Summer in Alaska
Summer in Alaska

It’s summer in Alaska, and the forecast ranges from the mid-30s Fahrenheit along the Arctic coast to a sunny 85 degrees in Interior Alaska and 60 degrees with light rain along the southern coastline. In other words – anything can happen, weather-wise, and it probably will, leaving visitors with a puzzling packing challenge – what to bring and what to expect during an Alaska vacation.

The first thing seasoned Alaska travel experts will tell you is to “dress like an onion.” That means layers, and lots of them, so you can strip or add as needed based on rapidly changing conditions. A few layers you can’t live without include a raincoat/windbreaker, a cuddly fleece layer or sweatshirt, short- and long-sleeved tee shirts, slacks or jeans and comfortable hiking boots or tennis shoes. No matter where you go, the dress code is decisively casual, and there’s almost nowhere in Alaska that you can’t show up in a pair of jeans and still fit right in with the rest of the crowd. When out for day-long tours or outdoor excursions, it’s helpful to bring a small daypack to carry a water bottle, hat or sunglasses while leaving room to stuff in a jacket or outer layer if things warm up. Pack with versatility in mind and take comfort in the fact that anything you forget can be purchased in most communities, including top-quality outdoor gear and accessories.

Conditions can vary widely by region, although certain items will serve you no matter where you go. Read on for a region-by-region breakdown.

The Far North is the vast Arctic region stretching from the Seward Peninsula across the northern third of mainland Alaska. In this region, although the sun never sets for more than a month during the summer, temperatures rarely top 50 degrees Fahrenheit and snow is possible even in July and August. Fall and winter come early. Wind is common, although the region is not excessively rainy. Warm layers, including hats and gloves, are recommended here.

Backcountry Hiking Interior Alaska is, oddly, both the coldest and warmest region, depending on the season. Summer in the Interior is marked by consistently warm temperatures that can top 90 degrees, although 70s and 80s are more common. Clearly at these temperatures shorts, sandals and short-sleeved shirts are in order, although it’s still always a good idea to have a light jacket or sweatshirt with you. Long days make it possible to enjoy the outdoors late into the evening. Later in the summer, rain is to be expected, although it’s not usually windy in this part of the state. In winter, temperatures can drop to -40 and colder, so top-quality winter gear is essential. Don’t have it? Many outfitters in Fairbanks, the Interior’s largest city, can rent you what you need.

Milder temperatures year-round define Southcentral Alaska, which doesn’t experience extreme high or low temperatures. In summer, temperatures ranging from the high 50s to mid-60s are the norm, with skies that are often overcast. Rain occurs throughout the summer, although it is most frequent in August and September, and a little breeze is to be expected as well. Particularly in the evenings, you’ll be glad you packed a light jacket or other additional layer. Winter is mild – at least for Alaska – with temperatures usually between 0 and 20 degrees above. Southcentral sees its fair share of snow, and once the temperature dips below freezing it usually stays there for the duration of the season – mid- to late-October through April.

Southwest Alaska is coated in emerald-green vegetation and dripping with waterfalls. It is one of the rainiest regions in Alaska, and you shouldn’t plan a trip there without packing a raincoat and pants, as well as waterproofs boots or shoes. Staying dry beneath your outer layer of clothing is the key to being comfortable outdoors – and you will want to be outdoors! Streams churn with salmon while bears scoop them up by the pawfull and marine life is plentiful too. Temperatures are usually in the 50s during the summer and stay relatively mild in the winter as well.

The other contender for the title of rainiest region is the Inside Passage. Although it’s usually more of a mist than true rain, more days than not feature at least a little of the wet stuff, so you’ll want to come prepared for it with rain gear and boots. That said, a sunny day in the Inside Passage is like nowhere else on earth and when it happens, you’ll want to be out in it with short sleeves and light pants or shorts. As one of the top cruise destinations in the world, the Inside Passage offers welcome relief to heat-strained visitors from the East Coast and South, as summer temperatures range from the mid-50s to mid-60s. Winter weather is mild and rainy, and the temperature often hovers right around the freezing point. Snow accumulates heavily in the mountains but sometimes very little of it falls near the coast. Spring comes earlier in this region than elsewhere in the state.

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