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Sight-seeing in the arctic.

Arctic Cruise: When to Go?

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May through September is the perfect season to plan your Arctic cruise!

At a Glance:
  • High Season: June-July (warmest weather)
  • Shoulder Season: May, August-September (chillier temperatures, less insects)
  • Aurora Borealis: August-November
  • Migrating animals: Autumn
  • Don't Visit: December-early April (frigid temperatures, short, dark days)
Though the austere Arctic landscape is often imagined to be a cold white wasteland, the brief months of summer see the flora blossoming and the fauna emerging from their long winter dormancy. Travelers on an Arctic cruise will have a chance to see an abundance of wildlife, from caribou and moose to humpback whales and ringed seals, and up to 200 species of birds, including fulmars, puffins, guillemots, and eagles.

So when to go? July is the high season in many Arctic destinations, but though the weather is at its warmest, the mosquitoes and gnats are out in full force, which can put a bit of a damper on your travels. Cruises in late May or early June come before the high mosquito season, and these spring months can also be a good time to see the elusive polar bears, grizzlies emerging from their winter dens, and caribou migrating to their summer habitat.

Another good time to cruise the Arctic—while avoiding the insect life—is late August and September.

For other wildlife, late summer is prime viewing time. Humpback whales can be spotted off the coasts of Alaska and Greenland in the late summer and autumn months, while caribou can be seen en masse throughout the autumn as they migrate to their winter feeding grounds. Also be on the lookout for the shaggy muskoxen, Arctic foxes, walruses, and several types of seals.

Another perk to visiting in August is that this time marks the first of four months of stunning displays of the aurora borealis, which can be a highlight of the dusk and nighttime hours on an Arctic cruise.

Where & when to go to see certain types of wildlife:
  • Grizzly bears: Summer
    • Alaska & NW Canada
    • Occasionally sighted in Arctic Russia & Scandinavia
  • Polar bears: Spring & Summer
    • During their prime feeding months: rarely seen, but may be viewed in Svalbard/Spitsbergen, Alaska, Wrangel Island in Russia, and Grise Fjord in Canada
  • Moose: All year
    • Alaska
    • NW Canada
  • Muskoxen: All year
    • Alaska
    • NW Canada
    • Greenland
  • Wolves: All year
    • Rare, but may be seen in the islands & mainland of northern Canada and Alaska
  • Caribou: Spring & Autumn
    • Throughout the Arctic. Domesticated caribou (reindeer) are common in northern Russia, Scandinavia, and Svalbard
  • Walrus: All year
    • Coasts of northeast Canada
    • Western Greenland
    • Eastern Greenland
    • Svalbard
    • Northern Scandinavia & western Russia
    • Laptev, Chukchi, & Bering Seas
  • Humpback whales: Late August & September
    • Coasts of Alaska
    • Southern Greenland
    • Iceland
    • Svalbard
    • Northern Scandinavia
    • Bering Sea
  • Orcas:
    • Coasts of Alaska
    • Pacific NW
    • NE Canada & West Greenland
    • Northern Scandinavia, Svalbard
    • Eastern Russia
    • Bering Sea
    • Baffin Bay
    • Norwegian Sea
    • Barents Sea
  • Belugas:
    • Coasts of Alaska (Bristol Bay & Cook Inlet)
    • NE Canada
    • West Greenland, Svalbard
    • Northern Russia and the Bering Sea
  • Narwhals:
    • Northern Hudson Bay
    • Shores of NE Canada
    • Eastern Greenland & Svalbard
    • Arctic Ocean off the coast of Russia
  • Bowhead whale:
    • Western Arctic (Bering, Chukchi & Beaufort Seas)
    • Canadian Arctic (Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, & Hudson Bay)
    • The Okhotsk Sea southeast of Russia
    • Far north Atlantic Ocean between Svalbard & Greenland

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