Alaskan Geography, History, Weather & Maps

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Vitus Bering, a Dane working for the Russians, and Alexei Chirikov discovered the Alaskan mainland and the Aleutian Islands in 1741. The tremendous land mass of Alaska—equal to one-fifth of the continental U.S.—was unexplored in 1867 when Secretary of State William Seward arranged for its purchase from the Russians for $7,200,000. The transfer of the territory took place on Oct. 18, 1867. Despite a price of about two cents an acre, the purchase was widely ridiculed as “Seward's Folly.” The first official census (1880) reported a total of 33,426 Alaskans, all but 430 being of aboriginal stock. The Gold Rush of 1898 resulted in a mass influx of more than 30,000 people. Since then, Alaska has contributed billions of dollars' worth of products to the U.S. economy.

In 1968, a large oil and gas reservoir near Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Coast was found. The Prudhoe Bay reservoir, with an estimated recoverable 10 billion barrels of oil and 27 trillion cubic feet of gas, is twice as large as any other oil field in North America. The Trans-Alaska pipeline was completed in 1977 at a cost of $7.7 billion. Oil flows through the 800-mile-long pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to the port of Valdez.

Other important industries are fisheries, wood and wood products, furs, and tourism.

Denali National Park and Mendenhall Glacier in North Tongass National Forest are of interest, as is the large totem pole collection at Sitka National Historical Park. The Katmai National Park includes the “Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes,” an area of active volcanoes.

The Alaska Native population includes Eskimos, Indians, and Aleuts. About half of all Alaska Natives are Eskimos. (Eskimo is used for Alaska Natives; Inuit is used for Eskimos living in Canada.) The two main Eskimo groups, Inupiat and Yupik, are distinguished by their language and geography. The former live in the north and northwest parts of Alaska and speak Inupiaq, while the latter live in the south and southwest and speak Yupik.

About a third of Alaska Natives are American Indians. The major tribes are the Alaskan Athabaskan in the central part of the state, and the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida in the southeast.

The Aleuts, native to the Aleutian Islands, Kodiak Island, the lower Alaska and Kenai Peninsulas, and Prince William Sound, are physically and culturally related to the Eskimos. About 15% of Alaska Natives are Aleuts.

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Alaska Weather

When to Visit Alaska

Visitors often ask: When is the best month to visit Alaska? You can't go wrong visiting Alaska anytime between May 10 and September 15. The days are long, nature is in full bloom, and the air is alive with energy.

 

Alaska Summer Visitor Season

  • Most tours operate mid-May to mid-September, with the exception of those into Denali (mid-June to end of August).
  • Peak season is mid-June to mid-August. Before and after, some tours and hotels offer "shoulder season" discounts of 10 – 25%

 

Alaska Daylight

June 21 is the longest day of the year, with 19 hours of daylight in Anchorage, 22 in Fairbanks, and 18 in Southeast. But from early May through September, days are considerably longer than at lower latitudes.

Alaska's sky is light nearly all night long from late May to late July (unless you're out and about at 3am). And it's light past 10pm for another month on either side of that.

 

Rain

On average, Alaska's summers are slightly rainier than the rest of the U.S. But May is dry, with only a 25% chance of measurable rain on any given day. Alaska gets rainier as the summer progresses. By August, the chance of rain is just over 50%.  

Temperatures

You'll find Alaska's summer temperatures surprisingly pleasant. Daytime highs range from 60°F – 80°F. Nighttime lows are refreshingly cool, dipping into the 40's – 50's. May and September are 5° – 10° cooler.

 

So When's the Best Season to Visit Alaska?

Put it all together, and we peg June 15 – July 15 as the best time to visit Alaska. But not everyone can visit during that month window, and that's no problem.

Alaska weather is not predictable. You can come in August and bask in sunshine or in June and face "horizontal rain" (driving rain plus strong winds).

Alaskans have learned not to let weather interfere with their plans—or mood. We remind ourselves: if the weather were better, it wouldn't stay Alaska for long; it would start to look more like Los Angeles.  

 

Other Magic Dates

  • If you plan to hike in the high country or Arctic regions, know that the tundra doesn't really melt until late June.
  • If you're worried about Alaska mosquites (unjustifiably so?), come the last week in July or first week in August. Night frost will have killed off a lot of the mosquitoes, but you'll have to put up with chillier evenings.
  • If you're interested in particular festivals, check out our calendar.

Bottom Line

Alaska's beauty and summer daylight from mid-May to mid-September are so different from the lower latitudes that we think you'll find a visit anytime during this period to be magical and unlike anything you've ever experienced.
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San
Charles W. Buntjer

 

Published on: 2011.10.15

San
San Francisco

    

Updated on: 2011.10.15