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When to See Northern Lights in Alaska | Monthly Planner

when to see northern lights in alaska

Wondering when to see Northern Lights in Alaska? In this guide, we explain best month to see Northern Lights in Alaska and best time of year to visit.

If you’re planning a trip to Alaska to see the aurora borealis, an essential part of your planning should be setting your vacation date for the right time of year. As a rule of thumb, this means not travelling in summer, due to the midnight sun.

As well as sunlight, there are other factors that come into play when choosing the best time to visit Alaska northern lights, however. In this article, we cover all these environmental factors, to help you plan your vacation. Read on to find out the best months and times of year to see the aurora in Alaska.

How to Choose When to See Northern Lights in Alaska

Factors in choosing the right month for Northern Lights in Alaska, or anywhere for that matter, are:

  • Sunlight hours
  • Cloud cover (eg rain clouds, snow clouds)
  • Light pollution (eg cities, full moon)

In order to hunt for the elusive lights, two important things must happen. First, the night must be longer to ensure that the skies are dark enough to view the lights. Secondly, there cannot be anything that would interfere with their visibility such as clouds or light pollution.

The easiest way to reduce interference by light pollution is to head out into the vast Alaskan wilderness, far away from any major cities. If you want to be hyper-vigilant, you could also arrange your vacation during a dark moon to avoid moon light pollution. The Almanac moon calendar for Alaska provides an easy way to check moon phases far into the future.

It is impossible to completely avoid the risk of cloud cover, but you can choose to travel in a month when cloud cover is less likely to occur, which we’ll discuss below.

When Can You See Northern Lights in Alaska?

Best Month to See Northern Lights in Alaska

  • October (late Autumn)
  • March (early Spring)

The aurora borealis is a natural light show that is caused by the interaction of the solar wind with the magnetic poles of the planet, that occurs 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. However, we cannot see them during the daytime, because the sun is just too bright.

Because of the midnight sun, during the summer months, there are very few hours of absolute darkness for most of Alaska. Instead, visitors seeking out the elusive lights should visit Alaska during the early spring, or the late autumn. The absolute best time to visit Alaska northern lights is in late October before the rivers and lakes freeze over, and in early March as the winter ice begins to thaw.

When to See Northern Lights in Alaska | Monthly Planner

Northern Lights in Alaska in January

January marks the beginning of the year, and it also represents some of the shortest days in Alaska. Barrow, which is located in the northernmost part of Alaska, is also the northernmost point of the United States. During the month of January, it is dark 24 hours a day. As a result, if you can withstand these subfreezing Arctic temperatures, then you would have plenty of opportunities to view the Northern lights.

Not everyone will want to travel this far north to view the aurora borealis, which is why destinations like Fairbanks, Coldfoot, Nome, and Denali are better options with a mere 4 hours of sunlight each day. If you travel a little further south to Anchorage or Juneau, then you’ll still have plenty of time to view the Northern lights, as there is still less than 6 hours of sunlight per day.

Northern Lights in Alaska in February

As January fades into February, the hours of daylight increase significantly. While Barrow, Alaska was completely dark for most of January, in February, it sees an average of 4 hours of sunlight per day. As you head further south into cities like Fairbanks, Nome, Denali, as well as Coldfoot, the days grow to almost 7 hours.

While January is known to be very dry, snow clouds become more common in February. As a result of the cloud coverage, your ability to see the northern lights can be severely hampered on some evenings. Nevertheless, as the days get longer, the weather becomes warmer. This results in more accommodating temperatures for those who have never been to the Arctic before.

Northern Lights in Alaska in March

March represents the beginning of spring in Alaska. The temperatures across the state gradually increase to more tolerable levels. By March, the average day in Barrow increases to just over 9 hours, and other popular destinations like Nome, Denali, Fairbanks, and Coldfoot also increase to about 10 hours of sunlight per day

As the days get longer, the number of hours that one can spend hunting the skies for the aurora borealis gets shorter. With an average of only 14 hours per day for aurora hunting, March is considered by many to be the perfect month to visit Alaska.

