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  1. #1

    Default Best time to visit Alaska

    I'm planning a trip to Alaska as part of a much bigger trip but I am struggling to decide when to visit. I have two options and would welcome your opinion.

    Here's a rough outline of my plans:

    1st/2nd May - fly from London to Tampa to visit friends
    6th/7th May - leave Florida and head up, via Congaree NP, to Myrtle Beach
    10th May - Nascar (Darlington NC, USA)
    11th May - head over to Mooresville NC and visit Nascar raceshops
    12th - 24th May - head up north visiting Shenandoah NP, Washington DC (skip NYC) and Boston. Stop at Rockport MA to visit friends then on, through Acadia NP, across the border through Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto before returning to the US and heading to Indianapolis
    25th May - Indy 500 (Indianapolis IN, USA)

    From here I have four weeks until my next definate 'date' - the start of my previously planned trip on 22nd June.

    Initially I thought that I would do something like this:

    26th May - 21st June - drive across country in the general direction of LA, taking in as many national parks as possible, then head up to San Francisco area
    22nd June - Toyota/Save Mart 350 Nascar race at Sears Point
    23rd June - 12th July - Slight rejig of the Yellowstone loop trip which would now hit Redwood National Park before turning north
    13th July - 14th August (give or take) - another route through the north west and south west Canada. Drop car in Seattle
    15th August - make way to Alaska via Alaska Marine Highway (how long does this take???)
    On arrival - Trek America/Suntrek organised tour then pick up car for a few days then
    Mid September - fly to Hawaii.

    I am now reading that, contrary to earlier advice, August is not going to be a great month to visit as it's likely to be constantly raining (in as much as Alaska's weather is predictable!) and I am wondering if I should somehow try to shuffle things so, after Indy, I fly to Alaska before heading south through Canada and the Western US before flying out of LA or San Fran to Hawaii.

    What are your thoughts? I guess it comes down to how unpredictable the Alaska weather is... will going in late May/early June offer me a greater chance of good weather? Is it worth the extra effort of rejigging everything which currently seems to work?

    I would appreciate your thoughts on that, as well as any other points you see as a problem or if you have any suggestions for improvements.

    Does anyone have any experience with the Alaska Maritime Highway? I've checked out the timetables but can't make head nor tail of it to be honest. Is it a huge huge trip to go all the way to Alaska on it? Is it hugely expensive as a foot passenger? Would I be totally bored by the second day? Would I be better off to fly to Alaska then spend more time there, maybe including a few ferry journeys to specific destinations in Alaska itself?

    I would also appreciate any feedback ref any companies who could do me the best deal on a rental car. Will pick up in Tampa upon arrival and drop in Seattle four months later. Must be able to cross the border into Canada.
    Last edited by UKCraig; 01-22-2008 at 11:42 AM. Reason: added hire car question

  2. #2


    well one answer is the alaskan weather is unpredictiable. it's in the 40's today in anchorage.

    May/June almost always has better weather than August which tends to be wet and cloudy. May and June have a ton of sun and usually less rain. you don't say where you plan to visit. if you are in the panhandle/southeast (juneau, sitka, ketchikan,etc) alaska area than the weather question is much easier. it will be rainy no matter what time of year. so if your plan is the southeast then bring your raincoat and plan to be wet. if you are going to other areas of the state then may/june is the best.

    I think it takes 5 days from seattle to get to juneau on the ferry, allthough it's been a while since i looked at the schedule. will you be bored? well it should a beautiful trip, but it is a ferry. there won't be entertainment, the weather is likely to be crappy for at least part of the trip and that is a while. i would fly here and move around as you wanted. that seems like a better usage of valuable vacation days. also i think they are having some sort of problem getting the summer ferry scheudle complete this year so it might not be out yet.

    anchorage, ak

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default You want us to predict the weather?

    Ack! Tough call.

