Wondering where to see Northern Lights Alaska? In this article, we share the best place in Alaska to see northern lights and compare all major destinations where you can see the aurora borealis in AK.
Alaska is considered by many to be one of the best places in the world to view the northern lights. Known simply as the land of the midnight sun, the northernmost part of Alaska receives 24 hours of sunlight during the middle of summer. However, during the wintertime, parts of Alaska are stuck in perpetual darkness for more than two months.
Choosing the best place in Alaska to see northern lights is a bit dependent on the time of year you travel. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and generally falls somewhere between December 20, and December 23. During the solstice, the southernmost part of Alaska has a mere 6 hours of daylight. The further north you travel within the state, the shorter the day becomes.
Below we discuss the most popular places in Alaska, focusing on their suitability for viewing the aurora borealis. Read on to find out where to see northern lights Alaska.
Where in Alaska can you see the Northern Lights?
|Aurora Borealis Viewing Potential
|Barrow / Utqiagvik
|Excellent, but only accessible by air travel.
|Excellent, but remote.
|Excellent, with many accommodation options and facilities.
|Excellent, but remote.
|Denali National Park
|OK, but more popular as a departure point for Northern Lights cruises.
This is not a comprehensive list, but includes all the major destinations across Alaska to see the aurora. For smaller locales not listed here, simply refer to the next closest town. Latitude has been rounded to the nearest 0.5 degree.
Latitude refers to how north the location is. The further north you travel, the better your chances for seeing the aurora borealis. As a rule of thumb, the best aurora viewing spots should be around 65° N or higher, as discussed in our article on the best place to see the aurora.
Best Place in Alaska to See Northern Lights
Without a question, Fairbanks is the most popular and best destination in Alaska to see the aurora borealis. The city itself is situated directly beneath the auroral oval, which means that one does not have to travel very far in order to catch a glimpse of the elusive lights.
Unlike some of the more remote aurora-viewing destinations in Alaska, in Fairbanks there are plenty of accommodation options for tourists. However, because of Fairbanks’s population, you will still need to travel outside of the city limits because the light pollution will interfere with the viewing of the auroras.
In Fairbanks, there is just under 4 hours of daylight during the winter solstice. Because of the popularity of Fairbanks for aurora hunting, there are a number of popular destinations to choose from, some of which are listed below.
You will find the Aurora Villa located about 13 miles to the northeast of Fairbanks. The villa itself is a recently built wooden cabin, that is situated on 10 acres of forested land. The amount of light pollution in the area is limited, which helps to improve the ability to spot the northern lights in the night skies. During the daytime, it is still close enough to Fairbanks that you will find plenty of things to keep you busy.
One of the most popular destinations for aurora hunting, not just in Fairbanks, but also in all of Alaska, is that of the Borealis Basecamp. Situated on 100 acres, the Borealis Basecamp can be found a mere 25 miles north of the city of Fairbanks. It is known for its spacious fiberglass igloos, which provide some of the best views of the Alaskan skies. Each of these igloos features a 12-foot-high ceiling, along with a 16-foot wide window that allows visitors to stare up at the stars while keeping cozy and warm.
Pike’s Waterfront Lodge
One of the largest destinations just outside of Fairbanks is that of the Pike’s Waterfront Lodge. For those flying into Fairbanks, the 180-room Lodge is clearly visible from the airport. It is located just outside of the most populated areas of the city, and therefore provides visitors with the ability to hunt for the northern lights without a lot of light pollution getting in the way.
Unlike other destinations in the region for viewing the northern lights, the Lodge provides its guests with the ability to stare out at the night skies, while keeping warm around a well-kept campfire. A deck runs along the length of the riverfront, providing ample room for those who would like a little more peace and quiet while hunting for the elusive lights. However, if it gets too cold to continue looking for the auroras outside, then the Lodge also offers a heated conservatory which offers visitors a warm place to sit back and watch as the lights dance across the night skies.
Chena Hot Springs Resort
For those who are looking for something a little more relaxing, the Chena Hot Springs Resort is the perfect destination. The area in and around the resort provides a number of excellent vantage points for viewing the elusive lights. There are several different aurora viewing tours, as well as a 30-minute excursion to the top of the Charlie Dome. The Dome features a number of yurts that provide visitors with a warm and comfortable place to relax while waiting for the northern lights to appear.
Where to See Northern Lights Alaska – Other Locations
Barrow / Utqiagvik
Barrow is located in the northernmost part of Alaska and is also home to the northernmost city in the United States. In 2016, the city changed its name to Utqiagvik, which is the traditional name given to the area by the Inupiaq. There are no trains or roads that will take you to the region, instead the only way you can access the area is by air. The region is serviced regularly with flights originating from both Fairbanks and Anchorage.
