The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is one of those acts of nature that is as humbling as it is beautiful. Alaska is one of the best places in the world to see them. So if you’re headed there, read these tips for catching sight of those swirling, greenish curtains in the sky.
Just like if you were stargazing, the best nights are when it’s as dark as possible. Because summer months in Alaska have few hours of darkness (if any), you’ll want to avoid that season. Midwinter, though, can have harsh weather—therefore, September and March are the best months to try and see the Aurora Borealis. Of course, you won’t want to be near a city because of its artificial lights, and cloudy days will also ruin your chances. So get out of town, check the weather forecast, and hope that the Northern Lights (which still aren’t exactly regular or predictable) will be waiting for you to spot.
It’ll start with a greenish glow (running east-west, if you know your directions), and may not move much at first. If it fades, don’t be disappointed just yet, sometimes it can come back an hour or so later.
The best Auroral activity usually occurs between 10pm and 2am solar time (that is, an hour and a half after standard clock time or two and a half hours after daylight saving clock time). The math comes out to 1:30am or 2:30am as the peak hour, but you should start looking a little before midnight just in case it can be seen already. Again, just because there’s a prime time for it doesn’t mean it’s a regular occurrence!
You can actually check the ‘Aurora Forecast’ at the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute website.
The best places in Alaska to see the lights are the Yukon territory, Denali, outside Fairbanks or even Anchorage. Sometimes hotels will offer a ‘Northern Lights Wake-Up Call’ so you don’t sleep through and miss it, so ask when making a booking. Determined travelers may want to pack some gear and head out for a hike, but you should also consider combining a Northern Lights viewing with another activity; many adventure tours include attempted viewings, and, for example, the Chena Hot Springs Resort just above Fairbanks sees the Aurora Borealis an average of 200 nights a year!