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 Denali Brewpub and aurora viewing.
- Day 3: Hop on the Alaska Railroad for a relaxing and scenic ride to Fairbanks. Check in at the downtown Fairbanks Hotel then get ready for our aurora snowshoe evening program tonight with a local couple and their canine companions.
- Day 4: 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 3 a.m.
- Day 5: 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, an optional the Arctic Circle Air 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 2 a.m.
- Day 6: Say goodbye to Fairbanks and fly back to Anchorage (or customize and fly directly home.)
6-Day Fairbanks Itinerary
- Day 1: Arrive at your Fairbanks hotel. 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 2: 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 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, participate in an evening aurora snowshoe program tonight with a local couple and their canine companions.
- Day 5: Enjoy a guided tour south to Talkeetna with a stopover in Denali National Park Entrance to stretch you legs and learn about winter in Denali. This evening, explore the town of Talkeetna and check in for the night. After dinner there, you’ll walk or snowshoe to the river and watch for more Northern Lights.
- Day 6: After breakfast at the 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 in time for your departure flight.
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
Join your local Salmon Berry guide for your chance to warm up at the famous Chena Hot Springs before chasing the Northern Lights! This small group tour begins in Fairbanks and makes the wintery drive to Chena Hot Spring Resort. Here, we will visit the Aurora Ice Museum and relax in the Chena Hot Springs mineral water rock pools. Enjoy a late dinner this evening before we search for the elusive Aurora Borealis. During your tour, your local Alaskan guide will be there to direct you through each activity.
At Chena Hot Springs we will tour the world-class Aurora Ice Museum where you will walk through the gallery of ice art sculptures created and maintained for over 10 years! While in the Aurora Ice Museum, guests 21 years and older have time to purchase a cocktail served in real ice “glassware” at the Aurora Ice Bar while seated on caribou fur covered stools by the ice fireplace! Please note that the ice martini is not included in the cost of the tour and is approximately $15 per person.
Next, soak in the healing waters of Chena Hot Springs' mineral water rock pools. This outside geothermal hot spring pool is for ages 18 years and older, but you can also take advantage of the indoor pool and hot tubs that have chlorinated geothermal water! Don't forget to bring your swimsuit and a towel on this tour as well as quarters for the lockers. If weather permits, you may even witness the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of the Hot Springs.
Following dinner at a local eatery, we chase the Aurora at a popular Aurora viewing location! Here, you will be able to sit back and relax waiting for the aurora to appear or spend your evening outside playing in the snow while looking for the Northern Lights! The Northern Lights facility will be heated for your comfort. Additionally, you'll have access to a clean, indoor restroom for a genuine Alaskan experience, lounge area with seating and tables, and complimentary hot beverages, and snacks.
Once we are done chasing the Northern Lights, we will then make our return drive to Fairbanks in the early hours of the morning. If mother nature gives us a good show, our approximate arrival back into Fairbanks is between 2:30am and 3:30am the following morning. Complimentary snacks and water are available onboard the sprinter van.
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.