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How To See The Northern Lights In Alaska
Did you know that the Northern Lights can occur at any time of the year? However, it is difficult to see this phenomenon when the sky is bright – especially during the Midnight Sun! This means that if you want to see the Northern Lights in Alaska, you will need to plan your trip to the Last Frontier from mid-August to late April. You will also need to decide where the best place to watch the Northern Lights in Alaska is for you.
During the winter months in Alaska, the short days and long nights create the perfect conditions for the Aurora Borealis to appear in the night sky. There are many places in Alaska to see the Northern Lights, but in general, the further away you are from cities and/or towns, the more likely you are to see the Northern Lights. This is because the light pollution from cities can obscure the view of the Aurora Borealis in the night sky. Fortunately, there are many tour operators who know where all the best Aurora-viewing spots are and who can make your viewing adventure an experience you’ll never forget!
Five Fun Facts About Alaska’s Northern Lights
The typical Aurora Season in Alaska runs from August 12 to April 21 of each year. However, sightings of the Northern Lights tend to increase around the months of September, October, and March. This is because the Earth’s magnetic field and the sun’s solar winds are in sync. The interaction of the magnetic field and the wind cause the dazzling display we call the Northern Lights.
- March is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska. During the spring, the skies are generally clear. However, keep in mind that the intensity of the display, as well as its overall visibility, depends on your location. Finding the best place to view the Northern Lights in Alaska can be tricky!
- Once you’ve found one of Alaska’s best places to see the Northern lights, be on the lookout from sundown deep into the night! According to Alaska’s Geophysical Institute, the ideal time to observe the Aurora is around midnight, plus or minus an hour. However, seasoned Aurora hunters will tell you that the Northern Lights can occur any time during the nighttime hours. Be ready!
- The colors that you see in the night sky are influenced by the light’s altitude. Usually, the Aurora appears as a green glow, but it is not uncommon to see a red layer above that – and a purple layer above the strip of red. The different colors appear when the particles that make up the lights interact with different gases in the atmosphere. Different concentrations of certain gases occur at various altitudes, causing the different colors you see.
- The Aurora can be predicted, but not as accurately as our weather. Scientists can predict a Northern Lights display a few days in advance by watching the sun for unusual activities like flares. It is also possible to use the information collected by satellites, such as the incoming speed and intensity of the solar wind, to predict the appearance of the Aurora a few hours in advance.
- Fairbanks, Alaska is the best place to watch the Northern Lights in Alaska. The city sits inland from the coast, which means that clouding is at a minimum. It is also at the perfect latitude for Aurora viewing. The town is a popular hub for Northern Lights viewing, meaning that lodging, restaurants, and Aurora viewing tours are easily accessible for travelers.
Getting Off The Beaten Path For An Aurora Adventure
There are many places in Alaska to see the Northern Lights, and just as many that claim to be the best place to view Northern Lights in Alaska! The good news, however, is that it isn’t a competition – picking the best spot to watch the Aurora is often based on personal preference and the other activities offered in the area you want to visit. Here are three not-so-common places to consider for your next Aurora-chasing adventure:
- Nancy Lake State Recreation Area – located between the Susitna River and the Talkeetna Mountains just 67 miles north of Anchorage, Nancy Lake provides a peaceful setting for outdoor activities like canoeing, fishing, camping, skiing, and snowmobiling. In the winter months, it is also a popular place for Northern Lights viewing. There are 14 public-use cabins available to rent, as well as a campground that is open year-round. The park encompasses 40 miles of trails to explore when you aren’t searching the sky for the Northern Lights, as well as several lakes that are perfect for ice fishing.
- Hatcher’s Pass – this local hot spot is located between the towns of Willow and Palmer, in the Talkeetna Mountains. The pass is located 90 minutes from Anchorage and is a perfect spot for hiking, wildlife viewing, or skiing. It is also one of the best places to watch the Northern Lights in Alaska! The state maintains the road up to the pass during the winter months, making it a perfect getaway for skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, and Aurora chasers.
- The North Pole – yes, the North Pole! This city, located 20 minutes southeast of Fairbanks, celebrates Christmas year-round. Visit the Santa Claus House by day, or visit the town’s huge holiday store to shop for ornaments and toys. When you’re finished shopping, hit the local trails for a little cross-country skiing or try your hand at ice fishing. And, when night falls, enjoy searching the Arctic sky for a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Searching The Night Sky For The Northern Lights
Many locals will tell you that all you have to do to see the Northern Lights in the night sky over Alaska is to go outside and look up. While there is some truth to that statement, there are definitely certain places in Alaska to see the Northern Lights that are better than others. It just depends what else you want to experience on your trip to this amazing state!