How to get the best view of the northern lights in Alaska
You don’t have to be a scientist to appreciate the mesmerizing beauty of solar particles crashing into the earth’s magnetic field, more commonly known as the northern lights or aurora borealis. On any given dark night in Alaska, you can find Facebook posts from across the state filled with updates about the 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. Alaska is one of the best places in the world to view the mystical northern lights, and the best time to catch a glimpse is during the prime viewing season between September and March.
What time of the year are the northern lights visible?
Most travelers heading north to Alaska over the winter months come to witness the aurora borealis. It can certainly be 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 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 Explore Fairbanks. Situated in Interior Alaska, Fairbanks’ unique location to the auroral oval creates an ideal opportunity to see the northern lights.
Best locations in Alaska for viewing the northern lights
Just west of Fairbanks, with nothing but unobstructed horizon in all directions, Ester Dome is a popular spot for northern lights viewing. Several tour operators throughout the city take visitors out at night to the area’s viewing locations. Pro tip: Tell the front desk staff at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel and Conference Center that you’re interested in viewing the lights, they’ll give you a wake-up call if the lights are active.
On high solar activity nights in Anchorage, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, located just west of the Westmark Anchorage Hotel, is a great place to catch the green and red curtains of light performing their dance in the sky. Usually the lights appear right across the Cook Inlet above the Talkeetna Mountains. And anywhere in Alaska, check the forecast and ask a local for the best viewing spot to spot the northern lights during your stay! Dress warm, pack your camera and a thermos of hot cocoa and enjoy the show.