When & Where to See the Aurora Borealis

The Best Time to See the Aurora Borealis

aurora borealis on an Alaskan hillsideLike all natural wonders, the Aurora Borealis is hard to predict, but unsurpassed in beauty. In Alaska, the pristine wilderness is a perfect backdrop for this celestial display. Though the aurora technically occurs year round, it isn’t always visible to the human eye. However, there are some factors that help guide visitors to find the best time to see the northern lights.

Best Time of Year to See the Aurora:

Seasons change a little differently in Alaska compared to the lower 48 states. Being so far north  creates different weather patterns and solar activity that need to be considered.

January – March:

The beginning of the new year is a popular time to see and take pictures of the northern lights. These long, cold nights create excellent viewing conditions for the aurora, making them likelier to appear. The spring equinox in March is known for brilliant celestial displays as well.

April – August:

Between April and August, the aurora becomes less visible because of longer daylight hours. Especially because of the midnight sun, it can feel like an endless summer. With this phenomenon lasting from mid-May to early August, this is not the best time to visit Alaska for the northern lights.

September – December:

September and October are ideal months for visitors to see the northern lights. This is a great time to visit Alaska before the real ice and cold of winter settle in, though cloud cover may appear. As an added bonus, the lights may reflect off lake water, creating an illusion of a double aurora. November and December see the first snowfalls of the year, as the seasons change from fall to winter. As the nights become longer and darker, the aurora becomes more brilliant.


Northern Lights Viewing Conditions

16388172 1453882011349764 8003743711680028280 nPhotographing the night sky can be fickle. If you’ve ever tried to take a picture of an impressive moon and noticed that the resulting image didn’t do it justice, you get the idea.

One crucial aspect to keep in mind is the weather conditions. Clear skies are essential for optimal aurora viewing and photography. Avoiding nights with heavy cloud cover or precipitation will significantly increase your chances of witnessing the mesmerizing dance of the northern lights. Additionally, choosing a location away from light pollution is paramount. Picking a spot with minimal artificial light will enhance the visibility and vibrancy of the auroras, allowing you to capture truly breathtaking shots. By planning your aurora adventure with careful attention to these factors, you can maximize your experience and create unforgettable memories under the dazzling night sky.

In addition to visiting Alaska at the right time of year, here are some more things to consider before deciding on the best time to see the northern lights:

Clear Skies:

As with all things in the sky (think stars, fireworks, even the sun), clouds can obscure visibility. Same goes for the aurora, so observing the sky when it’s clear is the best way to capture the best views and photographs.

Solar Activity:

Since the northern lights are created by the sun’s solar flares, the northern lights  vary based on the sun’s activity. Observing the 11 year sun cycle and equinoxes can help predict when the aurora will be it’s most brilliant.

Get Out of Town:

Though the aurora can still be seen from cities like Fairbanks, Alaska, glowing city lights can affect the night sky’s visibility. Viewing the northern lights from a secluded place, away from external light will ensure that you see the full vibrancy and colors of the northern lights.

Exploring remote locations like Wiseman or Coldfoot in Alaska can provide an unparalleled experience when witnessing the aurora borealis. These small, isolated towns offer minimal light pollution, allowing the celestial dance of colors in the night sky to shine brightly and vividly. Imagine standing under a canopy of swirling greens, purples, and blues, feeling the mystical energy of the aurora borealis dancing above you. Embracing the solitude and tranquility of these untouched landscapes adds an extra layer of magic to an already mesmerizing natural phenomenon.

More Remote Locations To See The Northern Lights

  1. Brooks Range: Located in northern Alaska, the Brooks Range offers remote and pristine locations away from light pollution, ideal for viewing the Northern Lights.
  2. Gates of the Arctic National Park: This vast wilderness area in northern Alaska provides excellent opportunities for observing the Aurora Borealis in a secluded environment.
  3. Denali National Park: Away from the tourist hub, the remote areas of Denali National Park offer dark skies and optimal conditions for witnessing the Northern Lights dancing above the iconic Denali mountain. See Denali With Us! >
  4. Nome: Situated on the western coast of Alaska, Nome provides a remote location with minimal light pollution, making it a great spot for experiencing the Aurora Borealis.
  5. Barrow (Utqiaġvik): Located in the northernmost part of Alaska, Barrow offers a unique opportunity to witness the Northern Lights in a remote Arctic setting.
  6. Coldfoot: Positioned along the Dalton Highway, Coldfoot is a remote outpost in the Brooks Range region, offering excellent chances to see the Aurora away from urban areas.
  7. Wiseman: A small community in the Brooks Range, Wiseman provides a remote and tranquil setting for viewing the Northern Lights amidst Alaska’s wilderness.
  8. Bettles: Tucked away in the interior of Alaska, Bettles offers dark skies and minimal light pollution, making it an ideal destination for Northern Lights enthusiasts.
  9. Fairbanks (Outside the City): While Fairbanks itself is not entirely remote, venturing just outside the city limits provides access to secluded areas with optimal conditions for viewing the Aurora Borealis. See The Northern Lights In Fairbanks, AK >
  10. Kodiak Island: Although not as far north as some other locations, Kodiak Island offers remote coastal spots where the Northern Lights can still be observed under the right conditions.

Learn more about Gondwana’s Alaskan Ecotour!

Best Time to See the Northern Lights

Green Northern Lights

Gondwana’s Northern Lights Ecotour promises unparalleled views of the northern lights, in addition to several nature and culture focused adventures. We plan our trip duration and dates based on weather, aurora intensity and the phases of the moon to maximize your odds!

Read more about Northern Lights hunting and how it involves venturing into remote, dark-sky locations in search of the elusive aurora borealis, often with the aid of local guides or tour operators who are experienced in predicting optimal viewing conditions. Patience and flexibility are key, as the auroras can be unpredictable, requiring travelers to be prepared to wait for hours or adjust their plans based on weather and geomagnetic activity.

Download Our Northern Lights Brochure Here.

trips to the northern lights in alaska

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