The aurora borealis can dominate the sky over Alaska with dazzling, magical displays unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Given the right conditions and viewing locale, these dancing bars of light might shimmer right over head, ranging from subtle green columns to vast red curtains that fill the entire sky. Thousands of people travel to Alaska every winter to see and photograph this otherworldly polar phenomena. Here’s how to join the quest.
When is the best time to see the Aurora?
The viewing season lasts almost seven months, so the best time to seek the aurora really depends upon what else you want to do during your visit. Depending upon cloud cover and weather, Alaska nights can be dark enough to highlight great auroras between mid-August through mid-April. It’s a myth that you must travel to the state only during the deep winter, when darkness can last 16-18 hours per day. Sometimes the season’s most spectacular auroras occur during September or October, or during March and April.
Are you interested in winter sports—dog mushing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling? January through March will be your prime time. Holiday oriented? Try weeks during November and December. Want to drive the road system, do some hiking and maybe even visit Denali National Park while the road’s still open or the Kenai Fjords on a boat tour? August through mid-September can deliver fabulous aurora viewing too.
The aurora doesn’t care about the date—as long as it’s dark at night!
Where Can I See the Aurora?
Try Fairbanks first. While the aurora can appear over every part of Alaska, from Barrow to Ketchikan, the chances improve with latitude. The main auroral band usually crosses the state in an arc north of the Alaska Range. So this interior city and the surrounding area (including Chena Hot Springs) is probably the state’s sweet spot for northern lights viewing. It’s where the frequency of bright displays dovetails with ease of accommodations and travel logistics. You can fly into Fairbanks and be at a world-class aurora viewing venue in less than an hour. Tours: Arctic Circle Day & Overnight Adventures, Aurora Pointe, Multi-Day Winter Northern Lights Tour, Northern Lights & Chena Hot Springs, Aurora Ice Fishing, & Borealis Basecamp clear-roofed igloos.
Auroras may occur even more often in and beyond the Brooks Range—Bettles, Coldfoot, Wiseman, Fort Yukon, Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay) and Utqiaġvik (formerly known as Barrow.) Here's a cozy wilderness lodge we recommend.
But don’t count out southern Alaska! Southcentral Alaska—Anchorage, the Mat-Su valleys and the Kenai—all experience nights with terrific auroral displays. Just not as often as Fairbanks and parts north. In a natural paradox, nights will be slightly longer in Southcentral than in the Interior during the weeks just before and after the equinoxes, slightly improving the prospects for August-September and March-April. See our Anchorage aurora guide.
Southeast Alaska locales also experience auroras, but the frequency falls off as you go further south. Add in the cloudiness of the region’s rain forest climate, and you should not travel to these areas primarily to see auroras.
What Does an Aurora Vacation Look Like?
- First, think of it as a quest. You are trying to witness one of the grandest spectacles in nature, but one that can be fickle and shy, somewhat like a wild animal. Just as brown bears loom unpredictably during a photo safari into Denali, or killer whale pods might not surface during the first hours of a cruise, the aurora can be elusive and must be pursued. It’s an adventure! (With a huge payoff.)
- Most people spend about five to seven days start-to-finish, which gives time to wait out cloudy weather or less-than-prime forecasts. It can work as three- or four-day trip centered on a weekend, but then you will need to be more focused.
- Dedicate at least three nights to viewing the aurora. Finding a venue or a situation where you can comfortably stay up between 10 pm and 3 am increases your chances and adds to the fun. When prospects are good, the aurora can erupt at any moment.
- Fill your days with other activities. Every community beneath the aurora offers many options for outdoor adventures and indoor attractions all season long. What exactly you do will depend upon the date you arrive. For ideas, start with three of our advice pages—Things to Do in Alaska, Winter Vacation Tips and Alaska Travel Tips.
- The aurora’s seven-month season spans from late summer to early spring, with possible night-time temperatures ranging from the summery 60s to subzero cold. We have detailed advice on picking the right clothing to be comfortable during your stay.
- Variety. Aurora viewing has inspired a whole support industry, especially in Fairbanks and surrounding communities. You can book a package or combine a variety of experiences. It’s possible to ride a van to the Arctic Circle one night, hunker down inside a cozy lodge, clear-roofed igloo or special aurora watching facility with webcams (and hot chocolate) on the second, then go night-time ice fishing or soak in the hot springs on the third. Or, work with a local itinerary specialist to book a custom northern lights package. These options will include expert guides to maximize your chances and explain what you see.
Northern Lights Tours
Evening Viewing, Minutes from Fairbanks
Wait for the northern lights to appear in a warm, inviting space
Just a short 15-minute drive from downtown Fairbanks, wait for the northern lights to appear in a warm, inviting space. Cozy up to the fire, sip on cocoa and coffee, and step outside when mother nature puts on a show. Although the center is a short distance from town, it is far enough away so that you won’t have to worry about light pollution interrupting your view as you stand gazing under the vast, starlit sky.
Arctic Circle Fly, Drive and Overnight Adventures
Drive north (or fly) from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle
Stand out on the Arctic tundra under the northern lights, experiencing their eerie glow on a one-day tour you won’t soon forget. From October to April, you’ll depart from Fairbanks on this one-day adventure and get a majestic flightseeing trip to the remote town of Coldfoot, above the Arctic Circle. Explore this fascinating town and look for the mysterious lights overhead. Then drive south and get a close up of all the terrain in between, seeing ...more
Spend some time above the Arctic Circle under the mysterious, eerie northern lights. From mid-September to late April, when you have the best chance of witnessing phenomenon of the aurora borealis, you’ll fly from Fairbanks to the remote village of Coldfoot, in the Brooks Mountain Range. After the spectacular flightseeing experience, you’ll have either 3 days/2 nights or 4 days/3 nights to explore this rugged, fascinating landscape, with ...more
Multi-Day Winter Vacation
Experience Alaska's iconic winter activities + northern lights viewing
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.
Aurora + Hot Springs
Soak in the healing waters of Chena Hot Springs, a prime location to view the lights if the forecast is good!
Join Alaska Wildlife Guide in exploring one of Alaska’s most desired attractions, Chena Hot Springs Resort. From visiting the most northern Ice Museum, soaking in the all-natural hot springs to viewing the breathtaking Northern Lights dance across the sky, this tour will be a highlight of your Alaskan experience.
Aurora Ice Fishing
Spend the evening ice fishing from a warm hut, situated in an unobstructed viewing location
Seeing the Northern Lights is an unforgettable wintertime experience. Of course, you never know quite when (or even if) Mother Nature is going to unleash the display into the night sky. So while you wait, you’ll be trying your hand at another activity that’s unique to the Alaskan winter: ice fishing!
Gaze up at the northern lights from your private Igloo, just north of Fairbanks
Located on a quiet ridgeline outside of Fairbanks, the Borealis Basecamp offers 15 elegant clear-roofed igloos that have been custom designed and specifically positioned to maximize your viewing of the Northern Lights. You’ll also have the chance to take advantage of the camps many winter activities like dogsledding, snowmachining, snowshoeing, and fat-tire biking.
Remote Wilderness Lodge
View the aurora from the comfort of a remote wilderness lodge in the Brooks Range
If you want to view the northern lights, this family owned lodge offers a remote and exclusive experience north of the Arctic Circle. Whether you are dogsledding, snowshoeing or just scanning the skies for the northern lights, you will still be able to relax in comfort and never feel like you are roughing it.