Where to see the Northern Lights in Alaska?
Are you looking to see the Northern Lights during your stay in Alaska? If so, you’re in for a treat!
Seeing the northern lights is probably the most spectacular moments you’ll experience while in the Last Frontier, and it’s one the top reasons people go to Alaska.
But it can be difficult to catch a glimpse of them.
There are many places in Alaska that offer prime viewing for the Northern Lights, but picking the best spot can be difficult. Many factors such as weather, time of year, and light pollution can influence where the best viewing spot will be.
I should know! I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the state and there are years in which I never caught a glimpse!
To help you plan your viewing trip, I’ve put together this list of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Alaska. So read on and start planning your once-in-a-lifetime experience today!
Best Places in Alaska to See the Northern Lights
1. Fairbanks: the Optimal Spot
Fairbanks is one of the best spots in the entire world to observe Northern Lights due to its low precipitation and location just beneath the auroral oval.
Note: The auroral oval is a ring-shaped region around the Earth’s north and south poles where the aurora borealis, or the northern lights, are usually seen
Jerry Evans, a spokesperson for Explore Fairbanks explains: “Instead of seeing an aurora in the distance, we often see the aurora directly overhead, filling the entire sky”.
In addition to location, there is minimal light pollution in Fairbanks which also adds to the viewing experience. Fairbanks’ skies are so consistently clear that visitors who stay in the city for at least three nights during aurora season have a greater than 90% chance of witnessing the Northern Lights.
Here is what you can expect:
🏠 Where to stay in Fairbanks to see the Northern Lights?
Most Fairbanks hotels provide aurora wake-up calls, but if you want to get the most out of your Northern Lights viewing, stay at Chena Hot Springs Resort (an hour from Fairbanks) which offers visitors the opportunity to see the Northern Lights while relaxing in a natural hot spring.
If you’d rather stay inside the city, the Wedgewood Resort is be the best hotel to stay in Fairbanks for Aurora viewing.
🏅 Best Aurora Tours in Fairbanks:
However, to maximize you chance of viewing the Northern Lights, and to live a wonderful experience, I highly recommend to take this tour. The guides will get you to the best places from where you can marvel at the beautiful natural phenomenon. You’ll also most likely encounter moose, foxes, bears, and many other Alaskan animals
Anchorage, albeit not as far north as Fairbanks, provides excellent prospects for observing the Northern Lights. They’ll usually be visible a little lower on the horizon instead of overhead.
Technically, the aurora borealis should be visible in the city after sunset, but the dense population and light pollution make it much more challenging to see.
You’ll want to go away from the city lights to enhance your view, and there are tours available from various outfitters. If you prefer to go the DIY method, Nancy Lake State Recreation Area is a fantastic option. Many locals praise the views from Flattop Overlook, and you can also travel to the Glenn Alps for a chance to see the aurora borealis.
🏅 Best Aurora Tours in Anchorage:
This tour takes you from Anchorage to see the Northern Lights in Alaska with a professional photographer as your guide. You will learn new photography skills during the tour and admire views of one of nature’s most dramatic displays. Round-trip transportation is also included. Check the prices and the reviews here.
Coldfoot is a prime northern light observation point in the Alaskan Arctic. Once a gold mining hamlet, it’s now little more than a truck stop at 67° N latitude on the legendary Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay. Coldfoot is located 250 miles north of Fairbanks and 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
Many aurora adventure excursions take visitors here as well as to Wiseman, which is only 11 miles north, for the best possibilities of seeing the northern lights. The fly-in luxury Iniakuk Wilderness Lodge is another local alternative.
It’s difficult to imagine glaciers, rainforests, and gorgeous fjords all coexisting in the same environment, but that’s what Alaska’s stunning capital Juneau has to offer.
In addition to the stunning vistas, Juneau also has 230 days of annual precipitation, and being a rainforest there is a lot of cloud cover, blocking a good view of the lights.
Yet, if you visit Alaska’s capital for glacier tours or whale-watching in late summer or early fall, you still have a chance of seeing those dancing lights. Your best bet is to set up your viewing tent at the shores of Mendenhall Lake in the Tongass National Forest, which is only 13 miles from downtown.
5. Denali National Park
Denali National Park is a fantastic place to see the Northern Lights because of its remoteness. There are 6+ million acres of land and an almost complete lack of light pollution.
The Denali Viewpoint, located south of the Parks Highway, provides a spectacular picture of the mountain towering majestically beneath the aurora borealis.
Booking accommodations near the park is your best bet for watching the Northern Lights. Because the Northern Lights are fickle and don’t always appear every night, this will give you the best opportunity of seeing them unhindered. If the lights suddenly appear overhead, many lodges will ring an alarm or give you a wake-up call.
Head to the northern edge of Alaska to view the lights in Utqiagvik, formerly called Barrow. The town is home of the Top Of The World Hotel, which can help organize a tour or outdoor adventure for your viewing pleasure.
With 67 days of darkness, the aurora borealis will completely light the night sky in Utqiagvik. The colors that are visible change due to atmospheric pressure and temperature, but they are guaranteed to be spectacular.
You can also get a good view in Nome, Alaska. Plus, if you go during the Iditarod, you’ll not only get a chance to see the lights, but you’ll also get to see the dogs mush and watch some of the best racers in the world.
The lights aren’t visible every night in the winter in Nome; they can be spectacular when they do show up. The nicest aspect is that the Northern Lights may be seen from just a mile or two away from the city, and almost any local will be able to give you sound advice on where to see the lights.
When is the Best Time to See Northern Lights in Alaska?
The best time to see the northern lights in Alaska is during dark, clear, new moon nights from late September to late March. These are the months when the nights are longest and the skies are typically clear which provides ideal viewing conditions.
Anyone who lives in Alaska will tell you that all it takes is a little luck, dedication, and the Aurora Forecast website from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute to plan your optimal viewing day.
Once in a Lifetime Experience
A trip to see the Northern Lights in Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime type of excursion. Tours can be found in the Interior, Arctic, and Southcentral regions, and the operators know the best viewing areas. They can take you to off-the-beaten-path locations with less ambient light, which is why they are generally recommended.
You can find single-day tours or multi-day northern lights packages, which frequently include dinners and overnight stays at unique, secluded housing suited for viewing the lights.
You can search for the best tours on Viator and select the one you like the most.
If you prefer to do it yourself, keep a watch on the statewide aurora prediction and the Fairbanks aurora tracker. And remember, many hotels provide a northern lights wake-up call!