The Australian sun was enough to convince Brian that it was time to venture somewhere cold. I started looking into Alaska the week we returned from our trip halfway around the world. We purchased our tickets to Anchorage in March, with departure scheduled for April. Soon after, I discovered that visiting Alaska in April is not normally recommended, especially for first-timers.
Break Up Season: April-May
April is not known as the best time to visit Alaska. It’s considered break up season, a period of unearthing that occurs when melting snow and ice give way to muddy pathways and terrain.
Forums across Reddit and Tripadvisor urged would-be first-time visitors to avoid break up season in favor of mid-May through the summer months. Locals and long-time vacationers warned of brown and dreary views and unpredictable weather. They detailed muddy conditions and the slow reveal of a winter’s worth of trash beneath the slush. By most accounts, Alaska in April sounded like a miserable mess.
Sounds dreamy, huh? Well, I’m happy to share that our April adventure was actually pretty dreamy for us.
A Quiet Introduction
Brian and I arrived in Anchorage on a Thursday just after 1:00AM local time (6:00AM back home). We picked up our rental car and made our way to the hotel. The snow-lined streets were mostly empty. The crunch and crackle of snowy ice beneath our feet punctuated the early morning silence.
Barren trees and dirty snow piled high welcomed our tired presence. We made it to Alaska.
Happy and delirious from a hectic travel day (more on that here), Brian and I tucked our awe and excitement into bed with us. Thankfully, we had an hour and a half to nap before the work day began.
Alaska in April wasn’t a deal-breaker for us, despite the onslaught of strong suggestions to avoid traveling during this time. After all, we planned to visit the state in the same way we visit others: at our own pace while living our day-to-day lives.
Brian and I carefully budget our vacation days, which means we don’t generally take time off when we travel. We work on the road. Most of our getaways are what we describe as workcations.
We maintained East Coast hours and regular work days while also making the most of our free time to explore. April worked beautifully for our intentions; we didn’t prioritize big tourist to-dos, warm weather experiences, or summer views.
Ultimately, we simply wanted to check out Anchorage and chill out in a bit of winter weather.
April Adventures Sans Crowds
I was excited to book our Alaska trip in April. It meant that we didn’t have to deal with the crowds of tourist season. However, it also meant that touring and activity options were limited due to the off-season. Honestly, this is perfectly fine by us. For our first visit, we’d rather have a smaller selection of things to do than have to deal with crowds!
Everything we did, from ordinary grocery shopping and brewery check-ins to restaurants and attractions, we had a considerable amount of time and space to ourselves. It was incredible.
To maximize our free time in Anchorage, we made sure our trip included a full weekend. An entire weekend provides better flexibility and opportunities for day-trip adventures. Over the course of those two days, we spent 9.5 hours driving through small towns and spectacular views.
Although the route to Talkeetna is not particularly scenic, the reason for our visit most definitely is. Talkeetna is located at the southern border of Denali National Park and Preserve. We would have LOVED to visit the park, but most of it still lies under a blanket of snow and ice. Unfortunately, its bus service isn’t operational until May 20th, with the full route only accessible after June 8th.
Since Brian and I weren’t able to tour Denali National Park, we decided that seeing it from above would be the next best thing.
We booked a Denali flightseeing tour through K2 Aviation. A vintage 7-seater de Havilland Beaver took us high in the sky to soar above Denali for 360° views. The Denali Grand Tour with the Glacier Landing offers immersive views of staggering cliff faces and stunning formations. It highlights the climbing routes of Denali’s first pioneers, as well as the rugged beauty of geologic wonders including Little Switzerland, Mount Hunter, Kahiltna Glacier, and more.
Ruth Glacier is a sensational treat for the senses. The Glacier Landing on Ruth Glacier is an additional charge to the tour, but Brian and I felt that it was well worth it. The descent alone is a grounding experience (pun intended), as it takes you in between rocky cliffs and looming granite walls. Flying above Denali is one thing, but stepping foot onto a glacier comprised of ice that is 4,000 feet deep is a whole different kind of experience.
Because we were outside of the tourist season, the only other guest along for the ride was a man on a business trip. Our 7-seater plane carried the three of us, along with 4 K2 Aviation employees. We spent about 25 minutes soaking in the immensity of where we stood between the peaceful and imposing ice, snow, and rock. The frost in the air had no impact on the cozy calm and appreciation we felt as we sat with one another, gazing up at the grandeur of our surroundings.
Before we headed back towards Anchorage, we made a pit-stop in downtown Talkeetna for a quick bite and drink at Denali Brewpub. Their Fish & Chips made for a super satisfying and tasty treat!
The following day, Brian and I headed south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway. Much to our delight, the drive is significantly more scenic than the one to Talkeetna.
It was a gorgeous road trip along the coast of Turnagain Arm, a picturesque waterway with dramatic views of towering mountains and steep cliffs. We passed by quaint towns, beautiful wildlife, and turquoise glacier-fed lakes that were beginning to thaw.
Even though we had a peaceful drive, our bodies felt a little bit nervous for what awaited us in Seward.
Major Marine Tours
Brian and I thought it would be a great idea to book a day cruise while visiting Alaska. Seward is known for its dynamic marine life, which includes whales, seals, sea otters, salmon, halibut, and more.
We chose to book the Spring Wildlife Cruise through Major Marine Tours. From March through April, this 4-hour tour travels through Resurrection Bay and the Gulf of Alaska. There are many other cruises offered through this company, though the Spring Wildlife Cruise is the only one operating this early in the season.
