Alaska is one of the best places on earth to see the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis – colorful bands of light that dance in the dark night sky. Travelers from all over the world come to Alaska to see this stunning display and take advantage of other winter experiences like snowmobiling, dog mushing, skiing, festivals, and sporting events.
BEST TIME TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ALASKA
The northern lights occur all four seasons of the year, although they are harder to see under the Midnight Sun. The best time to see the northern lights in Alaska is between August and April, when less daylight leads to darker night skies.
HOW TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ALASKA
Towns and cities produce ambient light that interferes with aurora viewing, and while auroras are still visible from cities, it is best to view from the outskirts of town, or in an area known for clear, dark skies. While the northern lights can be seen anywhere in Alaska, they’re visible most often in the Interior and Arctic regions.
Fairbanks is one of the best places to view the northern lights in Alaska due to its location, hours of darkness in winter, auroral activity, and the amount of tours, activities, and accommodations dedicated to northern lights viewing. Other locations and town in the Interior and Arctic regions offer more remote northern lights viewing opportunities including Coldfoot, Wiseman, Utqiagvik (Barrow), and Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse. Not planning on traveling that for north? The northern lights can be seen throughout the state, though your chances of seeing them reduce as you travel south.
Northern lights tours are available in the Interior, Arctic, and Southcentral regions. Tour guides know the best spots for viewing and can take you off the beaten track to remote viewing locations with less ambient light. They offer single day tour options or you can increase your chances of viewing with multi-day overnight northern lights packages, which often include meals and overnight stays at unique, remote lodging specifically-designed for northern lights viewing. If you prefer to do it yourself, you can keep an eye on the statewide aurora forecast and the Fairbanks aurora tracker. Many Alaska hotels offer a northern lights wake-up call (upon request, of course) to wake visitors when the lights are out.
So, what are the northern lights, exactly? The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, occur about 60 or 70 miles above the earth’s surface — about 10 times higher than a jet aircraft flies — and can extend hundreds of miles into space. Electrically charged particles traveling through the earth’s magnetosphere collide with gasses, creating energy in the form of light. The intensity of solar flares varies the intensity and extent of activity within the Auroral oval, the ring-like area above the geomagnetic north where auroral activity is concentrated. The most common color displayed is a brilliant yellow-green, but the aurora borealis can also produce red, blue, and purple patterns.