Explore some of Alaska’s best places for watching the magical northern lights in late fall, winter and early spring. The following five-day winter itinerary puts you under the most accessible parts of the “aurora oval,” a magnetic halo that circles the North and South poles.
Day 1 Fairbanks
Start your adventure in Fairbanks, Alaska’s second-largest city. Daylight only lasts a few hours in mid-winter; the long nights give you plenty of opportunities to see the northern lights shining overhead. Meanwhile, you can spend your day touring the excellent University of Alaska Museum of the North, watching the sled dog races that are held almost every weekend during the winter, or wandering the forest on a nature walk with a herd of tame reindeer. When you turn in for the night, make sure to let the front desk staff at your hotel know that you want a “northern lights wake-up call” if the aurora borealis comes out.
Day 2 Chena Hot Springs
If you don’t already have a car, rent one for the 60-mile drive from Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs. This year-round tourist destination sports a relaxing, rock-lined hot springs pool and limited light pollution, both of which make it a great place to see the aurora borealis. Make sure you tour the Aurora Ice Museum while you’re here; this marvel was carved by two of the world’s best ice artists. Chena Hot Springs also offers a number of day tours and the front desk staff will, if asked, wake you when the aurora comes out.
Day 3 Chena Hot Springs to Fairbanks
Enjoy another relaxing soak in the hot springs, and stop by the resort’s sled dog yard before you drive back to Fairbanks. Go to bed early; tomorrow will be a long, but glorious day.
Days 4 and 5 Coldfoot
Book a fly-in trip to the remote work camp of Coldfoot. Winter tours to Coldfoot may focus on photographing the northern lights, or just offer you the experience of visiting a place few people have ever seen during winter. Located some 250 miles north of Fairbanks, Coldfoot is almost directly under the center of the aurora oval, with long, clear nights and very little light pollution. Those factors make it one of the best places in the world for photographing the northern lights. Spend the night in Coldfoot’s rustic accommodations, then fly back to Fairbanks and from there, on to home.