During the winter months, the region is covered in perpetual darkness for a total of 67 days. If you are willing to battle the subfreezing temperatures, then you are virtually guaranteed to see the northern lights during your trip to the region.
Nestled deep within the Brooks mountain range, well above the Arctic Circle, you will find the Coldfoot Camp, which is one of the best locations within Alaska for viewing the northern lights. Its remote location makes it perfect for avoiding the unnecessary light pollution created by even the smallest of towns. Best of all, the camp provides a number of different accommodations that are perfect for those hunting for the elusive lights.
There are not a lot of places in or around Coldfoot Camp to see, as most visitors to the region are looking for a more rustic experience of the Alaskan wilderness. About the only place to sit down for a meal is at the nearby Trucker’s Café. The best location near the camp to view the aurora borealis is in the small village of Wiseman.
The Murphy Dome is another very popular vantage point for viewing the northern lights. This destination is located nearly 20 miles to the northwest of Fairbanks and is situated almost 3,000 feet above sea level. Back in the day, the Murphy Dome was home to an Air Force station. Today, however, the Dome merely features a long-range radar station that seeks out threats from foreign adversaries. There are a number of tours that depart from Fairbanks, and head up to the Murphy Dome throughout the winter months. The total trip up to the Dome and back is about five hours.
You will find Nome in the western part of Alaska, situated along the Bering Sea. The city is most well-known for the Iditarod, the annual trail dog sled race, that has occurred in March for more than 50 years. The city is home to just under 4,000 residents, but during the aurora hunting season, the population of Nome skyrockets. There are a number of excellent locations to hunt for the elusive lights just outside of town. Because Nome is not a large city, visitors do not have to travel too far outside of the city to get away from the light pollution.
Denali National Park
For those who do not wish to go too far north during the wintertime, the Denali National Park is one more popular destinations south of Fairbanks. Almost the entire park is free from light pollution, which ensures that when the conditions are just right, visitors are able to view the northern lights with ease.
While the park is open year-round, due to heavier snows during the wintertime, access to the area can be limited. Moreover, most of the lodges that are located near the park are closed during the wintertime. As a result, if you wish to hunt for the northern lights in or around the Denali National Park, you’ll need to stay in Healy, which is only 13 miles away from the entrance of the park.
Anchorage is probably one of the more popular destinations for those wishing to view the northern lights. Although further south than many of the other destinations within the state, it still offers a surprising number of destinations for viewing the elusive lights. The city itself is densely populated, and as a result, the amount of light pollution is much higher than in other smaller towns within the state.
One of the best locations in and around Anchorage to view the northern lights is the Nancy Lake State recreation area, a very popular location for locals who want to view the aurora borealis. Within the recreation area, there is a Flattop Overlook that provides an excellent vantage point for viewing the lights. For those willing to travel a little outside of the metro area, the Glenn Alps also offers some of the best chances to view the auroras.
Juneau is one of the southernmost cities in Alaska. Because it is further south, it is not affected by the midnight sun in the summer, nor the 24 hours of perpetual darkness during the winter. However, Juneau is also well below the auroral oval, which reduces the opportunities for viewing the northern lights. However, Juneau offers one thing that most other cities do not.
Every year thousands of people make their way to Juneau to view the northern lights. But, they will not be hunting for the lights within the city limits, rather they are embarking on a cruise from one of the most scenic ports in the country. A number of cruise lines including Princess and Holland America offer regular aurora cruises. One of the best ways of viewing the northern lights is from the deck of a ship far away from any form of light pollution.
Final Thoughts on Where to See Northern Lights Alaska
Listed above are all of the major destinations in Alaska for viewing the aurora borealis.
Now that you have a good picture of all the main spots, you may still be pondering what the best place in Alaska to see northern lights is for you.
The quick and easy answer is Fairbanks. Fairbanks is undoubtedly the most popular place to see the aurora borealis in Alaska, and is an easy choice if you don’t want to spend too much time planning your trip and like to travel in comfort. The reason we believe Fairbanks is the best place in Alaska to see northern lights is because:
- Fairbanks is on the edge of the auroral oval, meaning it is situated very well for seeing the aurora
- Fairbanks has many accommodation options and tourist facilities such as restaurants, shops and tours.
However, if you prefer to avoid the touristy spots and are looking for somewhere off the beaten track, we also highly recommend:
- Barrow / Utqiagvik (access by air only)
With this information, you should now be very well-equipped to work out where to go for your own Alaska northern lights trip. After you have your destination picked out, make sure you choose the right time of year to book your vacation with our monthly travel planner for Alaska’s northern lights here.
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