Alaska’s Arctic is one of the best places in the world to view the Aurora Borealis due to the combination of our location directly beneath the Auroral Oval and unique geography that encourages stable, clear weather. However, it does need to be dark enough at night to be able to see the northern lights, and in Alaska the Aurora Season runs from August 21 through April 21.
Depending on your time and budget, you can take a guided evening Aurora tour to a secluded homestead cabin, combine a day trip across the Arctic Circle with extended Aurora watching, or to optimize your chances of encountering this natural phenomenon, spend multiple nights looking for them at the Yukon River or in Coldfoot in the Brooks Range.
If you didn't know Interior Alaska and more specifically Alaska's Arctic is a prime destination to look for them.
Why? LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION directly under the source of the lights in the northern hemisphere -- the Aurora Oval or Aurora Belt. It is this line around the globe the scientists have identified as where the lights begin and they spread north/south from here.
When the reports say it will be a Kp 1 or a quiet night for the aurora -- it does not mean the lights will not occur. They do - it will just be a narrow or thin belt, and the places farther north and south from the center of the Aurora Oval/Belt the aurora will be faint or not visible at all. Coldfoot has pictures of the aurora on a low night and it still covers the sky -- again, because they are directly under the center of oval.
The other part of location is being interior, away from the coast, statistically there are more clear nights here in Interior Alaska versus coastal areas which is a very important part of looking for the aurora. When you are along the coast there is more moisture causing more overcast nights. This includes popular Aurora destinations like Iceland, Norway and even our own coastline in Southcentral Alaska. Great location in their own right to visit, but not necessarily the best for Aurora viewing.
Once visitors know where to go the next question is usually WHEN is a good time. The very broad answer is between August 21 - April 21. This is when the nights are dark enough to see the aurora in Alaska. The lights do occur over 300 days of the year -- but you cannot see them with our Midnight Sun from the end of April to the beginning of August.
Within this time there can be debate - some will say around the Equinox, others will say December. What is not up for debate is you do need to schedule at least 3 nights of staying up and looking for them. This is not going out from your hotel at 10 pm and you don't see them you go to bed. This is going out away from the city lights and staying out until 3 - 4:00 AM.
Another debate you will find in social media is to avoid the full moon. We say, it is a personal preference. The activity level of the aurora is not connected to the moon cycle. What the full moon can do is brighten up the foreground, lighten the trees, and highlight the mountains. Ask a group of professional photographers and you will get both a yes and a no -- so again, don't fret if you are traveling with there is a full moon.
LAST myth to clear up is about the Aurora Cycle. It does occur and is real; however, it doesn't need to be avoided if you travel again to the center of the Aurora Oval/Belt. The Aurora Cycle does affect those locations farther north and south of the center of the Aurora Oval/Belt but not areas directly under as we are not as dependent on the solar maximum -- this per an FAQ on the website of the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. So back to LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.
We have a few ways you can enjoy looking for the aurora.
You can base yourself in Fairbanks and take one of our "day" tours. We say "day" since you will not get back to Fairbanks until 3:30 - 4:30 AM -- again, we keep you out during the prime time for the lights to occur.
Something to look for in Aurora tours is...what else are you doing? Are you just being taken to a location to look for the lights or is there something else to keep you occupied? With our adventures you can combine Aurora viewing with an Arctic Circle Adventure -- so you are out in Alaska's Arctic learning and seeing a unique part of the world and earning your Arctic Circle Certificate -- then at night you are meeting a new guide at a former homestead. While you are waiting the story of Alaska's Arctic continues as you learn more about life in Alaska. Or, you can just join us for the Homestead Aurora and concentrate on the Homestead and the stories you can hear about life in Alaska.
We also offer Arctic Circle Aurora Overnight Adventures to Coldfoot Alaska. Coldfoot is located directly under the oval and while we cannot guarantee them -- you have placed the best odds you can right under where they originate in the northern hemisphere. Stay up most of the night looking for the aurora and during the day go for a snow shoe hike, dog sled ride, or explore the Brooks Mountain Range on a guided ground tour north on the Dalton Highway.
If you have more questions about the aurora and how as a visitor you can go out and look for them please contact one of our helpful reservation agents at: 1-907-474-8600.
Arctic Circle Aurora Drive Adventure
Arctic Circle Aurora Fly Drive Adventure - Northbound
Arctic Circle Aurora Fly Drive Adventure - Southbound
Arctic Circle Aurora Overnight Adventures