Alaska in May
Imagine: You’ve just endured 6 months of freezing temperatures and darkness. Then, finally, the air starts warming up, the sun sets later and later, and people begin to emerge from their cocoons. Yes, Alaska can be a lot of fun in winter—but come May, Alaskans are absolutely bursting with energy. After all, by the middle of the month, Anchorage sees almost 17 hours of daylight. Summer has arrived!
What's it Like...Really? Alaska Weather in May
The difference between early and late May could not be more different. As April finishes, the trees are bare, maybe just starting to bud, and temperatures might reach only the upper 40s/low 50s. But just two weeks later, usually by around May 15, the trees have leafed out (or are starting to get there), the temperatures are inching closer to the 60s, and it truly starts to feel like summer in Alaska.
It’s no coincidence that most summer activity companies pick May 15 as their start date. Going early comes with some upsides. First, May is one of the driest months, so you may experience less rain than later in the season. And, because travel to Alaska hasn’t really geared up yet, tours won’t be as crowded as in June or July. Just know that if you come before May 15, many of the tours and activities you want to enjoy aren’t yet available.
What to Wear in May
Our rules for layering certainly apply for May. You’ll especially want to have a warmer jacket (like a lightweight puffer), hat, and light gloves for early morning tours or any tours on the water or a glacier.
Visitor's Most Asked Questions
Here are the most popular topics travelers ask us when it comes to an Alaska visit in May.
May is a magical time: wildlife is waking up, bears are coming out of hibernation, and moose are dropping their calves. Migratory birds are returning from epic journeys, and birding festivals throughout the state—like the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival and Copper River Shorebird Festival—celebrate the event. The other migrants returning to Alaska? Whales! Gray whales arrive in March and April, then orcas and humpbacks in May and into June.
And what about bears? If a fly-in bear viewing tour is high on your list, the earliest trip you’ll be able to take is around the middle of May. That’s when you’ll see these majestic creatures digging for clams, foraging in sedgegrass, and tending to their cubs. (To see bears fishing for salmon, visit in July and August, during the salmon runs.)
Hotels & Lodges
Most hotels in Alaska’s largest cities, like Anchorage and Fairbanks, are open year-round. Accommodations in other areas are often seasonal operations. Some open in early May and offer “shoulder season” discounts; just check that the activities you want to enjoy in that area are also available. Fishing, bear viewing, and wilderness lodges often open toward the end of May or early June.
Tours & Activities
Flightseeing tours operate year-round, so scenic flight tours are definitely an option for an early May visit. Want to do a day cruise? It’s one of the first summer activities available to visitors. And after May 15, most tours are up and running. See a list of Things to Do.
Most motorcoach and rail transportation options are available by May 15, and it’s a good time to find discounts. If you visit the first or second week of May, opt for a rental car to get around. If you need a map of Alaska, you can order one or view it online.
Most campgrounds are open by Memorial Day weekend – but open dates are really determined by much snow fell over the winter. Alaska State Parks has a page you can check for open statuses. Some private campgrounds and RV parks open sooner.
If you want to cruise Alaska via the Inside Passage, tours begin in late April. Just be prepared for cooler weather if you go that early.
Mountain trails are likely still covered in snow and/or very slushy and muddy, so opt for south-facing trails or stay at lower elevations. And be extra alert for groggy bears coming out of hibernation. If you want to frolic in the mountains, wait until June or July.
In early May, you’ll find very few mosquitos, but the number Increases as the month progresses. Invest in bug spray if you’re hitting the trails, especially if you’re hiking near ponds or standing water.
You can take an ocean charter to fish for halibut in May; this is also when king salmon fishing season begins. See our list of recommended charter companies.
Roads Less Traveled
Roads that are not maintained during the winter, like the Denali Highway and McCarthy Road, are generally declared open by the middle of May. But it’s still worth checking the DOT 511 website on road conditions.
- Denali National Park. To truly experience this iconic park, don’t plan your trip before May 15. That’s the day the visitor center opens, and most hotels are open by then as well. The Park Road is generally open to transit buses and tour buses by the 20th. Up until May 19, your options to see the park are limited to the portion of the road that’s been plowed. (Crews start in April; once they reach Teklanika River (Mile 30), the road remains open to Teklanika, weather permitting.) On May 20, transit buses begin operating on the road, but private vehicles are restricted beyond Savage River (Mile 15). Other Denali tours and activities kick off around the middle of the month.
- Kenai Fjords National Park. Day cruises into the park generally start the second week of May (around the 6th or 7th). Cruises from Seward are available starting in March, but these don’t travel into the park itself; instead, they look for wildlife in Resurrection Bay. (See day cruises.) If you’re driving, the Exit Glacier area is open year-round, though the road is closed to vehicle traffic at Mile 1.3 in winter and often remains closed through early May. (It does stay open for winter recreation like cross-country skiing and dog sledding.) The NPS website posts the current road conditions. The Exit Glacier Nature Center building is open Memorial Day through Labor Day.
- Lake Clark/Katmai. Most bear-viewing tours to these parks don’t begin until around May 15. Brooks Camp (famous for bears fishing for salmon at the falls) opens June 1, with peak viewing in July. See bear-viewing tours.
- Wrangell-St. Ellias. Most lodging in McCarthy/Kennicott opens sometime between May 15 and the end of the month, and tours follow the same schedule. Coming before then can be tricky or impossible: Access is either by air or the McCarthy Road, and the road is not maintained in winter. It’s often cleared of snow and declared open around the middle of the month, though the date varies slightly each year.
- Glacier Bay National Park. Your Alaska Cruise may pass through. Glacier Bay Lodge opens at the end of May.
- Gates of the Arctic/Kobuk: Flyover trips are great throughout May, but the date for landing in the park varies by year, depending on the snow melt. Our friends at Golden Eagle Outfitters recommend visiting the latter half of May; June is even more reliable. Trips are available from Fairbanks and Kotzebue. Northern Alaska Tour Company also offers trips over this park from Fairbanks.