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Is August The Best Time For An Alaska Cruise?

Alaska has an abridged cruise season from late April to early October. First-timers usually look for the best cruise option for Alaska and the best month to sail. When planning an Alaska cruise, know that itineraries in July and August command the highest prices and are considered the peak season.

With children out of school, cruise ships welcome many families in the month of August. They also see travelers from Australia who are escaping their winter.

Three cruise ships in Ketchikan, Alaska in August

In August, travelers experience long hours of daylight, ideal for enjoying the pristine landscapes and looking for wildlife. So, let’s examine seeing Alaska in August.

Cruising In August Vs. Shoulder Season

Cruising in August allows offers some of the warmest weather conditions, so you down jacket or fleece-lined raincoats aren’t necessarily needed.

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Let’s compare traveling in August to going in the shoulder season. Residents from the south, might not want to cruise to Alaska in May because it may be to cold for them.

However, April and May are the driest months and receive the least amount of rain. The chances of rain increase as the summer progresses. So, is summer the best time to take an Alaska cruise?

Being the peak time of year, expect to pay 50% more than one offered in colder weather. But summer weather allows for outdoor activities without wearing heavy clothing.

A wet day in Ketchikan
A wet summer’s day in Ketchikan

In August, the cruise season is in full swing, and multiple ships may be in port.

Before booking a cruise, compare hours in pork and where the ship docks. If there are more than for ships scheduled to stop in Juneau, some vessels will need to tender.

Expect it to be crowded in town, and the popular excursions could sell out months in advance.

With congested ports, some ships spend 12 hours in port, while others dock for half the time. Choosing an itinerary with maximum hours to explore the ports is recommended.

A crowd at Tracy's Crab Shack in summer
A crowd at Tracy’s Crab Shack in the summer

At the end of the month, many businesses in Alaska start having their end-of-season sales. It’s good news because visitors can shop for Alaska souvenirs at lower prices.

While some stores stay open year-round, most “tourist shops” or small businesses close until the following cruise season.

Daylight Hours And Weather Forecast

Alaska’s a vast state, bigger than Texas. So, the weather can vary by area. It’s advisable to check the weather forecast before flying to your embarkation port.

While the longest day of the year is past, August still has long daylight hours, warm weather, and reasonably high temperatures.

On average, Anchorage receives 16 hours, Juneau 15 hours, Hubbard Glacier 15.5 hours, and Fairbanks 16.5 hours of daylight. Depending on the area, some towns receive ten days of rain in August.

City/TownTemperatureRainfall
Ketchikan65 F or 18 C11.3 inches
Skagway63 F or 17 C2.4 inches
Anchorage64 F or 18 C2.9 inches
Fairbanks66 F or 19C2.1 inches
Glacier Bay National Park60 F or 16 C6.2 inches
Hubbard Glacier62 F or 17 C13.9 inches

If hiking to higher elevations or take a helicopter excursion to a glacier, extra layers may be necessary to compensate for various types of Alaska weather. Cruising in early August can also experience vastly different temperatures than the end of August.

Packing For An Alaskan Cruise In August

It goes without saying that packing for a trip to Alaska is easier in August than in the off-season. While  glacier viewing day requires an extra layer, it should be balmy in the ports.

The chart above shows average temperatures, but I have experienced low 80s (Fahrenheit) or high 20s (Centigrade) in August.

So, pack mostly summer clothes; lightweight pants or shorts, t-shirts, and good walking shoes. Bring a bathing suit because most ships have indoor pools if it isn’t warm enough to use the outdoor one.

Regardless of the weather forecast, take a jacket, preferably waterproof, a compact pair of binoculars, and mosquito repellent (because mosquitoes are rampant in Alaska).

Using binoculars in Glacier Bay National Park
Using binoculars in Glacier Bay National Park

Since most itineraries include a glacier viewing day. Wearing a base layer or sweater would suffice, with a jacket. On sunny days, sunglasses prevent the glare off the ice.

As rain increases this month, having waterproof shoes, a waterproof jacket, and a compact umbrella is advisable. A waterproof spray may do the trick if you want to avoid investing in new items. Since I live in a wet city, I wear Vessi runners everyday, as they are 100% waterproof.

Alaska cruises are less formal than Caribbean cruises, so guests don’t need to dress u for dinner. Having comfy cruise attire is a good idea unless you’re sailing on the Queen Elizabeth owned by Cunard, which is more formal.

Since most lines have moved away from formal nights to “wear your best,” “evening chic,” or “dress up or not.” So, dark jeans and a shirt or blouse are perfectly acceptable for those who prefer to remain casual.

Is It A Good Time To See Humpback Whales?

Humpback whales migrate from Hawaii to Alaska in May to feed in their marine-rich waters. Since the whales don’t leave until September, it’s a great time to spot the majestic giants.

Choosing a balcony stateroom often allows for sightings of whales swimming along the shorelines of the inside passage. Watch for the flumes of mist from their blowholes with a pair of binoculars.

While humpbacks are the most popular species spotted, orcas or gray whales are spotted, too. Alternatively, Beluga whales can be seen around the Seward Peninsula on one-way cruises from Seward or Whittier

Humpback whale sighting in Juneau
Humpback whale sighting in Juneau

Consider a whale watching tour in Juneau or Icy Strait Point for an unforgettable adventure. Whale sightings are guaranteed, and you could witness the phenomena of bubble-net feeding. I have enjoyed several tours in Juneau and they never disappoint.