Northern Lights in Alaska in April

The vernal equinox occurs at the end of March each year, and along with it comes an increase in solar activity. The temperatures in Alaska began to rapidly rise to a more comfortable level, especially for those who are traveling from southern regions. This rapid increase in temperature is a result of the longer days.

Until April, Barrow had the least number of hours of sunlight each day, but after the vernal equinox occurs, the hours of daylight shift. As result, places like Juneau, Denali, Anchorage, Nome, and Fairbanks see an average of 13 hours of sunlight per day. However, Barrow and Coldfoot experience nearly 15 hours of sunlight. As the snows of winter begin to melt away, new life is breathed into the Alaskan frontier.

Northern Lights in Alaska in May

The aurora borealis is visible 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. However, during the summer months, the elusive lights cannot be seen due to the brightness of the sun. As the days get longer, the hours of darkness are slowly reduced to nothing. By May, the northernmost parts of Alaska will see as much as 20 hours of sunlight every single day. As you head a little further south, the length of each day is reduced to about 16 hours. This leaves very little time to hunt the night sky for the northern lights.

As May begins to segue into June, Barrow, Alaska begins to experience the midnight sun. The midnight sun refers to the time of year when the sun never sets in the Arctic. Because of the twilight when the length of a day increases above 20 hours, it’s literally impossible to hunt the elusive lights.

Northern Lights in Alaska in June

Can you see the northern lights in Alaska in June?

June is known as the month of the midnight sun. In the northernmost part of Alaska including Coldfoot and Barrow, the sun never sets. As a result, you would not be able to view the aurora borealis this time of year. Even as you move further south towards Juneau, Anchorage, Nome, Denali, or Fairbanks, the days are still 20 hours long, so you end up with about 4 hours of twilight each day and no actual darkness.

Even native Alaskans have a hard time dealing with the midnight sun. The lack of dark skies can mess with the human body’s circadian rhythm. The body simply does not know when it’s time to sleep or be awake, so it becomes harder to fall asleep. This lack of sleep ultimately affects one’s mental stability. As a result, June is one of the worst months to visit Alaska for any reason, let alone for the aurora borealis.

Northern Lights in Alaska in July

Can you see the northern lights in Alaska in July?

Throughout July, Barrow continues to see the midnight sun, with 24 hours of sunlight every single day. Luckily, as you begin to head south into Coldfoot, the number of hours of daylight drops to 22. The remaining 2 hours each day are spent in the twilight, the transition point between night and day. Nevertheless, even if you travel as far south as Anchorage, Juneau, Denali, Nome, or even Fairbanks, you still have to deal with 18 hours or more of sunlight every day.

As is the case with June, July is definitely not a good time of year to visit Alaska if you are planning to view the northern lights. There is just too much sunlight to see them. Even in the southernmost parts of the state, there are not enough hours of dark skies to hunt for the elusive auroras.

Northern Lights in Alaska in August

Can you see the northern lights in Alaska in August?

By August, the days slowly start to get shorter. While the northernmost parts of Alaska are still stuck with the midnight sun, the further south you head the shorter the days become. In Juneau, the length of an average day is about 16 1/2 hours. At the most, you may get a maximum of 2 hours of dark skies in order to hunt for the aurora borealis. Because of how elusive they are, 2 hours simply is not enough.

As you head north into Anchorage, Nome, Denali, and Fairbanks, the length of the days increase to about 18 hours. Because of the length of the days, the evening skies are stuck in a twilight state, and never actually get dark enough to hunt for the Aurora. August is definitely not a good month to visit Alaska if you are planning on viewing the northern lights.

Northern Lights in Alaska in September

As we segue from August into September the days start to shorten. September is the month of the autumnal equinox, and as a result, by the end of the month, the length of the days switches once again. For the most part, virtually all of Alaska will have about 14 hours of sunlight every single day. This leaves about 8 hours of dark skies each night in which to hunt for the northern lights.

