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Visiting Alaska To See The Northern Lights
For many people, seeing the Northern Lights is a bucket list experience. Fortunately, you don’t have to leave the U.S. to see this awe-inspiring, natural phenomenon! The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, are the result of energized particles from the sun that crash into the Earth’s upper atmosphere. This interaction creates the vibrant hues of green, yellow, blue, pink, and violet that Aurora chasers can see in the night sky!
Where can you see the Northern Lights in Alaska? Alaska is one of the best places on Earth to see the Northern Lights! Some locals joke that you simply have to step outside to see the lights on a given night, but there’s a little more to it than that. Keep reading if you want to learn more about the best places to see the Aurora Borealis in Alaska!
The Best Time Of Year To See The Northern Lights In Alaska
There are certain times of the year when the Northern Lights are visible in Alaska’s night sky. This is called Aurora Season. Alaska’s Aurora Season falls between mid-August and late April, peaking in March. The visibility of the lights in the night sky is defined by Alaska’s long, dark nights as well as the solar activity that influences Aurora activity. Answering “when” is almost as important as answering where you can see the Northern Lights in Alaska.
Why Is Alaska Such A Good Place To See The Aurora Borealis?
Alaska is located directly under the Auroral Oval. This is a huge ring above the Earth’s geomagnetic North Pole that is created by the Earth’s magnetic fields. When the particles from the sun crash into the Earth’s magnetic fields, the collision creates the phenomenon we call the Northern Lights.
Although many locations in Alaska offer the opportunity for Aurora chasers to catch a glimpse of this amazing display, some factors make it easier to see the Northern Lights.
- To see the Northern Lights, the sky needs to be clear. Clouds will obstruct the view of this light display.
- Viewing needs to take place away from light pollution. Cities are not an ideal place to see the Northern Lights! If you are wondering where in Alaska to see the Northern Lights, getting out into the less inhabited areas is a good start.
- The Aurora only appears when the sky is dark! Alaska’s long winter nights offer Aurora-chasers the perfect opportunity (and lots of nighttime hours) to see the lights.
Picking An Aurora-Viewing Destination
There are many places to see the Northern Lights, but if you are looking to take advantage of other uniquely Alaskan activities during daylight hours, location matters! Here is a list of the seven best places to see the Aurora Borealis in Alaska:
- Fairbanks – located just below the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks is the ideal city for Northern Lights viewing. It’s easy to get there, too – the Fairbanks International Airport is a hub for travelers. There are also plenty of tour companies that can take you on guided Northern Lights viewing tours by night and help you enjoy all the other fun activities Alaska has to offer by day! Fairbanks is located beneath the Auroral Oval, but it also has temperate weather and minimal light pollution, making conditions just right for Aurora chasers. If you stay in Fairbanks for at least three nights during Aurora Season, you will most likely have a 90 percent chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
- Denali National Park – this park is a great place to see the Northern Lights, but it is also known as one of the top tourist attractions in the U.S. The park can be difficult to access in the winter months, but if you want to head out to see the Northern Light during the cold season, consider staying at the Aurora Denali Lodge in Healy! Located less than 15 miles from the park entrance, this property offers year-round accommodations. It’s a great basecamp for Northern Lights viewing adventures as well as wildlife sightings. Visitors report seeing bears, moose, lynx, owls, and snowshoe hares just outside their doors.
- Nome – if you want to experience rural life in Alaska and see the Northern Lights, this rural town is the place for you! Located on the southern Seward Peninsula Coast on Norton Sound of the Bering Sea, Nome was a booming town during Alaska’s gold rush. Now, it is home to Aurora chasers and the famous finish line for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Flights from Anchorage to Nome are available daily.
- Anchorage – there are many opportunities to see the Northern Lights outside of Alaska, and just as many tours to take you to all the best viewing spots. The five best spots are: The Glen Alps Trailhead; Point Woronzof; Eklutna Trailrace and Knik River Valley; Girdwood (located in the Chugach Mountains); and Eagle River Nature Center. When you are done chasing the Aurora, Anchorage is home to many museums and cultural centers where you can explore the state’s past.
- Juneau – this scenic port is a stopping place for some of the biggest cruise lines in the industry. If conditions are right, you can see the Northern Lights on an Alaskan cruise!
- Coldfoot – this “town” is basically a truck stop in Alaska’s Yukon Territory. However, it just may be the best place to see the Aurora Borealis in Alaska. Located on the Dalton Highway, Coldfoot is remote and mostly uninhabited. However, there are tour companies that will get you to Coldfoot and keep you warm before an amazing night of Northern Lights viewing. The town is also the perfect base camp for guided tours in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
- Barrow – this tiny town is located 330 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Flights to Barrow are offered from Anchorage or Fairbanks by Alaska Airlines. (The town is not accessible by road.) Barrow is one of the largest Iñupiaq settlements in Alaska. It’s also the northernmost community in the United States. What makes it a great place to see the Northern Lights is that it receives 24 hours of darkness from November 18 – January 23! If you can brave the darkness and the cold, you will be rewarded with a spectacular light show and have time to explore Whale Bone Arch, also known as the “Gateway to the Arctic!”
Your Aurora-Viewing Adventure
No matter where you go in Alaska to see the Northern Lights, the spectacle will be amazing. Just make sure to take advantage of other Alaskan winter experiences like snowmobiling, dog mushing, skiing, festivals, and sporting events on your trip! Reserve a spot on a guided Aurora Tour that also offers daytime activities or have fun planning your adventure on your own. Either way, your Aurora-viewing adventure will be one for the memory book.