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Travel To See The Northern Lights
Aurora Borealis chasers often wonder where you can best see the Northern Lights. And while some people may think the answer involves an exotic destination (like Norway or Sweden), the answer is much closer to home – Alaska! And better yet, you won’t even need a passport if you travel to see the Northern Lights in this winter wonderland.
When Can I See The Northern Lights In Alaska?
If seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, this year might be the year to make it happen! Auroras occur when solar winds with electrically charged particles enter the Earth’s magnetic field. These particles collide with atmospheric gases to create the blue, green, red, and violet ribbons of light that we call the Northern Lights. During 2024, the sun’s activity will be increasing. This solar maximum will cause more frequent and stronger displays of Aurora. That means now is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska!
Searching The Skies During Aurora Season
Although the Aurora can technically occur any time of year, they are not visible to the naked eye unless conditions are right. What conditions make for the best Northern Lights viewing? If you travel to see the Northern Lights, make sure to remember the following:
- To see the Northern Lights, the sky must be dark. The best (and darkest) viewing times fall between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. in most places.
- You can only see an Aurora in a clear sky. This phenomenon will not be visible on a cloudy (or rainy) night.
- Go North! The farther North you go, especially in Alaska, the better your chances are to see the Northern Lights. Alaska’s Far Northern regions sit under the Aurora Oval, where Northern Lights activity is at its peak.
Before you plan a Northern Lights viewing tour of Alaska, it pays to know when you can see the Northern Lights in Alaska. Generally speaking, the best time to see the Aurora Borealis in Alaska is from August 21 to April 21. This is referred to as Aurora Season. Aurora displays also tend to intensify around the equinox months of September and March because of the Earth's tilt in relation to the sun. Plus, there's a higher likelihood of clear skies in the spring months, which means more favorable conditions for Northern Lights viewing.
Alaska Aurora-Viewing Hot Spots
If you are wondering where you can best see the Northern Lights in Alaska, you’ve come to the right place! Alaska is such a vast state that there is no shortage of great viewing options for seeing the Aurora Borealis. Northern Lights viewing is such a popular activity in the state that an entire industry has grown up around it. Hotels offer wake-up calls to make sure guests don’t miss the phenomenon, tour operators build entire multi-day packages around viewing opportunities, and luxury lodges cater to visitors who want to enjoy Alaskan activities (like dogsledding or ice fishing) while searching the skies for the Northern Lights. You can even book a Northern Lights Cruise and watch the skies from the comfort of a big ship!
One of the best and most popular spots to see the Northern Lights, however, is Fairbanks. The city sits right below the Arctic Circle (and the Aurora Oval), and is a hotspot for Aurora activity. Aurora spotting guides offer a range of special tours and events that are specially designed for visitors chasing the lights in the night sky. These tours include seeing the lights from a snowmobile, evening ice fishing adventures, or flights to the Arctic Circle and Far North towns for an unforgettable Aurora viewing adventure if you want to travel to see the Northern Lights.
An Arctic Aurora-Viewing Adventure
The Alaskan Arctic is remote, but it’s worth the trek to experience the region’s sprawling tundra, stark seascapes, and impressive mountain ranges. The remote landscapes and dark skies of this region also mean Far Northern towns are where you can best see the Northern Lights! With little to no light pollution, the Aurora are the stars of Alaska’s northern skies. Here are some of the best Aurora-viewing locations in Alaska’s Far North:
- Nome – this coastal town is located along the Bering Sea and offers visitors the chance to see the Northern Lights as well as learn about Alaska’s Gold Rush history.
- Utqiagvik - formerly known as Barrow, this town is the northernmost town in the United States. Utqiagvik is located just above the Arctic Circle, making it a hotspot for Aurora activity. Durign the day, visitors can learn about the culture of the indigenous Iñupiaq, who still live in the region and operate the Iñupiaq Heritage Center in the town’s center.
- Coldfoot – this one-horse town is one of the few Alaskan settlements north of the Arctic Circle that is accessible by road. The town serves as a stopping place for those driving the Dalton Highway on their own or as part of a tour. Legend has it that gold seekers arrived in 1900, got cold feet, and turned around. Today it serves as the farthest-north truck stop in the United States and a destination for Aurora-watching tours.
- Wiseman – Wiseman is located just three miles off the Dalton Highway and near the boundary of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. This outdoor paradise is perfect for Northern Lights viewing, as well as hiking, fishing, river rafting, birding, wildlife viewing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and dog mushing.
- Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse – More work camp (for oil field workers) than town, Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse sit on the coast of the Arctic Ocean in the heart of Alaska’s oil patch. These camps are not accessible to visitors, except for tour groups with special permits – like Northern Lights tours. And because of the remote location with clear skies, Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse attract lots of tour groups!
If you plan to travel to see the Northern Lights, look no further than Alaska! You won’t need a passport, but you will enjoy the adventure and excitement of a truly wild and untamed landscape – close to home. Start planning your adventure in Alaska’s Far North today!