While spring break in Alaska may not include lounging on a beach to soak up the sun, how about lounging in a hot springs after a day of snowy adventures while soaking up the northern lights? The daylight increases rapidly in the spring and with that comes more time to take advantage of springtime fun in Alaska. This special and somewhat under-the-radar time to visit the 49th state offers opportunities that you won’t get any other time of year: witnessing epic wildlife migrations, attending some of the state’s best festivals and events, and enjoying snow sports like downhill skiing, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing under the warm spring sunshine.
Daylight & Weather
Gone are the darker days of winter by early March, when Alaska gets over 10 hours of daylight and gains anywhere from 4 to 20 minutes of daylight each day through the spring (depending on where you are in the state). Late spring marks the official start of midnight sun season: by the end of May we see nearly 18 hours of daylight in Juneau, 19 hours in Anchorage, over 20 hours in Fairbanks, and non-stop daylight in Utqiagvik, where the sun rises on May 12 and doesn’t set again until August 2. More sun means warmer temperatures – and don’t forget your sunscreen if you’re out in the snow on a sunny day! The sunlight bounces off the snow and can cause some pretty epic ski goggle tan lines.
All that daylight means that there’s plenty of time for springtime fun, and if you’re visiting in March or April, that typically means fun in the snow. Depending on where you are in the state, you’ll likely find snow on the ground through most of spring, with snow starting to melt away around the end of March in the more southern parts of the state and moving into May as you go further north. Check out our weather guides by region for more information on average temps and daylight by month.
Things to do in Alaska in Spring
With snow on the ground for much of Alaska through late spring, this time of year offers the sweet spot for winter outdoor activities with the sun high in the sky and warmer temperatures. Skiing (downhill and cross country), snowshoeing, fat tire biking, and other snow sports along with winter tours like dog sledding and snowmachining are made even more brilliant with spring sunshine bouncing off the snow.
Spring is also a great time for that other dazzling display: the northern lights, or aurora borealis. Northern lights viewing season in Alaska runs through April. You can search for the lights yourself using tools like the statewide aurora forecast and the Fairbanks aurora tracker or you can join a guided northern lights viewing tour or stay at a specialty northern lights viewing accommodation to maximize your chances of seeing the aurora.
After all that activity you may be ready to kick up your feet and relax – and what’s spring break without a little R&R? Two of the best spots for soaking away what ails you are the Alyeska Nordic Spa in Girdwood and Chena Hot Springs outside of Fairbanks. The indoor/outdoor relaxation experience at the new Alyeska Nordic Spa features hot, warm, and cold pools along with saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs nestled among the boreal forest. You’ll want to spend the whole day here as you move through the circuit at your own pace and enjoy food and drinks at their exclusive bistro, with add-ons including massage and yoga classes.
Chena Hot Springs Resort outside of Fairbanks has been the relaxation destination for locals and visitors alike for over 100 years to soak in the natural hot springs’ healing waters. Today, visitors will find indoor and outdoor hot tubs, an indoor swimming pool, and the outdoor Rock Lake – an incredible spot for a steamy soak under the northern lights. The Resort features accommodations and a wide variety of other activities including dog sledding, snowmachine tours, ice fishing, and the colorful Aurora Ice Museum.
Birding & Wildlife Viewing
Spring in Alaska offers some unique wildlife viewing experiences that you won’t find any other time of year. Millions of birds, including over 250 different species, and tens of thousands of whales make their incredible journeys to Alaska on their annual spring migrations. Some of the top destinations for spring birding include Juneau, Wrangell, Fairbanks, Homer, and Cordova. Birding enthusiasts should consider planning your trips around one of the state’s spring birding festivals for peak birding experiences along with lectures, guided expeditions, and other fun avian-themed events.
March – May is also the only time to witness the return of gray whales to Alaska waters as they cruise to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering and Chuchki Seas. Gray whales travel upwards of 7,000 miles each way from their winter habitat in Baja on the longest migration route of any mammal. The best way to witness the migration is on a day cruise from Seward as the whales travel through the Gulf of Alaska. You also may be treated to sightings of returning humpback whales, which arrive back to Alaska waters starting in April.
For some guaranteed up-close wildlife viewing, make sure to visit one of the state’s incredible wildlife conservation centers. These centers serve as both educational facilities for visitors and rehabilitation centers for injured or abandoned wildlife, home to a wide variety of wildlife from bears to raptors to sea otters.
Spring Festivals & Events
In addition to birding festivals, Alaska hosts spring festivals and events that highlight Alaska culture, tradition, and history, including one of the most famous of them all: the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. This exciting endurance race kicks off with a ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage the first Saturday in March and an official start the next day in Willow. Learn more about how you can experience the race for yourself and explore the race’s route and fascinating history.
Visitors can also attend a variety of Alaska Native cultural events in the spring for insights into Alaska’s Indigenous cultures through arts, dance, song, and sports. At the Festival of Native Arts in Fairbanks in late February/early March, Indigenous performers from Alaska and around the world gather to share culture through music and dance. Also in Fairbanks in February/March is the World Ice Art Championships – one of the largest ice carving competitions in the world.
Those looking for some wild and wacky spring fun should head to Girdwood the third weekend in April for their annual Spring Carnival. The main event at this action-packed mountain town party is Slush Cup, where costumed skiers and snowboarders speed down the mountain in an attempt to jump over the chilly slushy pond at the base – usually without success. The weekend also features live music, a mountain bike race, and opportunities for some fun spring skiing (pond jumping not required).
Early Season Cruises
Cruise season in Alaska is starting earlier than ever, with most cruise lines launching their first departures in the spring. UnCruise Adventures kicks off the season with their first sailings in early April. They will also be launching Alaska’s first-ever winter cruise starting in February 2024 that will highlight winter sports and northern lights viewing. Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Carnival, and Norwegian Cruise Line all embark on Alaska itineraries starting in late April. Most other cruise lines kick off their seasons in May and early June.
Other Perks for Spring Travel
It’s not just the diverse activities that should draw you to Alaska in the spring. Tours and activities are often cheaper this time of year and you’ll typically find better deals on airfare, accommodations, and cruises than during peak summer season. Visiting Alaska during shoulder season also has the added benefit of less crowds and more availability for hotels and activities.
Now’s the time to pack up your sunglasses, swimsuit, and snow pants and come celebrate spring break, Alaska style.