As with any vacation, timing is everything. Personally, if I’m going to shell out big bucks to embark on an epic journey with my family, I want to be darned sure I’ve done some homework, season-wise. There are many reasons; weather, cost, attractions – the list goes on and on, and especially in Alaska. While the majority of 49th state visitors do arrive during the busy summer season of June through early September, a new cadre of travelers has discovered a seasonal gem in a spring vacation. An Alaska-style spring vacation, that is.
Springtime in Alaska generally speaks of April and late May between the sloppy time of Break Up (when ice and snow melt and parents do a happy dance), and Memorial weekend. Alaskans as a whole feel slightly bonkers by April, and are anxious to usher their brood outside in lengthing daylight and ever-increasing bare ground. Activities begin to appear like tulips, and for the outdoor-minded visiting family, a wealth of opportunitites can be found for every age.
Interested, yet? Read on and discover a few more reasons why springtime in Alaska can be the best time to visit with your kids:
IT’S AFFORDABLE. As soon as May flowers begin to bloom and leaves appear on the birch trees, airlines, hotels, and cruise ships start showing up in Alaska. Also showing up are higher room rates and expenses for attractions; very high, in fact. Check out an early-season airfare from Alaska Airlines, or wait until mid-May when some competing airlines start their seasonal service, causing a price war with Alaska Air. Alaska Travelgram offers up-to-the-minute deals on travel to and from the 49th state, and it’s worth subscribing to their email newsletter.
Hotels, in particular, offer specials for early-season visitors. Try Alyeska Resort (you might even get some incredible spring skiing) for an excellent overnight package tailored to families, including breakfast in the lovely Pond Cafe and resort credit. While many Alaska lodges are still shuttered for the winter, individual hotels thrive on early or late-season business. Check out the Alaska Travel Industry Association for specific communities you’d like to visit for additional assistance in arranging lodging.
IT’S WILD. Like their human counterparts, Alaska’s creatures begin a stampede toward their respective outdoor habitats sometime around mid-April. From gray whales to moose calves, springtime visitors can all but be assured of busy animals and birds intent on either rearing young or heading home, or both. Try a Kenai Fjords Gray Whale cruise in Seward, coupled with an overnight stay and visit to the famous Alaska Sea Life Center. Great scenery, no crowds, and some pretty incredible wild things. Try tour companies like Salmon Berry Tours, who can arrange a trip to dogsled on a glacier or visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. They take care of details, you simply relax and enjoy the experiences.
IT’S QUIET. Alaska is busy during the summer. Really, really busy, so between fishermen and tour buses, roads are teeming with vehicles, and restaurants and indoor attractions are swamped from morning until night, at least in the major cities. Why not experience such places as the beautiful Museum of the North in Fairbanks, the Anchorage Museum, or the Pratt Museum in Homer, without any crowds? While some cruise-destination attractions may still be closed in April, most open up in mid-May and are happy to see the early birds. In southeast Alaska, hit up the White Pass Yukon Railroad as soon as possible and see the Chilkoot Trail from the bottom up; and, speaking of up, travel up and away with the help of the awesome Mt. Roberts Tramway in Juneau to experience a view like none other.
IT’S COOL. Very, very cool. Your kids may be out of school in places like the southeast sections of the Lower 48, and donning flip flops and swim suits for beach playdates, but get this; in Alaska, kids are hiking along trails wearing cozy fleece and Xtra-Tuf rubber boots, and having the time of their lives. Want to experience the best of the best in outdoor education? The excellent Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies in Homer begins offering programs in mid April, and the whole family will enjoy opportunities for beachcombing, hiking, and learning about our marine life. Near Anchorage, Eagle River Nature Center provides programs all year-round for kids preschool and up (check their calendar for specifics), and the entire family can participate in a guided hike or presentation covering everything from astronomy to outdoor survival. Pretty cool!
Who says you need to wait until midsummer for an Alaska vacation? Plenty of family fun awaits you in the 49th state.