Northern Lights Viewing Tips
Each fall as the midnight sun wanes and the night skies get darker, there’s one question that we hear the most: how do I see the northern lights in Alaska?
We hear you loud and clear. Witnessing these bright colors (reds, greens, purples, and blues) dance across the sky is one of the most magical experiences ever. It makes you stand up straight, your mouth fall open and maybe just maybe, your eyes tear up. (I’m not crying, you’re crying.)
The best time to see the aurora borealis in Alaska is from August 21 to April 21. We call it the Aurora Season. So yes, there are some very lucky cruise passengers who will see the northern lights in the Inside Passage late in the summer and fall, but don’t bank on it. Southeast Alaska is a temperate rain forest, so precipitation and cloudy skies are more common. Typically, the farther north you go, the better chance you have.
If you’re in Anchorage, yes, there are weather-dependent tours that will let you know ahead of time the probability of seeing the northern lights that night. Book one, and let the experts tell you if it’s worth losing sleep. (While the aurora can appear any time of night, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. are the prime viewing hours.)
If you’re farther north in Talkeetna or Denali, Alaska’s Interior, your chances improve. And if you’re in Fairbanks or the Arctic, you have the best shot at witnessing the aurora. The region lies underneath the Auroral Oval, a ring-shaped zone where northern lights activity is concentrated.
If you are truly on the hunt for the aurora, spend at least three nights in the Arctic or Interior regions of Alaska and get outside each night during prime viewing hours. Keep an eye on the University of Fairbanks Geophysical Institute’s Aurora Forecast and Explore Fairbanks’ Aurora Tracker for the most specific data on your chances for seeing the northern lights on a particular night.
There are a number of remote lodges far from city light pollution, like Chena Hot Springs Resort, Tonglen Lake Lodge, Arctic Getaway Bed & Breakfast, the Lodge at Black Rapids, Alaska Grizzly Lodge, Aurora Borealis Lodge, Borealis Basecamp, Coldfoot Camp, and many more, that offer overnight accommodations and viewing opportunities. If you’re staying in town, many tours will pick you up at your hotel and take you out to better viewing spots with heated cabins where you can stay warm.
Book a tour offered by a photography expert if you’re interested in capturing these magical moments on film or even your phone. Or if you’re a multi-tasker, arrange an overnight dog mushing or snowmobiling trip, a late-night ice fishing session or a trip to the Arctic Circle that all offer a chance to see the northern lights in addition to the main event. No matter which way you choose to chase the aurora, plan on staying up late and sleeping in or taking an afternoon nap. You’re on vacation, it’s OK.
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