The temperatures during September are accommodating. Alaska has a brief autumn, but nevertheless, September is the month to visit the state if you want to take in all of the beautiful colors during the daytime, and the auroras at nighttime. It is the only time of year that the northern lights can be seen before the rivers and lakes freeze over for the winter. For many people choosing to visit Alaska, September is one of the more popular months to hunt for the elusive lights.

Northern Lights in Alaska in October

During the beginning of October, the days are still quite long. As a result, the temperatures are still bearable for most. However, by the end of the month, the temperatures drop substantially, especially after the sun has set. During October, Barrow begins to average a mere 11 hours of sunlight daily. This provides visitors as much as 9 to 10 hours each night with dark skies in which to seek out the aurora borealis.

Because of the equinox flip, as you begin to head further south, the days become longer. In Juneau, Denali, Anchorage, Nome, and Fairbanks, the average day is nearly 12 hours long. There are still plenty of hours each day to look up at the sky and hunt for aurora borealis. Most of the Alaskan wilderness has not yet been covered by snow, which means that there will be less light pollution to interfere with your viewing of the northern lights.

Northern Lights in Alaska in November

November is known as an important transition month in Alaska because it usually represents the first major snowstorms of the winter. The beautiful greens and hues of brown and gold begin to fade away beneath the layers of soft fluffy snow. The days begin to shorten dramatically with Barrow and Coldfoot having less than 6 hours of sunlight every single day. Even if you head further south into Nome, Anchorage, Denali, Juneau, as well as Fairbanks, the average day is still less than 9 hours. This provides visitors with more than 12 hours of perfect darkness each night in which to hunt for the elusive lights.

However, care must be taken when visiting Alaska in November, because of the heavier snowfall. The 2 most important aspects of hunting for the aurora borealis, are long dark nights, and cloud-free skies. Because of the increase in snowstorms during November, there is a greater chance of cloud coverage that would make it harder to view the aurora borealis.

Northern Lights in Alaska in December

December represents the end of the year, and as a result, also represents perfect darkness in the northernmost parts of Alaska. Throughout the month, there is an average of 24 hours of dark, nighttime skies over Barrow. Even if you head further south into Coldfoot, the day is still only about 2 hours long. This provides visitors with nearly 20 hours of pure darkness every single day.

Of course, the subfreezing temperatures of the northernmost parts of Alaska make them less than desirable. Instead, most people visit the more southern destinations like Juneau, Anchorage, or Denali. These 3 cities average about 6 hours a day of sunlight. This means that visitors to the southernmost part of Alaska will still have more than 16 hours of pure darkness in which to hunt for the northern lights.

Final Thoughts on When to See Northern Lights in Alaska

After reading this article, you should now have a clear idea of the best time to visit Alaska northern lights. But if you’re still scratching your head wondering when are northern lights in Alaska, then here’s a quick summary.

Alaska Northern Light Best Time

  • Best month to see northern lights in Alaska: October, March.
  • Best season to see northern lights in Alaska: Early Spring; Late Autumn.
  • Worst time of year to see northern lights in Alaska: Summer.

The most important thing when choosing the best time to visit Alaska northern lights is to avoid Summer.

This is because of the Midnight Sun during which time Alaska is basically in daylight 24/7, meaning there is simply not enough darkness to see the aurora. To view the aurora you need good darkness, making Spring and Autumn the best seasons. Winter is also great, but more susceptible to snow clouds, and the freezing temperatures may make travel less comfortable.

For more tips to plan your Alaska northern lights holiday, check out the further reading below.

Happy travels!

Further Reading on Alaska Northern Lights Best Time and Place

BEST PLACE AND TIME TO SEE NORTHERN LIGHTS 2020-2035

WHAT ARE THE BEST YEARS TO SEE AURORA? NORTHERN LIGHTS SCHEDULE 2020 TO 2035

THE BEST PLACE TO SEE NORTHERN LIGHTS ON EARTH

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