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May in Alaska? Not the first thing that springs to mind

Two-for-one deals and other discounts are being offered at two of Alaska's most popular national parks in a pitch to get visitors to consider the land of the midnight sun in springtime.

During the busiest summer months last year, the state received 1.63 million out-of-state visitors who collectively spent $1.5 billion, with 1.3 million of those guests in Alaska on vacation, according to the Alaska Office of Tourism Development.

While "No Vacancy" signs sprout like fireweed around Alaska in June, July and August, that's not the case in May. Two companies would like to change that.

In an effort to jump-start the tourism season, visitors are being offered discounts for accommodations near Denali National Park and Preserve in Interior Alaska and inside Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Southeast Alaska. Denali is the fifth most popular tourist destination in Alaska, followed by Glacier Bay.

The idea is to entice visitors to the parks a bit earlier, said Dawn Williams, sales manager for Denali Park Resorts.

Visitors mistakenly think that Alaska is too chilly in May, preferring instead to visit during the peak months of June and July, Williams said. But, the weather actually can be very nice with temperatures reaching into the 70s, she said.

Williams said even weather in the 50s and 60s can be nice.

How about 44 degrees? That's the average daily temperature from May 1 to June 1 at the Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66 on the park road inside Denali National Park, according to Scott Berg, a meteorological technician with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

But Berg agreed with Williams. On warm spring days, it can go into the 70s, especially nearer to the park entrance, he said.

Denali National Park, 175 miles from Anchorage — home to Mount McKinley — expects to get more than 425,000 visitors this year, with most of them showing up between June and August.

May in the 6-million-acre park is slower, with the scene still a bit wintery. The park's visitor center will open May 15. The entire park road is not expected to be open and passable until June 8.

Early season visitors have a better chance of seeing wolves and caribou along the part of the park road that is open in May, said park spokeswoman Kris Fister. The animals tend to move away from the road and further into the park with the increase in tour buses later in the season, she said.

Even though some of the facilities aren't open in May, "It is a nice opportunity to get here when the park is less crowded," Fister said.

Glacier Bay Lodges and Tours is offering an early season discount at the Glacier Bay Lodge, the only lodge licensed to operate inside the 3.3-million-acre Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast Alaska. Guests can book one night at the lodge for $150 and get the second night free.

The park, where summer temperatures average between 50 and 60 degrees, is expecting more than 400,000 visitors this year, with between 90 and 95 percent showing up on cruise ships. The first cruise ship arrives May 9.

It doesn't start with a trickle, said park ranger Rosemary Salazar. "It pretty much starts with a splash," she said.