You don’t have to be a scientist to appreciate the mesmerizing beauty of solar particles crashing into the earth’s magnetic field. On a recent night in Alaska, Facebook posts from across the state were filled with updates about the “active” forecast for northern lights. If beautiful fall foliage, snow and cool weather weren’t enough of an indication, the northern lights seal the deal – winter is just around the corner. Several Westmark Hotels are open year round and located in areas that are perfect for jumpstarting your northern lights viewing adventure.
Many of the people trekking north to Alaska in winter come to witness the aurora borealis. It’s certainly a gamble to plan a trip around the aurora, but dark, clear, new moon nights from late September to late March create prime viewing conditions. Anyone living in Alaska will tell you that all it really takes to see the aurora is a little luck, dedication and some help from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute Aurora Forecast website.
If you venture to Fairbanks for at least three days between September and March, you have an 80 percent chance to witness one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world, according to the Fairbanks Visitors Bureau. Situated in the interior of Alaska, Fairbanks’ unique location to the North Pole in the auroral oval creates an ideal opportunity to see the northern lights. Just west of the city, Ester Dome is a popular aurora viewing spot with nothing but unobstructed horizon in all directions. Several tour operators throughout the city will take visitors out at night to the area’s viewing locations; and, if you tell the front desk staff at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel and Conference Center that you’re interested, they will even give you a northern lights wake-up call, if the lights are active.
Though it’s best to find a dark spot away from the city, there are plenty of opportunities to see the aurora from downtown Anchorage as well. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, located just west of the Westmark Anchorage Hotel, is well lit throughout winter, but on high solar activity nights there is a good chance the green and red curtains of light will perform their dance in the sky, usually right across the Cook Inlet above the Talkeetna Mountains. So, dress warm, pack your camera and a thermos of hot cocoa and enjoy the show.