Cruise passengers stopping in Icy Strait Point may see humpbacks from the shoreline. I saw one breach multiple times during my visit as if performing for us tourists.

Whale Watching Tours

What Wildlife Can I See In August?

Alaska’s wildlife is plentiful, and what visitors see may depend on where they go. Sitka has a large population of sea otters, enjoyed on a bear, eagle, and otter excursion.

The ABC Islands (Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof) are home to Alaskan brown bears. Brown bears are a cross between grizzly bears and polar bears, which you tell from their size.

Bear tours are available to Admiralty Island from Juneau, Icy Strait Point, and the Kenia Peninsula. With binoculars, you could spot a bear walking the shoreline in Glacier Bay National Park.

A sanctuary brown bear
Coastal brown bear at Fortress for the Bear

Alternatively, you can see Coastal Brown Bears and Black Bears at a bear sanctuary in Sitka. The sanctuary rescues orphaned bears that would have perished in the wild. During my visit, I saw three black bears and five brown bears.

In August, bears are foraging for food to sustain them during the winter hibernation, so they are easy to spot than in the earlier months.

The summer months bring the salmon runs. Sockeye salmon run in early August, and you may hit the tail end of King salmon season.

Coho salmon are the most prevalent species this month. Get a license, rent fishing gear, and try your luck on the Stedman Bridge in Ketchikan.

Dall sheep may be spotted on higher peaks in Tracy Arm Fjord or Juneau if you take the Roberts Tramway.

During a glacier viewing day, harbor seals often grace the icebergs near a glacier terminus. So, whether cruising to Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, or Tracy Arm Fjord, look for those black dots in the bergy bits. What looks like a dark piece of ice might actually be a harbor seal.

Bald eagle from the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour in Ketchikan
Bald eagle from the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour

Bald Eagles are plentiful in Alaska. I have seen them in trees, on poles near harbors, or trying to catch dinner during salmon runs. The Bering Sea Tour in Ketchikan provides an up close and personal experience, and a tour I would do again.

Also, adding on a land tour to visit Denali, could allow for other animal sightings.

Should I Visit Denali National Park?

A cruise tour to Denali National Park is an option for those sailing from or finishing in Vancouver, British Columbia. In August, it’s the perfect time to explore a top-rated Canadian city before or after your cruise.

Denali Park cruise tours are gaining popularity and allow travelers to venture inland, which contrasts significantly with the Alaskan coastal towns. However, since the wilderness lodges come with high pricing, these itineraries may not suit those traveling to Alaska on a budget.

Denali National Park in August
Denali National Park in August

Cruise lines that package land tours provide a coach or glass-domed railcars to transport passengers inland. Since fewer people continue into the cruise tour, you’ll enjoy fewer crowds and a chance to see the towering Denali if it isn’t shielded by cloud cover.

Wildlife sightings increase in the national park, with chances to see moose, caribou, grizzly bears, and wolves.

While some time inland is structured, there’s plenty of free time, too. So, you can take a hiking excursion with an experienced guide in Denali, do a flight-seeing tour, or visit the Denali National Park dog sled kennels.

Guests who start or end their vacation in Fairbanks, can take a Riverboat Discovery cruise on a paddlewheel vessel up the Chena and Tanana Rivers.

Paddlewheeler on the Chena River
Paddlewheeler on the Chena River

Will I See The Northern Lights?

Alaska lies in the aurora oval and has increased chances of seeing the spectacular light show.

The Aurora Borealis is often seen from August until April. While they appear year-round, viewing them during the midnight sun is hard. For ideal viewing conditions, you need total darkness.

Guests taking a cruise and land tour to Denali are away from the light pollution of Alaskan cities. Good viewing locations are also available in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

The Northern Lights are unpredictable, so check the aurora borealis forecast to establish your chances of seeing them during your August visit to Alaska.

Sailing at the end of August gives a better opportunity to see them than at the beginning of the month. The days are getting shorter and the nights longer.

Northern Lights in Alaska
Northern Lights in Alaska

Just outside of Fairbanks, the Chena Hot Springs features an ice museum. The Aurora Ice Museum stays a frigid 25 F, even in summer. Inside the ice palace, grab a stiff drink to warm your insides.

Conclusion

August is a great time to see Alaska if you need to travel when the kids are out of school. Expect to pay premium prices for a cruise or cruise and land tour.

The weather may vary in southeast Alaska from the first week to the last. Cruises in late August and early September, could experience a lot of rain.

With changing weather, tour operators may choose to discontinue their excursions early, and those that run may be subject to cancellation. This is especially true of helicopter tours.

The end of the month is best when trying to avoids sailing with children. As families get ready for back to school, the last week may sail with unsold cabins.

But Alaska is a place that never disappoints. Its untouched landscapes, abundance of wildlife, and magnificent glaciers will add to your enduring memories.

Three cruise ships in Ketchikan in August and views of Denali National Park

RITA SUTCLIFFE

Monday 10th of April 2023

We will visit Alaska in June, 2023. What is the BEST CRUISE LINE that offers INLAND OPTIONS to visit DENALI and GLACIER BAY? Our PREFERENC is to ARRIVE and/or DEPART FROM VANCOUVER.

Forever Karen

Monday 10th of April 2023

Rita, Holland America and Princess offer the best options for cruise and land tours. They have been cruising to Alaska the longest. You can choose to start or end your land tour in Anchorage or Fairbanks.