Wondering how folks up here deal with Alaska’s long winter days? It’s easy when the inky night sky comes alive with an amazing light show like the aurora borealis. Braving the cold is nothing if you get a chance to see the lights dancing and waving overhead. Combine your aurora viewing trip with a few other highlights planned out by Salmon Berry Tours, and you’ll experience the best of winter in Alaska.
How to See the Aurora
It takes a mixture of planning and luck to see the Northern Lights. The planning is covered by Salmon Berry Tours, folks who’ve put a lot of thought into just what makes an Alaska vacation satisfying. And the luck? You’ve got a good start by coming in winter. The rest depends on Mother Nature and how long you can stay (a longer stay means more chances for clear skies combined with an active aurora).
There are two versions of trip: one departs out of Anchorage, and the other departs out of Fairbanks, and ends in Anchorage. Both itineraries combine the experiences of the overnight trip with extended time in Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs, and even a trip above the Arctic Circle. Ninety percent of those who visit the Fairbanks area during winter for at least three days see the Northern Lights. Here is what each itinerary covers:
6-Day Anchorage Itinerary
- Day 1: Arrive in Anchorage, and overnight.
- Day 2: Sled dog adventure (drive your own dog sled!) at Seavey kennels in Matanuska Valley; dinner at Talkeetna Roadhouse and aurora viewing with the “Star Lady.”
- Day 3: Hop on the Alaska Railroad for a relaxing and scenic ride to Fairbanks. Check in at the downtown Fairbanks Hotel, and let the clerk know you’d like a complimentary “aurora” wake-up call if they are spotted!
- Day 4: Take advantage of the hotel shuttle to see a bit more of Fairbanks. Ideas include the Museum of the North or the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. In the afternoon, the Arctic Circle Aurora Adventure will take you north to see the Trans-Alaska pipeline, the Yukon River and to officially enter the Arctic Circle! Arrive back to the Fairbanks Hotel at 4 a.m. after more aurora viewing.
- Day 5: Free morning and afternoon. Pack your swimsuit this evening for a trip to Chena Hot Springs. You can soak in the soothing mineral hot springs, tour the ice museum and watch for the Northern Lights again. Arrive back at Fairbanks Hotel at 4 a.m.
- Day 6: Say goodbye to Fairbanks and fly back to Anchorage (or customize and fly directly home.)
7-Day Fairbanks Itinerary
- Day 1: Arrive at your Fairbanks hotel. Let the front desk know if you’d like a complimentary “aurora” wake-up call during the night.
- Day 2: After a free morning, escape the city lights on a private aurora viewing excursion including roundtrip transportation and hot drinks with your local guide. Return to Fairbanks between 2 and 3am.
- Day 3: After a free morning, take the scenic flight to Coldfoot, then a ground shuttle back to Fairbanks, crossing the Arctic Circle and stopping along the Dalton Highway and the Yukon River to see auroras.
- Day 4: After a free morning, take the shuttle to Chena Hot Springs, where you’ll tour the Ice Hotel and take a dip in the springs. After more aurora-viewing, you’ll be back in Fairbanks at about 4 am.
- Day 5: Ride the Alaska Railroad south to Talkeetna, where you can explore the town and check in for the night at the famed Talkeetna Roadhouse. After dinner there, you’ll walk or snowshoe to the river, visit with a local aurora expert, and watch for more Northern Lights.
- Day 6: After breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, you’ll embark on a dog sledding tour where you'll drive the sled, exploring trails and meeting the four-legged athletes. Next, you’ll transfer to Anchorage to spend the night.
- Day 7: Explore Anchorage’s Alaska Native Heritage Center—featuring six authentic life-sized Native dwellings—followed by a film presentation and traditional tea. Next stop: the Anchorage airport.
Iditarod Aurora in Denali
This 12-day itinerary, offered just once a year, offers an intimate experience (at most 12 guests) that includes the best of Alaska winter: colorful auroras, the exciting Iditarod, and a blissfully quiet frontier.
The trip begins with a day along the Turnagain Arm—including stops at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and the Mt. Alyeska Aerial Tramway—then heads to Anchorage for a few days of pre-Iditarod activities, from meeting mushers (and even legend Dallas Seavey), enjoying the Iditarod banquet and then watching both the race’s Ceremonial Start in the city, followed by the Official Start in Willow Lake. Then, your adventure takes you to Talkeetna and Fairbanks for your own sledding and aurora-watching—with a detour in between at Rainy Pass Lodge, to watch Iditarod racers come through this mandatory checkpoint along the trail. In Fairbanks, you’ll look at the northern lights, explore the Ice Museum, take a dip in the Chena Hot Springs, and check out the World Ice Art Championships. Next stop is two days in Denali National Park for snowshoe walks, visiting the sled dog kennels, and reveling in the tranquil beauty of the park in winter. You’ll finish up the last day with a relaxing ride on the scenic Alaska Railroad—and one last twilight evening mush with Dallas Seavey Racing—on the way back to Anchorage.
Chena Hot Springs Aurora Tour
Your Alaskan guide will drive you and your small group from Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs. The first stop is the Aurora Ice Museum. Walk through the gallery of ice art and even try an ice martini served in ice “glassware” (option available for additional cost) at the Aurora Ice Bar. Enjoy dinner at the Chena Hot Springs Restaurant, where fresh vegetables are grown at the local greenhouse. Now it’s time to really unwind. Slip into the hot spring mineral rock pools. If conditions are just right, you may even see the aurora from the hot springs! After your relaxing soak, you’ll head to a remote Last Frontier Mushing Co-Op property. Stay warm in the traditional yurt between trips outside to seek the aurora. Your van departs late arriving in Fairbanks between 2:30 and 3:30am.
Evening Aurora Tour From Fairbanks
This 4 hour tour (10pm – 2am) brings you to a Ski Patrol Hut, located at the farthest north chairlift in North America. It also happens to be a great vantage point to view the northern lights. This cozy hut offers a lounge area with complimentary hot beverages, and a guide to tell you all about the aurora borealis. Move between the hut and the outdoors to view the aurora. The van will bring you back to Fairbanks in the early hours of the morning, where you might catch additional glimpses of the aurora along the way.