Aurora in Fairbanks & Beyond
Interior Alaska is one of the best places for watching the northern lights, AKA the aurora borealis, dance overhead. This four-day itinerary, best done between August and April, maximizes your chances of seeing the aurora by combining outdoor adventures with sky-gazing opportunities.
Day 1: Anchorage to Fairbanks
Board the Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Winter Train in Anchorage for the all-day ride to Fairbanks. This is the only passenger train in regular operation during the winter months, and it’s a singular opportunity to enjoy Alaska’s beautiful winter landscape while staying warm and cozy. Keep your eyes out for wild animals like moose and maybe even shy lynx. On clear days, you may also get views of 20,310-foot Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. Once you reach Fairbanks, make sure you let the hotel staff know you’d like a wake-up call if the northern lights come out that night.
Day 2: Fairbanks
Rent a car, or book a shuttle transfer at least 72 hours in advance, and spend the day at Chena Hot Springs, located about an hour out of Fairbanks. This year-round resort features a rock-lined pool warmed with water from a natural hot spring; the pool is one of the state’s most-renowned locations for viewing the northern lights. Again, make sure you let the resort staff know that you want to be woken up if the aurora comes out, and consider booking a Sno-Cat tour that takes you to the best vantage points for viewing the northern lights. Meanwhile, enjoy the lodge’s variety of day tours and explore the unusual Aurora Ice Museum — a year-round museum carved entirely of ice — before you turn in for the night.
Day 3: Chena Hot Springs to Fairbanks
Drive or take the shuttle back to Fairbanks, where you’ll have time to visit two popular attractions—the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, and the University of Alaska Museum of the North — and even squeeze in a quick dog sledding tour before you turn in for an early night.
Day 4: Fairbanks
Book a tour into Alaska’s Arctic. Your options include a fly/drive tour up the Dalton Highway to Coldfoot or Prudhoe Bay; a day trip or overnight visit to nearby rural villages, accessible only by air; and for the very hardy, multi-day dog sledding adventures. Thanks to the region’s long hours of winter darkness and location under the so-called aurora oval — a zone known for its intense aurora activity — these tours give you better than average odds of spotting the northern lights. Upon your return, board a return flight to Anchorage or fly home from Fairbanks International Airport.
A word on aurora statistics: The northern lights do not shine every night, and they're only visible when night skies are dark and clear. Aurora predictions remain an inexact science. Still, if you spend at least three days in Fairbanks or parts north and are actively out looking for the lights (or let your hotel know you want an aurora wakeup call), you average at least an 80 percent chance of seeing the aurora overhead.
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