Today, we explain how to see northern lights in Alaska and share our northern lights Alaska trip checklist, to ensure you’ve planned everything necessary for a successful aurora-hunting trip.
The northern lights are perhaps, one of the most breathtaking natural phenomena in the world. For centuries, travelers from every corner of the globe have made their way to northern destinations like Iceland, Norway, and Finland. However, in the last century, Alaska has grown to be one most popular destinations in the world for aurora hunters, due to the increased chances of viewing the elusive lights.
In this article, we will help you plan a successful aurora-chasing trip in Alaska, by explaining the vital trip-planning pointers you need to factor in, such as timing, location, accommodation, aurora forecasts and more.
How to See Northern Lights in Alaska
Alaska Northern Lights Trip Checklist
If you are planning on visiting Alaska to view the northern lights, here are the most important tasks that should be part of your trip-planning process.
- Choose the Right Time of Year: September to March
- Select Great Locations for Viewing: Latitude 60-65° N or higher
- Bring the Proper Cold-Weather Gear
- Choose an Excellent Hotel or Resort
- Arrange Transportation: Book Flights, Car Hire, RV etc.
- Monitor Local Weather Conditions
- Check Aurora Forecasts
- Opt for Flexible Booking Packages
Let’s take a closer look at each of these items, to find out why they are so important to your adventure in the north.
We provide more detail for each section in other articles on this website, via the links, so be sure to check out those links for more information.
Tips to See Northern Lights in Alaska
Planning Your Northern Lights Trip Alaska
Choose the Right Time of Year
When it comes to the question of how to see northern lights in Alaska, timing is the most important factor of all. If you get the timing wrong, your chances of seeing the northern lights in Alaska are reduced to almost 0% no matter where you go or how long you stay.
However, if you time your trip for the very best aurora-watching months, then your chances are pretty good even if you don’t get the location and other factors exactly perfect.
So, when exactly is the best time to see the aurora borealis in Alaska?
To see the northern lights in Alaska, you need to visit in the colder months, between late September and early March. The winter months are your friend when it comes to the northern lights. To maximize your chances of seeing the aurora you need plenty of darkness, which means you should avoid summer because the daylight hours are too long to give visibility to the auroras.
For more timing tips, check out these articles:
- When to See Northern Lights in Alaska (Monthly Planner)
- Best Years to See Northern Lights (2020-2035)
Select the Ideal Location
Location, location, location! Many people assume that you can easily view the auroras from anywhere in Alaska. However, this is not the case. In the southernmost part of the state, it can be much more difficult to view the elusive lights. Moreover, the light pollution generated in the major cities also interferes with the viewing experience. Take the time to explore the various regions of Alaska, to understand which particular locations will offer the greatest chances of capturing a glimpse of the northern lights.
Alaska is one of the largest and least populated states in the US. There are locations in the state where you could literally drive for a day before you even see anyone else. At the same time, there are other locations that you cannot even reach by car. Due to the vastness of the Alaskan wilderness, there are countless locations for viewing the northern lights. Places like Fairbanks, Anchorage, as well as the Denali National Park, are some of the most popular choices. Take advantage of guided tours, which can take you outside the city limits to some of the best viewing spots around town.
For more location tips, check out this article:
Essential Gear for Your Northern Lights Trip Alaska
Invest in Warm and Layered Clothing
During the winter months in Alaska, it can get downright frigid. It is important to make sure that you invest in quality gear that is specifically designed to keep you warm in colder climates. You will need to make sure that you have plenty of options when it comes to layering, so you can stay warm even on the coldest nights.
Some of the more important pieces to include in your wardrobe are insulated underwear, waterproof boots, neoprene gloves, a warm hat, and lots of flannel. Chances are, you may end up being out in the cold for hours at a time, so you will want to make sure that you are not only warm but that you’re also comfortable at the same time.
Pack Necessary Photography Equipment
Sure, it may be great to visit Alaska just to view the northern lights, but nothing beats taking photographs of the mesmerizing auroras to share with your friends when you return home. Although it is possible to take fairly decent photographs of the elusive lights with your smartphone, it is always best to use a mirrorless DSLR camera with a wide-angle lens to get the best photographs imaginable.
A top-notch DSLR camera can take amazingly stable shots in extremely low light conditions. But unlike a cell phone, learning how to use one can be quite difficult for the beginner. Take some time to familiarize yourself with your equipment before you make your trip, and if possible, sign up for a photography class once you arrive at your destination.
Download Relevant Apps and Software
In the old days, people relied on the radio to stay up-to-date with weather information. However, it did not give complete information about the weather in any particular area, unlike whether applications can today. Thanks to the many advancements in technology, you can download relevant apps and software that will enhance your overall Northern Lights experience. Due to limited Internet access out in the field. Make sure to take the time to download the apps that you want, and familiarize yourself with them before you head out into the field.
