If your Alaska bucket list includes aurora hunting, there are a few things to consider. The first and most important thing to know is that there is no way to plan a trip that will guarantee you’ll spot the northern lights. The good news is that you can increase your chances by reading up on our tips and if you take the proper measures such as booking your stay at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel & Conference Center that provide a wake-up call if the borealis is visible.
Northern lights 101
It doesn’t take a scientist to appreciate the beauty of solar particles crashing into Earth’s magnetic field, more commonly known as the northern lights or aurora borealis. On any given night that darkness fills the sky in Alaska, you can find social media posts from across the state with updates about the forecast for the aurora. In the fall, when beautiful foliage is showing off and the nights grow colder, the northern lights seal the deal and indicate that winter is right around the corner.
Best time of the year to see the northern lights
Alaska is one of the best places in the world to view the mystical northern lights. The best time to catch a glimpse is during the prime viewing season between September and March. Most travelers coming to Alaska over the winter months know that it can certainly be a gamble to plan a trip around the aurora, but dark, clear and new moon nights present the best opportunities for successful aurora hunting. While winter months see little daylight, to ensure maximum viewing opportunities, you’ll want to venture away from any city lights that could disrupt the views. Anyone living in Alaska can tell you all it takes is a little luck, dedication and help from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute Aurora Forecast website.
Top locations for northern lights viewing
If you venture to Fairbanks for at least three days during prime aurora viewing season, you already have an 80% chance to witness one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world. Fairbanks’s unique location in the middle of the state makes for a perfect position in the auroral oval which creates an ideal opportunity to see the northern lights. Here are a few places close to Fairbanks to use as your basecamp for viewing.
1. Ester Dome
A popular spot just west of Fairbanks where you can see unobstructed views of the horizon in all directions
2. Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge
Located close to downtown Fairbanks and features an open area with low light, perfect for aurora gazing
3. Chena Lake Recreation Area
Allows you to take a short road trip off the Richardson Highway and away from the city lights with plenty of space for roaming and viewing the lights.
Preparations for northern lights viewing
Make sure you let the front desk know that you’re interested in viewing the lights so they can give you a wake-up call if the lights are active. Once you’ve got that handled, pack a camera, a thermos of hot cocoa and lots of layers to keep you warm as sometimes you have to stay out for a while at your viewing location. You can also pack some hand warmers and simple card games to keep you up because let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than missing the lights only because you had to retreat inside to the warmth.
For those who prefer to venture out on their own but are still wondering where to see the northern lights, check out our blog the return of the night sky for local favorite places to stargaze and aurora hunt!