When to Go
The best time to visit is May through August, 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 magic of this free, weeklong music festival is its inclusivity: 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. Held each April, Folk Fest draws singers, banjo masters, and fiddlers from all over the state and beyond. Past guest artists 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. More than 2,000 Native dancers gather in Juneau every even-numbered year in June to celebrate their heritage and the continued vitality of Alaska Native cultures. First held in 1982, this four-day cultural festival brings together tribal groups from all over the state, and includes a parade through the streets of Juneau for which participants don traditional, often very elaborate, handmade regalia. There's also a juried art show, Native fashion show, toddler regalia review, food contests, and a Native artist market. 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/institute/celebration. $18 one-day pass.
Great Alaska Craft Beer and Homebrew Festival. This wildly popular festival in Haines, known locally as Beerfest, offers a five-course gourmet brewers' dinner, beer-tasting sessions, a home-brew competition, and live music. Tickets, which sell out quickly, go on sale in early February. 296 Fair Dr., Haines, Alaska, 99827. 907/ 766--2476; www.seakfair.org/events/beer-fest.
Juneau Jazz & Classics. Performers from all over the world head to Juneau each May to celebrate music from Bach to Brubeck. Taj Mahal, Arlo Guthrie, Booker T. Jones, and the Manhattan Transfer are among past guests. First held in 1987, the festival runs for more than two weeks, showcasing jazz and classics along with blues, rock, and soul. Many events require tickets but others—such as lunch-hour concerts at the State Office Building and jazz jams at a local bar called the Lucky Lady—are free. In this spirit of accessibility, visiting musicians also perform in Juneau schools. 350 Whittier St., Suite 105, Juneau, Alaska, 99801. 907/463–3378; www.jazzandclassics.org.
Little Norway Festival. Enthusiasm for Petersburg's Norwegian heritage, expressed by rowdy locals dressed in horned helmets and fur vests, make this event one to catch. The festival has been held annually since 1958 on the weekend closest to May 17, Syttende Mai, or Norwegian Constitution Day. 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. Now under the artistic direction of world-renowned cellist Zuill Bailey, this 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 four-day festival and scientific symposium 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.
Southeast Alaska State Fair. From a logging show to a fiddle contest, the Southeast Alaska State Fair provides a slice-of-life introduction to the state's eclectic pastimes. Music is a highlight, and there are also kids' activities, tons of food options, and impressive crafts. 296 Fair Dr., Haines, Alaska, 99827. 907/766--2476; www.seakfair.org. From $10 per day.