Brian and I have cruised on smaller boats before, even ones a little smaller than the 86’ catamaran we were about to board for this tour. However, we’ve never sailed in Alaskan waters and were slightly anxious about the possibility of seasickness. Luckily, our Ginger Root Tablets and Dramamine worked like a charm! It was a successful, awe-inspiring, and tranquil adventure on the water.
The captain narrated the whole tour. The entire crew was amazing. Friendly and knowledgeable, they added a wonderfully pleasant and educational component to our experience. By the time we returned to the dock, we had seen a humpback whale, sea lions, otters, seals, Dall’s porpoises, mountain goats, and more.
We truly enjoyed our time on this tour. Not only was it a pretty smooth ride, but it was also peaceful and uncrowded. Only 60 others joined us on the 150-passenger vessel. It was so lovely.
Aside from our weekend excursions, Brian and I didn’t have any concrete plans for the week. After our work days, we intended to simply do whatever we felt like doing. We wanted to slowly take in our surroundings as much as we could.
The week before we arrived in Alaska, we read that Anchorage was experiencing record snowfall in April. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we wouldn’t be hiking like we thought we would. In any case, it certainly didn’t stop us from enjoying some scenic walks. Our explorations took us to the Flattop Mountain Trailhead, Point Woronzof, and the Arctic Valley Overlook.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
My favorite outing from our trip was to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood. This animal sanctuary offers magnificent scenic backdrops. Situated between the Chugach Mountain Range and Turnagain Arm Inlet, this wildlife center encompasses over 200 acres of habitats for orphaned and injured animals.
Brian and I relished in the off-season serenity and took our time walking around the self-guided 1.5 mile loop. During our entire visit, we only saw maybe 10 others in far off distances. It felt as though we had the experience to ourselves. Wood bison, wolves, muskox, reindeer, bears, and elk, among others, are given a home here at the sanctuary. It is a beautiful space to roam for residents and visitors alike.
History and Heritage
I like learning about the places I visit. Museums are my kind of thing, especially when they’re done well. While in Anchorage, Brian and I took the opportunity to visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum.
I would recommend visiting both for a thorough overview of Alaska Native culture, traditions, and history. Brian and I visited the Heritage Center first and felt that it gave us a stronger understanding and appreciation of what we observed and learned at the museum.
The Alaska Native Heritage Center offers an intimate educational experience through life-sized traditional dwellings, native crafts, and artifacts, as well as video presentations. During the summertime, the Heritage Center also includes dance performances, Alaska Native Games demonstrations, and more.
The Anchorage Museum is the state’s largest museum. It holds over 26,000 objects and over 700,000 photographs and archives. Comprised of four levels, this museum offers an immersive collection of Alaskan art, history, science, and culture. Its compelling overview of Alaska’s Native cultures amid political and social changes delivers incredible insight and storytelling.
Truthfully, Brian and I could have spent a lot more time at the museum. There are a number of interactive displays that we would have enjoyed taking some extra time to explore. We’ll be back for another visit!
Food and drink are a priority on our travels. Brian and I travel to experience. And eating? It’s all part of the experience! We love ourselves some good eats. Brian and I bookmarked a handful of breweries and restaurants to try.
Because we stuck to East Coast hours, we would have dinner around 2:00-3:00PM local time. Even though that’s an off-hour for restaurants, we didn’t run into any issues with closures. Honestly, this was a happy surprise for us, especially since we had several problems dining out post-COVID elsewhere.
We sipped on pours at Anchorage Brewing Company, Midnight Sun Brewing Co., and 49th State Brewing. Our appetites were satiated at Tommy’s Burger Stop, Saverio’s Pizzeria, Miso Sushi, and Moose’s Tooth.
These little indulgences were all local and appreciated. Brian and I completely and totally savored the fresh sashimi and sushi at Miso Sushi and the ooey-gooey goodness of the King Crab Grilled Cheese and Chowder at 49th State Brewing.
Alaska in April was fantastic for us. It was everything we intended it to be – quiet and simple. It was a memorable introduction to Alaska’s natural beauty, history, and good food.
Alternative Things to Do
April is definitely not a no-go zone, like the forums warned. Brian and I had a beautiful time out there. The adventure lies in what you want to do and see.
Other April adventures visitors could explore include:
- The Alaska Railroad Hurricane Turn Train – Winter Service
- The Alaska Railroad Aurora Winter Train Service
- Stops and hikes along Seward Highway
- Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward
- Glacier Hike Day Tours
- Downtown Anchorage Food & History Walking Tour
- Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum
- Alaska Law Enforcement Museum
- Alyseka Winter Aerial Tram
- Dog Sledding Tours
Sure, it might be muddy and miserable-looking in some areas, but if you expect it and prepare for it, you’ll manage just fine! In fact, as long as you’re prepared with all the right gear (snowshoes, cleats, etc.), you can even do a little winter hiking.
Honestly, I wouldn’t shy away from traveling to the Anchorage area in April. It might not be the most quintessential time to visit for the must-do and must-see tourist highlights, but it still offers an incredibly beautiful adventure – even in April.
A Great First Impression
Brian and I look forward to returning to Alaska. It’s a big state, after all! We haven’t been dissuaded from visiting during break up season, so I am sure we will be back to visit a few different cities then. As for the southcentral area of Alaska, I can say that we plan to return a little closer to the start or end of the tourist season.
We’d love to check out a few more options that weren’t available to us in April. However, we will absolutely avoid the height of crowds and busyness. It’s not our kind of thing. We loved the quiet experience we had in April; it was a great first impression of Alaska. We look forward to the adventure we’ll have when we return.