Alaska’s location on the globe makes it one of the best places in the world to see the aurora, also called the northern lights. The aurora is caused by energetic particles entering the atmosphere about 60 or 70 miles above the earth’s surface resulting in the brilliant displays of yellow-green, red, blue and purple patterns dancing across the night sky. So how can you guarantee a sighting? The northern lights actually occur anywhere from 40 to100 percent of the nights, depending on one’s location in the state, if clear skies allow for viewing. Many Alaska hotels offer northern lights wake-up calls to wake visitors when the lights are visible. Travelers can check the aurora forecast anytime using the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ online aurora forecasting tool at www.gi.alaska.edu/auroraforecast.
Fairbanks: While aurora sightings can occur anywhere in Alaska, Fairbanks has earned a reputation as a great viewing place due to its position in the state’s Interior, inside a ring-shaped region around the North Pole known as the auroral oval. As Alaska’s second largest city, Fairbanks is big enough to offer nice hotels and amenities, but not so big that city lights diminish viewers’ ability to see the display. There are also several Fairbanks tour companies that offer northern lights expeditions or access to remote cabins for viewing.
Chena Hot Springs: Best known for its natural mineral hot springs, this resort is equally well known for its excellent northern lights viewing opportunities. Enjoy the spectacle of northern lights dancing overhead while soaking in the outdoor mineral-spring pool – one of the most breathtaking travel experiences available in Alaska. Visitors can also take a snow coach aurora-viewing tour or dog sled ride and kennel tour. The hot springs resort is also home to a full-size museum sculpted from ice, the Aurora Ice Museum, which is kept at 20 degrees year-round.
Coldfoot: Located on the Dalton Highway, this community offers land and air tours with a focus on northern lights viewing and exploration of the nearby Brooks Mountain Range and Alaska Native villages.
Talkeetna: This small town offers unobstructed viewing possibilities south of Fairbanks. An added bonus is seeing the lights in proximity to another of Alaska’s most impressive natural spectacles, 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest peak. Talkeetna is the gateway for climbers about to tackle the mountain and it’s a dominant part of the area landscape.
For more information on northern lights viewing in Alaska, click here.