    I have family living in Alaska (Sitka). It seems like there weather is as variable there as it is on Washington's coast and only a few degrees cooler in the summer months. Much colder in the winter. Anyway, here in the PNW, we sometimes have terrific springs and early summers. But that is usually the rainier time. Spring showers and all that. July-September (sometimes even October) are usually our driest, sunniest, warmest months. My Sitka relatives tell me it's about the same up there. Of course, Alaska is a BIG state. Their experience and comments might not be applicable to where you want to travel. There are weather sites that have temperature and precipitation averages for most any area in the US, if not the world. You might try The Weather Channel for a start.

    (PS - I just saw Greg beat me to it. Since he lives there, he's probably a better judge of this.)

    I have never heard anybody say the Alaska Marine Highway is boring. Everybody I know that has done it has raved about it. I just don't think boredom is something you need to worry about. Between the beautiful scenery and the chance to meet some quirky people, LOL, it might end up being a highlight of your trip. When my daughter used the ferry to go to Sitka, I ended up calling and talking to a representative because their website was kind of wanky and I had a hard time figuring things out myself.

    I believe the one-way fee on the ferry was about $300 at the time, but this was about 4 years ago. You can pay more for a cabin to sleep in but many people just throw their sleeping bag on the floor. That's what my daughter did and she had a ball. She made a lot of friends while traveling up there. People had guitars and other instruments and she joined in with singing. She played cards and other games that people had brought with them. It sounds like a hoot. I'd like to do it myself.

    Some folks bring tents and pitch them out on the deck of the ferry to sleep outside and get some privacy from all the people sleeping inside. But I've heard that wind can be a factor. You might need to secure your tent but I'm not sure how. It's not like there's dirt to drive stakes into. Maybe duct tape?

    The ferries also usually have interpreters who give talks on the various things you're traveling past. You can also get off the ferry for a day or more at various stopping points along the way. But you'll want to confirm how this works with a representative. I'm not sure if there's additional fees for that.
    Last edited by PNW Judy; 01-22-2008 at 12:11 PM. Reason: added a PS

  4. #4

    Default Wow - top tips

    Thanks for the tips, guys and gals ;) Excellent service, as always!

    I'm kinda figuring this'll be a once in a lifetime deal and, to me, I'm expecting Alaska to be one of the highlights. So, whilst I know it's gonna be insanely expensive, I'm prepared to spend what I need to spend (up to a point!)

    I really want to see as many of the national parks and natural beauty as I can, although I appreciate some will be out of reach due to the nature of the place.

    I've been looking online and - ignoring the price - these two packages look very very interesting:

    8 day ferry trip from Bellingham to Skagway with cabin, excursions and shore-based lodging

    21 day Trek America tour - Alaska & Yukon Explorer

    If the dates all worked out, do you think that'd be a good basis of a trip? I could do the Trek America tour from 20th August - 9th September which would fit in very nicely with my 'before and after' plans. It'd even give me a few days to rent a car in Anchorage and go check out any places that I may have missed before flying to Hawaii.

    It all comes down to that weather thing. I am from England so well used to the rain. And it makes the rest of the trip flow so much better doing things this way... what do you think, Greg? After I'm done in Anchorage I will be hopping on that plane to Hawaii so I will have plenty of time to dry out there :p Do you think it's something to grin and bear or will it make the trip so much better to do Alaska earlier in the season?

    How about making my way from Skagway to the start of the tour in Anchorage? Any suggestions for that?

    What do we know about Bellingham? Are the major car rental companies represented there? I will be renting in Tampa and will need to drop the car here. Presuming I had to drop at Seattle Airport, what would the transport links be like to Bellingham? As well as dropping the car, I will be packing up and mailing back to the UK any souvenirs that I have picked up along the way so I may take a day or so in the Bellingham (to include a visit to North Cascades NP) - what are the facilities like there?