Some of the apps that you will need to have will be a good weather forecasting app that includes radar images if possible, as well as an aurora forecasting app that includes important metrics such as KP index among others.
For more tech tips, check out this article:
Selecting Accommodations for Your Alaska Trip
Look for Hotels Away from City Lights
Always make sure to select a hotel or cabin that is outside of the city limits. One of the biggest factors that affect your ability to capture a glimpse of the elusive lights, is light pollution itself. And while it is possible to see the northern lights inside a populated city, they will not be as vivid and mesmerizing.
When choosing a hotel or other accommodation, look for places that are dedicated to northern lights viewing. These kinds of hotels often include access to guided tours, have viewing locations on site, and even offer wake-up calls.
Consider Lodging with Northern Lights Wake-Up Calls
You never know when the northern lights will make an appearance. They could pop up at any time of night, and after a long day of taking in the sights of the untamed Alaskan wilderness, you may accidentally fall asleep before they make their grand appearance. While many hotels throughout Alaska say that they have a wake-up call service, not all of them actually wake you up. After all, the person who would wake you up is the front desk clerk, and if they are busy with other tasks they may miss the lights altogether.
Accommodations that have dedicated wake-up call services are the best way to go. These hotels often have a staff member whose specific role is to keep an eye out for the appearance of the ghostly lights. Because of the unpredictability of the northern lights, the wake-up call service is a game changer.
For more accommodation tips, check out this article:
Alaska Weather Considerations
Identify Reliable Weather Monitoring Websites
Not all weather monitoring websites and applications are created equal. To ensure that you have an on obstructed view of the northern lights, is important to make sure that there is no cloud cover, precipitation, or other weather events that could interfere with the visibility of the lights. The best weather monitoring applications also include some form radar that will provide you with up-to-date information about the existence, or potential future existence of clouds.
Some of the best websites for planning your trip to Alaska include the Alaska Climate Research Center as well as the National Weather Service. Both of these organizations offer applications that you can download to your phone, and stay up to date with the latest information about local weather.
Opt for Flexible Bookings
Flexible booking is the must-have option for anyone visiting Alaska to view the northern lights. After all, the weather in Alaska can be completely unpredictable and conditions may change at any time. By selecting a flexible booking package, you can change the date of your trip in the event that last-minute weather patterns pop up and adversely affect your chances of witnessing the aurora borealis.
Learn How to See Northern Lights in Alaska (Forecasts)
Install Forecast Apps for Real-Time Updates
While having a good weather application on your smartphone is a must-have, when choosing to go aurora hunting, you should also take the time to install an aurora forecasting software as well. Aurora forecasting software provides real-time updates for aurora activity in and around your destination. There are several excellent Aurora forecasting solutions for both Android as well as iOS.
Aurora forecasting applications include up-to-date information on important factors including geomagnetic activity, KP index, as well as solar activity. Some of the better apps also provide forecasting ability, they will provide you with the probability of viewing the elusive lights in a particular area based on either a color range or a percentage point. Make sure to select one that is specifically designed to provide up-to-date information for Alaska.
Familiarize Yourself with Aurora Forecast Websites
Many applications on the market today can be quite confusing for the first-time user. That is why it’s important to take the time to familiarize yourself with the aurora forecasting applications and the various forecasting websites.
One of the most popular websites in Alaska is the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute and Space Weather Prediction Center. This organization provides some of the most up-to-date and accurate aurora forecasting for various popular destinations throughout the state. Take the time to regularly check this information, so that you can make well-informed decisions before heading out into the Alaskan wilderness.
For more information, read our article:
For more forecast tips, check out this article:
Final Tips for How to See Northern Lights in Alaska
This wraps up our Alaska northern lights trip planning checklist and tips. In this article, we have only skimmed the surface of the factors to consider when planning your trip to Alaska. However, for the best information on how to see northern lights in Alaska, please make sure to follow the links to our other Alaska articles, that we’ve scattered throughout this article – particularly with regard to time and place.
The main factors to consider when planning your northern lights Alaska trip are:
- TIMING: Visit in the cooler months, between September and March. Avoid summer, as the daylight hours are too long. More info here.
- LOCATION: Choose a location as far north in Alaska as you can manage. Aurora is best viewed at latitude 65° N or higher. More info here.
If after reading this information you think you’d prefer to leave the travel planning to someone else, we can help with that, too. Check out this next article, for a selection of the best all-inclusive northern lights Alaska vacation packages, where all the hard planning work and research is left to the professionals:
Regardless of whether you choose to plan your own trip or book into a vacation package, we wish you all the best with your northern lights Alaska trip, and if you have any questions please pop in and check out our full list of Alaska Northern Lights articles here.
Happy aurora hunting!
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