The Surprising Season of Spring in Alaska
“When it’s springtime in Alaska …”
Well, most Alaska aficionados can likely sing the rest of this catchy and iconic little Johnny Horton lyric. But despite Horton’s words, you’d have to search far and wide across this very far and very wide state to find a place in Alaska where it’s actually 40 below in springtime. Old Johnny, it seems, was all about telling tales and selling records, which meant a bit of embellishment for entertainment’s sake. If Johnny had ever visited Alaska in Spring, he’d know what Alaskans and savvy travelers know – that when it’s springtime in Alaska, it’s time to get up and GO!
Some folks assume that Alaska has just two seasons: Winter and Summer. But in fact, Alaska’s version of Spring typically combines elements of the best of both – the remnants of Winter’s bright white snows and the bright warm rays of Summer’s sunshine, on a quest to melt them. Full disclosure: the infamous Spring “breakup” period in Alaska season is a real thing. That’s when snow and ice melt – break up – which can sometime make a mess of things. Puddles and ice slicks settle in streets and walkways, gravel and dirt used to help drivers in the winter turns into mud that lines the sides of streets, and dust kicks up with any type of wind. Fortunately, these “breakup” weeks up north are often compressed into a small window at the beginning of Spring and while it might not be exactly picture-perfect postcard imagery initially, as they say “April showers bring May flowers“. Watch out. Alaska’s wildflower displays will truly “wow” you! Don’t forget that camera…
This is also the season when Alaska’s residents – both human and wildlife – become filled with energy and sometimes downright giddy, gleeful to get outside and play. Nature begins to literally come to life. Buds of leaves begin forming on trees, grass once buried under snow starts changing color from brown to bright green, and fauna and flora begin emerging from their winter hibernations, seeking sunrays. Spring is a time of warmth, activity, rebirth. Moose are relieved that their long winter of post-holing in chest-deep snow are over. Big bears and little squirrels come out of their respective hibernations. Lynx and fox who strolled stealthily around urban areas in winter begin disappearing into the wild again. And Alaska’s seasonal and year-round bird species frequent the sky in much greater numbers, another sign of the coming Summer.
Spring is also your last best chance to catch Alaska’s dancing bright northern lights through late March before the Midnight Sun takes over the skies for the summer. Spring’s extreme temperature inversions and still-dark nights can create perfect palettes for colorful displays across the state. And it’s so much more comfortable watching them in awe at 15 degrees above than 15 below.
And while Spring can be a bittersweet time for skiers and snowmachiners, dog mushers and fat tire bikers, even the biggest winter fanatics admit that some of the best conditions for playing outside arrive in Spring. The days are longer and warmer and are lit by that awesome sun, just perfect for cramming in yet another ride or glide. For Alaskan cross-country skiers, there’s nothing like getting off of work and skiing on Anchorage’s and Fairbanks’ world-class trail systems in their T-shirts and baseball caps, or waking up early, when temperatures still hover just below freezing, and skating across snow-and-ice crusted lakes and fields that are usually inaccessible most of the year. Downhill skiers and snowboarders also get bonus after-work runs, lit by the sun instead of a slope’s night lights.
As Alaska’s residents and animals get busier, so does the state’s tourism industry. Lodges are dug out of surrounding snow and prepped for guests. Menus are crafted in advance for adventurous diners seeking fine Alaska-inspired feasts. Adventure companies check all of their old gear and put new equipment and fresh itineraries together. Social media and advertising campaigns begin. And when these businesses do open for business, many operators offer sweet early-season discounts and deals to get their customer experience momentum rolling before the peak summer days. That’s a major score for Alaska residents and Alaska visitors alike. There are no crowds and lines. The highways and airways are relatively quiet, too. Airfares are lower in the lull between Spring break and Summer vacations, and popular cruise ships routes, and the cool coastal towns they visit, begin to see more traffic.
So if you’re planning an Alaska visit in Spring, you’ve got lots of surprises in store for you. Just make sure to pack for a little of everything: winter’s cold, summer’s sun, and all sorts of indoor and outdoor fun in between. Your precious Spring days in Alaska are best enjoyed with lots of layers, some really good sunglasses and a healthy dose of “let’s DO IT!”.