The Northern Lights in Alaska

  1. By Globerouter
  2. On Oct 25, 2019
  3. North America
  4. Travel Tips

Where to go


The answer to the question “where is the Aura Borealis?” is difficult to define, since no single Aurora Borealis location exists. The lights can be seen from many vantage points, depending on the weather and time of year, and although the city of Fairbanks, Alaska, is often listed as the best place to see Northern Lights, there are plenty of other options for travellers. The peaks of Denali National Park can get you that little bit closer to the action, whereas quaint towns like Nome will have you feeling right at home in between viewing platforms. Norway is another great option, especially since peak time for Aurora viewing - February and March - falls outside of peak tourism season, so travellers can look forward to a more private experience. The bottom line is you’ll have an unforgettable experience wherever you go, as long as you do a little prior research. 

Where to stay


When visiting the Northern Lights, location is everything, and not just during the day - you’ll find that where you stay at night is also an important part of your trip. It can be difficult to get a spot in sought-after accommodation, where after-dark views are at their best, but certain tour bookings can guarantee you a prime position in a traditional yurt or dome. Not only will you be close to the action, but you’ll also have guided access to other scenic opportunities, like the Yukon River, and flying or driving tours of the Arctic Circle. 

What to do nearby 


Once you know where you can see the Northern Lights, the next logical question is what other activities await there. The good news is that many of the top spots are also home to plenty of other attractions. Just twenty minutes from Fairbanks, you’ll find Santa Claus House, where official letters from Santa are stamped and sent. 

Denali National Park is home to North America’s tallest mountain, by the same name, and plenty of wildlife in their natural habitats. If you’re lucky - or unlucky, as the case maybe - you might even spot a bear. There are also plenty of activities available to adventurers, including camping, hiking, and canoeing. If you prefer the idea of hanging around in the snow or carving up the slopes, Norway is the place to go for the best ski resorts, or for a road trip to see the famous fjords (late spring through to early autumn).


When to go


The best time to see Northern Lights in Alaska changes with the season. The lights are at their most vivid during the months between September and April, when the sky is usually at its darkest, as this allows for more vivid colours. Even then, conditions can vary depending on your viewing location and the local weather conditions, but as a general rule, between 11:30 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. is best in winter, while spring and fall will favour those who look up between 12:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. Clouds in particular can obscure the Northern lights from view, so keep an eye on the weather forecast when planning your visit. Local forecasts are generally accurate, especially those sent out by The University of Alaska, Fairbanks, which is tailored specifically for Aurora Borealis viewers and based on measurements of geomagnetic activity. For those planning on travelling next year, 2020 is predicted to be just as good for viewing as any solar minimum year; however, if more frequent light shows is the goal, you may want to put off your travels until aurora frequency reaches a peak in the years 2024 and 2025. 

Meanwhile, Nome is famous for its role as the finishing mark in the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, an event which sees dogs race 938 miles over eight days or longer. Whether this event appeals or not, it has put Nome on the map for thrill-seekers and fascinated tourists.


How to prepare


Packing for an Aurora Borealis viewing party doesn’t have to be complicated, especially if you’re headed to Alaska, where the weather is famously cold. A visit in summer will reward you with relatively mild temperatures of between 10 and 19 degrees Celsius, whereas the winter highs often peak at -3. Either way, you’re going to be in need of cozy clothing, and a pair of sturdy snow boots to help you get around in what could potentially be a thick layer of snow and sleet. Most importantly, don’t forget to ready yourself for several days of abnormal sleeping patterns, as the best viewing of Northern Lights typically happens around 1:30 to 2 am.  Finally, travellers from overseas will need to get familiar with the United States’ customs like tipping. This will be expected whenever you’re dealing with service staff, so make sure you add a few hundred dollars onto your total budget to cover it. 

The Northern Lights are one of nature’s greatest exhibitions, and it’s only natural to want to appreciate the beauty in person. As long as you book early, plan well, and manage your sleep, you can look forward to the trip of a lifetime, complete with a slideshow of envy-inducing photos to show your friends.