Is watching the northern lights in Alaska part of your next vacation to-do list? If yes, what are the best sites to see this northern phenomenon? Read on to find out.
Alaska is home to the beautiful wilderness that comes alive no matter the season. However, there are even more interesting natural phenomena that make this a fantastic place to visit. At the top of the list is the beautiful Alaska northern lights.
There are many amazing places to see the northern lights in Alaska. These natural phenomena are best described as dancing lights that take place much of the year, but due to lack of darkness in the summer, are best visible in the winter months. And this visibility is much better on dark nights in areas with no light pollution.
Alaska is near the North Pole and is a perfect place to behold the northern lights season. Other great winter activities are present, like hiking, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and ice fishing. Visitors can head to the different places listed below, along with trip ideas, for the best aurora hunting.
The Best Northern Lights Tours in Alaska
GetYourGuide is a tour company that operates in various countries around the world. And they offer some of the best tours of the aurora borealis in Alaska. For instance, you can book the Moonlight Dog Sled, Dinner, & Northern Lights tour from Fairbanks or Northern Lights & Chena Hot Springs Tour. Any of these will guarantee you some incredible moments.
Viator is another reputable tour company that offers some great aurora borealis tours in Alaska. Examples of their top-rated options include the Arctic Circle and Northern Lights Tour and the Northern Lights and Chena Hot Springs tour, both from Fairbanks. These guided tours present the best ways to experience these Alaska phenomena.
Here are the best places to view aurora activity and see the northern lights in Alaska.
The Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Alaska
Nome is undoubtedly among the best place to see the northern lights in Alaska. Just take any road heading outside the town and find a good spot to park your car or set up your camping gear. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to adjust to the darkness and keep an eye on the beautiful night sky.
Even better, you can do this while enjoying the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The best racers in the world all meet up in Nome to cover 1,000 miles of the toughest terrain. Book a trip and ensure you’re in Nome on the 1st Saturday of March for this race and aurora viewing.
Northern lights tours are a great way to participate in all the fun during the race weeks. And while northern lights aren’t possible to view every night, you won’t want to miss out on an aurora experience when they do.
A wintertime vacation in Alaska guarantees you an unforgettable experience in Nome. And for a great place to stay, Kota’s Bed N Breakfast at the center of Nome works perfectly. There’s breakfast, free WiFi, and private parking.
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When visiting areas of Southcentral Alaska, there are many different spots perfect for northern lights viewing. One such place is Talkeetna, situated at the base of Mt. Denali.
Talkeetna is a small town with rustic old vibes that are perfect for a vacation. There is a roadhouse, log cabins that date back to 1917, and lots of fun things to do.
The dancing lights are one of the main reasons folks love to visit Talkeetna. But this is also a great place for shopping, eating, and touring a brewery in Alaska. There’s even a monthlong winter festival in this town in December.
This town has lots of fun activities and an active nightlife. However, it’s better to head out when it’s time to see the northern lights. Light pollution tends to inhibit viewing the dancing lights, so head out in search of total darkness.
Another great place to experience the auroras in Alaska is the city of Fairbanks. Dubbed the Land of the Midnight Sun, Fairbanks is located in the region of interior Alaska. This beautiful place is under the Auroral Oval, a ring-shaped zone showcasing much of the action.
Set a date for August 21 to April 21, when the northern lights occur here. Aurora viewing is best, on average, 4 out of 5 nights on dark and clear nights. As such, while the northern lights are present all year, the best time to have an optimal view is during the aurora season when the sky is dark.
The Fairbanks area is among the perfect places to enjoy Alaska’s northern lights. Just 25 miles from the city of Fairbanks, Alaska, Borealis Basecamp offers an experience unlike any other.
On 100 acres of pristine boreal forest, they’re immersed in the Alaskan wilderness. At night, the outside and inside blend together in transparent swirls of light and dark. The chances are high for you to glimpse the best sight of aurora borealis in the night sky.
It’s best to book an arctic circle tour to enjoy Alaska’s northern lights season. Accommodation is in plenty within the city and in downtown Fairbanks, including the top-rated Chena Hot Springs Resort.
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4. Eklutna Lake
Eklutna Lake is the ultimate adventure-seekers paradise in Alaska. And it’s where you need to be to see the amazing northern lights. The Eklutna Lake is in Chugach State Park.
In the summer, the lake is full of people who want to enjoy water activities like swimming, kayaking, and paddle boarding. However, on a dark winter night, the same place is crowded with folks who want to view the northern lights.
You can visit safe places on dark nights as you enjoy aurora hunting. But be careful venturing further into the park during winter. If possible, have a guide with you to make navigation easier in this tough terrain.
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Some places have clear skies perfect for northern lights viewing in the wintertime. Anchorage is one such ideal winter spot for aurora viewing from September to April.
At sunset, the city of Anchorage is the place to be for aurora viewing. But you might need to head outside the city for a better view. This is because of Anchorage’s city lights that affect visibility.
Aurora season is a big deal in Anchorage since the lights tend to be brighter. Plus, it helps that the city isn’t as far off as Fairbanks.
There are different tours from Anchorage that set off in search of the aurora borealis. Take advantage of these to get the best views of the auroral zone. Alaska Photo Treks offers day treks, custom treks, and classes. As for accommodation, there are great offers and packages at the Hyatt Place Anchorage- Midtown or The Lakefront Anchorage.
