When to Go
The best time to visit is May through September, when weather is mildest, rain is less frequent, daylight hours are longest, wildlife is most abundant, and festivals and visitor-oriented activities are in full swing. But remember: Southeast sits in a rain forest, so rain can rule the day. There's a reason why XtraTuf waterproof boots are nicknamed "Southeast sneakers." Summertime high temperatures hover around the low to mid-60s, with far warmer days interspersed throughout. Shoulder-season temperatures are cooler, and the region is less crowded. Bring rain gear, layered clothing, sturdy footwear, a hat, and binoculars.
Allow yourself at least a week here. Plenty of adventures await ambitious independent travelers who plan ahead and ride state ferries.
If strolling through downtown shopping districts and museum-hopping is your idea of a perfect afternoon, journey to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, or Petersburg. For a wilderness experience in a peaceful, remote location, consider booking a multiple-night stay at one of Southeast's remote fly-in lodges.
Alaska Folk Festival. The free, weeklong festival held each April draws singers, banjo masters, fiddlers, and cloggers from all over the state and beyond. Every performer, regardless of his or her level of professionalism, is given 15 minutes on stage, with the exception of the featured guest artists, who play two one-hour sets. Past performers have included folk singer Nanci Griffith and western swing band Hot Club of Cowtown. Almost as fun as the festival itself is the after-hours bar scene that blossoms around it. Most local bars host performances and jam sessions; on the weekend the music continues into the wee hours. Centennial Hall, 101 Egan Dr., Juneau, Alaska, 99801. 907/463–3316; www.akfolkfest.org.
Celebration. Alaska's largest cultural festival, held biennially in June of every even-numbered year, brings together Native groups from all over the state to dance, share artworks and crafts, and socialize. The event includes a parade through the streets of Juneau for which different tribes don traditional, often very elaborate handmade regalia. There are also dance performances and a juried art show. All events are open to the public, but the dance performances require a purchased ticket. 1 Sealaska Plaza, Juneau, Alaska, 99801. 907/463–4844; www.sealaskaheritage.org/celebration.
Juneau Jazz & Classics. Each May performers from all over the world head to Juneau to celebrate music from Bach to Brubeck. Taj Mahal, Arlo Guthrie, Booker T. Jones, and the Manhattan Transfer are among past guests. The festival runs for more than two weeks, showcasing jazz and classics along with blues, rock, and soul. 350 Whittier St., Suite 105, Juneau, Alaska, 99801. 907/463–3378; www.jazzandclassics.org.
Little Norway Festival. The festival has been held annually since 1958 on the weekend closest to May 17, Syttende Mai, or Norwegian Constitution Day. The town's Norwegian heritage, which extends back to 1910, remains one of the defining elements of this community. You won't find better Norwegian folk dancing or beer-batter halibut outside Norway. Petersburg, Alaska, 99833. 907/772–4636; www.petersburg.org.
Sitka Summer Music Festival. Southeast's premier chamber-music festival, a monthlong celebration in June, attracts musicians from as far away as Europe and Asia for concerts and special events. Most performances are held in the Sitka Historical Society and Museum. 104 Jeff Davis St., Sitka, Alaska, 99835. 907/747–6774; www.sitkamusicfestival.org.
Sitka WhaleFest. Hosted by the Sitka Sound Science Center, this festival is held around town in early November, when the whales are plentiful (as many as 80) and tourists are not. Events include lectures, concerts, races, and cruises. 834 Lincoln St., Suite 22, Sitka, Alaska, 99835. 907/747–8878; www.sitkawhalefest.org.