When to Go
The best time to visit is June through August, when the weather is mildest (though you should still anticipate cool, wet, windy, and sometimes stormy weather), daylight hours are longest, and the wildlife is most abundant. Because summer is so short, though, things happen fast, and seasonal activities may need to be crammed into just a couple of weeks.
May and August are best for birding. The peak wildflower season is usually short, particularly in the Arctic, when most flowers may not blossom until mid-June and then go to seed by late July.
Salmon runs vary from region to region, so it's best to do your homework before choosing dates. For the most part, though, you're looking at July and August, which is also when the tundra starts turning from its summer hues to autumnal colors. The best times for bear viewing coincide with salmon runs. Note that fishing, bear viewing, and other wildlife exploration often involve licenses and permits that must be secured ahead of time, sometimes many months in advance. Few things about Alaska, especially during the too-short summer season, can be arranged on the fly. Plan ahead for best results.
Just because this is a remote area, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on, and some of the festivals and events in the Bush could well sway your decision about when to visit.
Cama-i Dance Festival. Each spring, the Bethel Council on the Arts hosts a regional celebration called the Cama-i Dance Festival (in Yup'ik, cama-i means "hello"). Held in the local high school's gym either the last weekend in March or the first two weeks of April, this three-day festival celebrates the food, dance, music, and crafts of the Alaska Native people and draws hoards of visitors from Bethel, surrounding villages, and beyond. Bethel High School, 1 Ron Edwards Memorial Dr., Bethel, Alaska, 99559. www.camai.org.
Heart of the Aleutians Festival. The city of Unalaska holds the Heart of the Aleutians Festival every August. A beloved local tradition, this free, two-day festival brings together residents of all ages to peruse arts and crafts, listen to local music, eat specialty foods, participate in fun runs, and much more during a celebration of summer, friends, family, and community. Kelty Field, Unalaska, Alaska, 99685. 907/581–1297; www.ci.unalaska.ak.us/parksrec/page/heart-aleutians-festival.
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (). Billed as "The Last Great Race", the Iditarod pulls in spectators (and mushers) from around the world to brave the Alaska winter to witness or to participate as racers and volunteers in this massive feat of endurance for mushers and their dogs. Many visitors watch the dog teams take off from the ceremonial start in Anchorage, and then travel to the finish line in Nome to celebrate as teams cross the finish line. The race, run in March, covers 1,049 snowy, backcountry miles from the official start in Willow, 90 miles north of Anchorage, to Nome. Alaska. 907/376–5155; www.iditarod.com.
Kuskokwim 300 Dog Sled Race. Every January, the Kuskokwim 300 dogsled race—“K300” to locals—brings mushers and fans to Bethel, where the 300-mile race both starts and ends. The best known of the middle distance dogsled races, the K300 course commemorates one of the earliest mail routes used in the Bush. The $150,000 or more purse comes as a welcome reward after negotiating the notoriously harsh and difficult weather and trail conditions. Smaller, shorter races happen later in the winter in Bethel as well. Downtown, Bethel, Alaska. 907/545–3300; www.k300.org.