern lights viewing can be good, a lack of sunlight can affect your mood, energy levels, and overall experience. If you’re spending a bunch of time and money to get to Alaska, do you really want to spend it in the dark?
Here’s a list of daylight hours in Alaska during the worst time to visit, by region.
- The Interior: Approximately 3 to 6 hours of daylight in January and in February there are approximately 7 to 9 hours of daylight. Just enough time to realize you’ve made a huuuuuge mistake.
- South Central Alaska : January sees approximately 5 to 7 hours of daylight and 7 to 9 hours in February. A flight from Anchorage to Hawaii is 6 hours.
- Southeast Alaska: January, approximately 7 to 9 hours of daylight. February, approximately 8 to 10 hours of daylight.
- The North/Arctic: In January polar night occurs, with no daylight for the entire month. In February, the southern Arctic regions may start to see a few hours of twilight. This was the inspiration for the movie “30 days of night” where vampires run free gorging themselves on Alaskans with no fear of sunlight.
For more movies about Alaska check out our article: The Biggest State on the Big Screen: Movies About Alaska
Wildlife Hibernation & Migration
If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the states incredible wildlife, then don’t come during the worst time to visit Alaska, January and Febuary. During the winter months many animals, like the great brown bear, go into hibernation and are far less active.
Additionally, most humpback whales migrate south to warmer waters to breed. Although the state does have resident whales that live in its waters year round, there are far fewer during this time.
Frequent Winter Storms & Weather Delays
January and February in Alaska can be a challenging time for travelers due to the notorious bad weather and frequent storms that sweep across the state. These winter months are harsh, unforgiving, and only put an exclamation point on why winter is the worst time to visit Alaska.
Bitterly cold temperatures, heavy snowfall, and strong winds are commonplace during this period, which can make travel extremely difficult. I’ve been stranded in airports many a time due to winter storms in Alaska. These storms can bring blizzard conditions, reducing visibility to near-zero, making roads and tarmacs inaccessible or inoperable for days.
Travel delays are common, and visitors should be prepared for cancellations, road closures, and flight disruptions. While the snow-covered landscapes can be breathtaking, it’s crucial to prioritize safety when considering a trip to Alaska during January and February.Extreme weather conditions can make travel a daunting and potentially dangerous endeavor, and if you’re traveling with any loved ones, you probably still want them to like you at the end of the trip.
Worst Time to Visit Alaska, Work Arounds & Benefits
Visit During the Shoulder Months
If you are planning your trip and want to avoid the worst time to visit Alaska, but still long to gaze at the beautiful aurora borealis, or you want to go snow shoeing or snowmobiling, don’t go in the dead of winter, go during the shoulder months of November or March.
November and March offer a unique opportunity to experience some of Alaska’s most enchanting aspects without fully succumbing to the frigid temperatures and limited daylight hours of January and February. There’s nothing you can’t do in these months that you can do during the worst time to visit Alaska.
Northern Lights Extravaganza
The shoulder months are arguably the best time to see the Northern Lights. With dark and cold nights, November and March are excellent months for observing the captivating phenomenon.
The strength and frequency of the Northern Lights are influenced by geomagnetic activity, which is often most active during Alaska’s shoulder months. Keep an eye on Aurora forecasts and geomagnetic storm predictions to maximize your chances of witnessing a strong display.
Click here for a 27 day Aurora Forecast provided by the university of Fairbanks.
Snowmobiling & Winter Adventures
There may only be a few hours of daylight during the worst time to visit Alaska, but while the sun is shining there are some opportunities for fun to be had. Snowmobiling, dog sledding, and cross-country skiing remain popular activities during these months.
However, with warmer temperatures and more daylight I would point to the shoulder months as the best time to experience these winter activities. Visiting during shoulder months translates to a more comfortable and enjoyable experience for those wanting to embrace Alaska’s winter wonderland.
Worst Time to Visit Alaska, Summary
January to February just suck, here’s a list of reasons why its the worst time to visit Alaska.
- Coldest months in Alaska
- Limited accessibility & closures
- Alaska’s shortest days
- Wildlife hibernation & migration
- Frequent winter storms & weather delays
Worst Time to Visit Alaska, Outside of Winter
Alaska is notorious for its summer mosquitoes, and they can be a significant nuisance for visitors, residents, and grumpy camera folks trying to make tv. The worst time to visit Alaska in terms of mosquito activity, is the summer. If you’re staying close to the ocean you’ll be fine, but if you venture inland at all be warned; these bastards are no joke.
By the time September rolls around the cool nights will have killed off most of them. Again, this is another reason to visit Alaska in the shoulder months.