    Thanks again for all your help and suggestions. And apologies if I'm going over ground covered but, frankly, I've got so much going on in my head right now trying to pull everything together... and my head is hurting! lol

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default The Non-Tour Tour

    When my wife and I visited Alaska a few years ago, we hit upon this outfit which besides giving us a great Alaska holiday, totally changed the way we now go about setting up all our trips. I strongly recommend that you read through what they have to offer, paying particular attention to the fact that on their tours, the 'tour group' consists of you. Also, feel free to mix and match from everything they have to offer. We did. The part I liked best was that they set up all the accommodations and modes of transportation so that, for example, we were picked up at Fairbanks airport on our arrival and driven to our 'B&B' (which consisted of a complete cabin in the woods with a view of Denali) and the first rental car was waiting for us in the driveway. When it came time to switch over to the train, we simply left the car at the train station and another was waiting for our use during our stopover in Talkeetna, and yet another when we finally finished our train trek in Anchorage. We were also able on a couple of occasions to change our plans on the fly with a simple phone call. As I say, these people did very well by us and I recommend them whole-heartedly.


  6. #6

    Default Ah, yes!

    Thanks for the link - I have seen you mention them on previous threads on the site that I have read, so you must have been impressed! :) To be honest I was actually thinking that I might get more out of Alaska in a group. Which is unusual for me! But I will definately contact the company you suggest now that you have reminded me of them just to see what they can offer me.

    Presuming for a moment that I stuck with the suggested dates and tours mentioned above, do you have any suggestions or tips for where I could improve the trip? Any thoughts on the weather in August/September?

    When it comes to the national parks of Alaska, I'd be doing pretty well with those two tours in that I'd get to see Kenai Fjords, Denali, Wrangell-St Elias and Glacier Bay national parks. How practical is it to visit Katmai, Lake Clark and Gates of the Arctic?

    Thanks all!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Less is More

    This is particularly true of Alaska. People tend to forget how huge it is. It's more than twice the size of Texas! So, by all means: Denali and Kenai, Fairbanks and Talkeetna, Turnagain Arm and Seward. Spend as much time as you can visiting a few of the many options available and less time running from place to place. I'll have a look at your options and get back to you.


  8. #8

    Default Fair point, that!

    You certainly pose a very valid point. And I am very happy to listen to it as previous experience has proved rushing around seeing everything yet seeing nothing isn't necessarily the greatest idea! I hope that one day I can afford to return and I will hopefully get a chance to see those other places at that time.

  9. #9


    the hugeness of alaska cannot be underestimated. a corny old alsaka joke is that texans should be careful or alaska will cut itself in half and make texas only the third largest state. but that is somewhat mitagated by the limited road system and expense of in state flights. of course the pound is strong so that helps you.

    Denali, Kenai Fjords are musts and the easist to see. While Wrangell-St.Elias is amazing, it does not lend itself well to a short visit. Not that it isn't a great place to visit but most of the park is inaccessable by car. the main road in is not, by alaska standards, scenic. Katmai and lake clark would require additional flights out of anchorage. doable but expensive. each would likely by several hundred dollars to get to. gates of the arctic is far, far away and also mostly inacessable except by foot. some alaska places only really reveal themselves well to multiday backpacking, canoeing, etc. not that you shouldn't visit, just accept that you will only see a bare sliver of a place. glacier bay is great.

    end of august/ september can be very nice. it cools off so the bugs are often gone and the weather is usually clears up in sept. while i generally recomend either early or late season the weather is so unpredictable that fretting about it doesn't get you anywhere.

    no matter what time you come to Ak be prepared to grin and bear it. bring your good gear and have a great time. but don't forget a book for the crappy days. i agree with azbuck that it is best to go a little slower and take a bit more time is each place. rushing can be a drag and giant natural places take time to see and feel.

    oh sitka is always rainy.

  10. #10

    Default Thanks Greg

    That is fantastic - I really appreciate your help and your suggestions. I can't wait to get up there but first I have to battle the system to get a visa. It's not the end of the world if I don't - I'll just have to can the first month of the trip - but I really really want to! Now, with the help of you all, I can at least feel like I'm gonna be able to make the most of whatever time I do get in the country :)

    Please guys, if anything else comes to mind please post it up, I am most definately all ears!

    Now, if only there was a RoadTrip Australia website... :)

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