See Related: Best Day Trips From Anchorage, Alaska
6. Hatcher Pass
The Talkeetna Mountains in Alaska are home to one of the top recreational spots in Willow and Palmer. During the summer, many folks head over to this location to hike the majestic tundra and enjoy the magical wild blooms. This is also the place where Independence Mine Historical State Park is located.
All roads lead to this location once more in winter for the Alaskan northern lights season. It’s worth noting that the snow makes the main path to Hatcher Pass undrivable. So, it remains closed all winter for drivers.
However, you can use the road from Palmer that’s open all year when it’s time to watch the amazing aurora borealis. Fortunately, you won’t be isolated since this is a popular place for other aurora hunters or folks skiing, snowmobiling, and snowboarding.
There’s plenty to do during the day. Then you can sit back when it gets dark and wait for the famous lights to occur.
Check out the different parking spots in the area where it’s safe to be for the duration of the light show. In Palmer, you can enjoy comfortable accommodation at the Hatcher Pass Cabins or this Peaceful 3 Bedroom Alaskan Getaway.
Are you up for an adventure that takes you to the state’s northernmost part? Barrow is the place to be when you want to view the northern lights in this area.
Wintertime in Alaska is the best time for northern lights viewing. However, you must be prepared for the extremes of areas like Barrow, Alaska’s northernmost city. Thankfully, braving the cold brings you a front-row seat to the magic of the aurora borealis. Plus, you can visit the Iñupiat Heritage Center, a great part of Alaskan culture.
The Iñupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska, is perfect for visiting as you wait for the light show to start. Long ago, the Iñupiat inhabited this area and were prolific whale hunters. Learn more about this amazing culture and participate in dog sledding activities.
8. Denali National Park and Preserve
Denali National Park sits beautifully on over 6 million acres of secluded land. The lack of pollution makes it among the best places to view the northern lights in Alaska. Outstanding views await visitors willing to venture away from the cities.
Not only can you see the northern lights, but you also glimpse Mt. McKinley from here. Even the Denali National Park terrain is something you don’t want to miss.
Since the northern lights aren’t visible every night, a park tour on other days is also worth it. And the tundra, spruce forests, animals like moose, bears, and wolves, plus glaciers, are a sight to behold.
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Alaska has fantastic wilderness, and some parts, like the Brooks Range, are quite remote. If such places appeal to your adventurous spirit, you want to visit the small village called Wiseman. This remote location only has 12 full-time residents and is not too far from Coldfoot Camp.
The best part here is that the small village is directly under the Auroral Oval. As such, you won’t regret braving the snow and treacherous terrain to get to this fantastic location. The views are simply breathtaking.
Visitors who add Wiseman to their list of places to see in Alaska can stay at the Arctic Hive. This is a lodge that’s not accessible by vehicles, so you have to get ready to head there on foot. At the lodge, accommodations are in lovely cabins, and guests can participate in auroral excursions. There’s also dog sledding, skiing, and pack-rafting.
The Coldfoot Camp, originally a gold mining settlement, is directly under the Aurora Oval, meaning you can glimpse the most spectacular dancing lights.
At the Coldfoot Camp, there are other activities that guests can enjoy, like dog mushing and snowshoeing. Enjoy comfortable accommodation at the Coldfoot Camp Inn in former Alaskan pipe workers’ trailers. Each trailer has twin beds, a private bathroom, and a hot shower.
After a good night’s sleep and a wake-up call, head over to the Trucker’s Café for breakfast and later for dinner buffet. There’s also room for camping if you bring your gear. There are no charges for guests who want to camp at the Coldfoot Camp and enjoy the aurora viewing.
Juneau is the capital of Alaska and is another great place to be when you want to view the northern lights of Alaska. The city of Juneau boasts top amenities, but you only have to go a short distance before reaching the wilderness.
Northern lights hunting isn’t complete without covering the areas outside Juneau. These are also great places to enjoy wildlife viewing and activities like hiking, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.
Numerous trails begin at Juneau, leading to elevations perfect for watching the aurora lights. If you happen to be in Juneau during the winter solstice, there are 6 hours and 22 minutes of daylight.
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12. Bettles Lodge
Bettles Lodge is in a perfect location to view the spectacular aurora borealis. At the lodge, guests are treated to clear skies that reveal the magic of the heavens.
There’s little light pollution in this location deep in the Alaskan interior to disrupt your views. At the lodge, you can book accommodation in any of the cabins. There’s also a rustic auroral viewing cabin about 2 miles from the lodge for folks who want a bit of adventure.
What is the best time of the year to see the northern lights in Alaska?
Did you know that the phenomena of the northern lights occur all year round? However, it gets harder to see these lights when there’s too much sun and ambient light outside, like during the Midnight sun. As such, the best time to enjoy the auroral activity is winter time during those long, cold nights.
This means that if you want to enjoy the view of the stunning northern lights in Alaska, plan your trip from mid-August to late April. During the winter, the short days and long nights create the perfect backdrop for these aurora lights to shine. And, the further out you head from the cities and towns, the better the auroral view you get.
Do northern lights happen every day in Alaska?
Yes, northern lights happen every day at the north pole. This means the northern lights still put on a beautiful show, even in the summer and spring. You just might not be able to see it.
Northern lights forecasting isn’t easy, but you have a better chance of catching this show on a dark winter night in Alaska. Therefore, coupled with the aurora forecast data provided by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, winter increases your opportunity of catching these beautiful occurrences.