Did Juneau That Early May Isn’t the Best Time to Visit Alaska?

I was looking forward to coming home after 12 days in Alaska with stories about exploring Kenai Fjords National Park, backpacking Denali NP, advice about the best trails and gear, and what I learned while hiking in the snow.

Alaska Airlines Plane Wing

As luck would have it, our trip was nothing like we had hoped; so unfortunately, that means the best advice I have for planning a trip to Alaska is primarily a list of don’ts:

  • DON’T visit in April/early May
  • DON’T bring only one pair of hiking boots (even if they’re “guaranteed” to be winter/waterproof)
  • DON’T expect beautiful, clear weather anytime you visit Alaska
  • DON’T assume parks or tours or attractions will open sooner because the weather is warming up earlier than usual
  • DON’T look at the weather forecast once and trust that’s what it’ll be. We learned quickly that Alaska weather has a mind of its own. One hour the forecast can call for clear skies while the next hour you’re expecting rainfall for the next five days.
  • DON’T discredit the idea of leaving early if you’re not enjoying yourself or your trip isn’t going as planned

And a couple of dos:

  • DO your research before you start planning your trip
  • DO contact companies ahead of time to verify they are open for business – even if their website says they are
  • DO absolutely maximize on your time when you find yourself with clear skies

I know that last “don’t” may sound absurd. It did to me at first too. But then I got to thinking about the vacation time I was using and the additional money I’d be spending to half-ass what was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime. And I’d much rather save my leave and money to return during the summer season so I can whole-ass my time in Alaska.

Byron Glacier

We hiked to Byron Glacier, an easy 1.4 mile hike. With the snow it proved to be a tad more difficult than expected and a recent avalanche covered the entrance to the glacier’s ice caves but it was still mega cool to hike a glacier.

When it wasn’t cloudy and we could see the mountains every sight to be seen was absolutely incredible. Even views with low clouds obstructing the majority of what was to be seen was beautiful. But clear, cloud-free, beautiful sights were few and far between.

Glen Alps Viewpoint

Glen Alps Trailhead is a great sightseeing viewpoint in Anchorage to see more mountains and less city

Cloudy skies weren’t the make-it-or-break-it factor that led to our decision to leave early. You can visit Alaska in the middle of June and end up with rainy, cloudy weather for two weeks straight. No, in addition to the bad weather, high avalanche potential, poor research on our part, and trusting in one person’s past experiences instead of well-documented trends, we visited during “mud season” – the short period between winter and summer when most tour companies are closed as they get ready for the upcoming season. In 2018, the Anchorage/Girdwood ski season ended 22 April and the activities we were looking forward to – ocean kayaking around glaciers, whale watching, and dog-sledding – were unavailable until 11 May or later, despite being advertised as available on their websites. As luck would have it, we booked our trip for 27 April to 7 May, which explains why our plane tickets were so affordable and why we only paid $128 for an 11 day Enterprise car rental.

And although it was warming up it wasn’t enough for the path to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park or the George Parks Highway in Denali National Park to open for hikers or personal vehicles.

So after promising ourselves we’d come back one day during the summer season we flew home a week early. That’s not to say when we got home we weren’t worried the universe would punish us by blessing Alaska with perfect weather for the remainder of our original trip. But the forecast continued to range from glum and dreary to super glum and dreary… #NOREGRETS

It stinks that Marta and I didn’t get the Alaskan experience we were hoping for but we still got to visit ALASKA, we ate reindeer, we tried the country’s best Coffee Stout at Girdwood Brewing Company, saw more mountains than I’ve seen in my life, learned the process and absurd hassle traveling with a firearm (bear protection) entails, and we got to test out some of our winter hiking gear – even though it was only one hike.

If I had the chance, would I do it again? No. But I’m grateful for the lessons learned and the ability to share my experience so others (hopefully) won’t make the same traveling faux pas. If you want to see what we had planned for twelve days in Alaska I’ll be sharing a new post soon with our original itinerary, links, and additional information.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned while traveling? Have you ever ended a trip early or moved onto a new destination sooner than originally planned when things weren’t going your way?

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