6 things you'll only see during spring in Alaska

My Alaska News January: Creamer's Field

6 things You'll Only See During Spring in Alaska

The springtime months of April, May and June in Alaska mean melting snow, migrating birds, and three or four minutes more of precious sunlight every day. But that's not all: Spring also offers inexpensive travel deals, and springtime in Alaska is one of the only times -- and places -- to have these six amazing experiences:

Migrating gray whales

Starting in late March, eager whale-watchers in coastal towns like Ketchikan, Sitka, Kodiak, Seward and Whittier can see 40-ton gray whales making their annual 7,000-mile migration from warm-water breeding grounds in the Gulf of California to feeding grounds in the cold waters of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Whale-watching cruises from Seward and Whittier are especially popular, but you can often see the whales from shore too.

Brown bear courtship

Getting to see one of the world's largest land predators in the wild is a thrill in itself -- but during May and June, you have the unusual opportunity to see fearsome brown bears courting and mating too. Brown bears are serial monogamous, which means that a male and female may stay together for a couple of weeks before splitting up and taking another partner. Mating season is earlier (May and early June) in Southeast Alaska bear-viewing areas like Admiralty Island; in Southcentral viewing areas like Kodiak and Katmai, mating season usually peaks in June.

Thousands of bald eagles

As with bears, it's thrilling to see a bald eagle in the wild -- but what about seeing thousands of them at once? The largest springtime concentration of bald eagles in North America takes place during late April and early May, when these magnificent birds congregate to feed on spawning hooligan, also known as candlefish, as the fish make their way up the Stikine River in Southeast Alaska. The best way to see the eagles is by attending the late-April Stikine River Birding Festival in tiny Wrangell. The festival also showcases the millions of migratory shorebirds that flock to the Stikine River Delta every spring.

Giant flocks of migrating sandhill cranes

Bald eagles and shorebirds aren't the only birds that stage impressive spring migrations. Flocks of stately sandhill cranes -- an ash-gray wading bird with a six-foot wingspan and a distinctive, rattling call -- fly north to their Alaska breeding grounds in early May. The best places to see them passing through are Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in Fairbanks, the Copper River Delta, and the Tanana Valley near Delta Junction. Cranes are notoriously shy and wary when on the ground, so make sure you bring your binoculars or spotting scope, and a good zoom lens if you want to take pictures.

Northern lights

One of Alaska's most unique sights, the fantastical aurora borealis or northern lights, is best seen during the long, cold winter months. But April offers the best of both worlds, with relatively mild weather and enough sunlight for lots of daytime activities, followed by nights that are still long and dark enough to give you good odds of spotting the aurora. Plan your visit for Fairbanks and further north, where the lights often shine right overhead.

Great deals on the Alaska Marine Highway

Have you always dreamed of taking your own vehicle on an adventure along Southeast Alaska's spectacular waterways? Spring is your chance: the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system offers a steep discount to drivers who bring their own car, truck or RV with them through the month of April.

No matter where you are in the state, spring weather is an unpredictable mix of warm, cold and wet. You'll be ready for just about anything if you pack a rain jacket, rain boots and rain pants, fleece layers for warmth, a hat, gloves, a few warmer-weather layers, and sturdy walking shoes.