Traveling to see the Northern Lights in Alaska will give you an excellent chance of experiencing this incredible natural phenomenon in person.
The Alaska aurora borealis season lasts for more than half of the year and staying in Alaska for at least three nights during aurora season will up your chances of seeing an aurora display to over ninety percent – those are some great odds!
Every time I photograph the Northern Lights in Alaska, I’m always struck by just how frequently I’m able to see aurora displays. Alaska’s remote settlements facilitate easy Northern Lights viewing, while the beautiful landscapes provide the perfect locations for capturing stunning images.
Knowing the best time and place to see Northern Lights in Alaska will make your aurora hunting that much easier, so keep reading to give yourself the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska.
Ready to become an Alaska aurora chasing expert?
- Best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska
- Best places to see the Northern Lights in Alaska
- Best Northern Lights tours in Alaska
Best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska
The best time of year to see the Northern Lights in Alaska is from late August to late April, in Fairbanks at least. These months form the official Fairbanks, Alaska aurora season, when the night sky is dark enough for visible aurora displays. Between mid-April and mid-August, the night skies are just too bright for visitors to see the aurora well.
Choosing when to visit within the Alaska Northern Lights season will depend on whether seeing an aurora display is your top priority. If it is, November to January is the best time to visit Alaska to see the Northern Lights; the days are short and the nights are long, which increases the odds of seeing an aurora display.
If you want time to sightsee as well as aurora chase, August to October and February to April are the perfect times of year to visit Alaska. The longer daylight hours will mean that you can accomplish more during the day, while the nights are still dark enough to give you a good chance for an aurora sighting, so you can get the best of both worlds.
As for the best time of day to see the Northern Lights in Alaska, during the winter, you can usually see aurora displays between 9 PM and 3 AM. Of course, only if you are lucky and sky is clear of clouds.
What month is best to see Northern Lights in Alaska?
In a nutshell, these are the best months to see the Northern Lights in Alaska:
- August, September, and October – These months will be some of the warmest for seeing the aurora, so if you don’t want to deal with the cold, this is the best time of year to come. The days are longer at this time of year than during the winter, so you’ll be able to do and see more during the daytime.
- November, December, and January – The nights are very long and dark at this time of year, which creates the perfect scenario for aurora viewing as long as the skies are clear. However, the temperatures can be quite chilly, so bring lots of layers and warm clothing.
- February, March, and April – The days start to lengthen again, so you’ll have time to sightsee during the day and aurora chase at night. The nights are still relatively long and very dark, so you’ll still have a very high chance of seeing an aurora display.
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Alaska
There are many different options for places in Alaska to see the Northern Lights, but the best place to see Northern Lights in Alaska is definitely Fairbanks.
Fairbanks has been hailed many times over as one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in the world. It’s located under the “Aurora Oval,” a zone where aurora activity tends to be concentrated. Of course, you also can’t go wrong with anywhere in Alaska that’s far north or close to the Arctic Circle. Even the big cities like Anchorage and Juneau can still offer chances to see an aurora display.
In short, these are the best places to see the Northern Lights in Alaska:
- Fairbanks – If you stay in Fairbanks for at least 3 nights during aurora season, there’s an over 90% chance that you’ll see the Northern Lights.
- Nome – Former gold-rush town with low light pollution, so it’s easy to see an aurora display close to town.
- Denali National Park – See the Northern Lights in a unique location: by Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America.
- Anchorage – City with relatively low-light pollution that’s ideal for aurora hunters who want urban comforts.
- Juneau – The best place to take a cruise to see the Northern Lights in Alaska.
- Chena Lake – A recreation area with low light pollution near Fairbanks where you can catch the Northern Lights reflected in the lake.
- Coldfoot – A quiet, remote location to see the Northern Lights in Alaska.
- Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay – See an aurora display amidst the tundra and with views of the Arctic Ocean.
There’s no better place to see the Northern Lights in Alaska than Fairbanks, which is well-known as one of the best places on the planet to catch an aurora display. Plan to stay during the Alaska aurora season for at least 3 nights of Northern Lights tours in Fairbanks – your chances of seeing the aurora will increase to over 90%!
Fairbanks benefits not only from low light pollution, but also from low precipitation, so the skies are usually very clear. Clear skies and low light pollution are crucial elements for Northern Lights viewing; add in Fairbanks’ location under the “Aurora Oval,” a ring-shaped zone around Earth’s magnetic polar cap where aurora activity tends to be concentrated and highly visible, and you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe for seeing the Northern Lights in Fairbanks.
Also, there are many Northern Lights hotels in Fairbanks, so you can easily find a cozy accommodation to stay at. My favorites are Alaska Grizzly Lodge and Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, which has an Aurora Conservatory where you can watch the aurora dance overhead. If you would like to chase the Northern Lights with an expert, I recommend this Northern Lights and Arctic Circle Tour.
Nome combines the fascinating history of a former gold-rush town with a remote, coastal location to create a distinctive setting to see an aurora in Alaska. This town is located in the far north of Alaska by the Bering Sea, so the scenery is beautiful but rugged.
Since Nome is so far north, the town is quite isolated and has low light pollution, making it easy to see the Alaska Northern Lights close to town. If you travel just a mile out of Nome, you should be able to see a vivid green aurora display.
Nome is also the endpoint of the famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race, so if you visit in March, you’ll get the opportunity to see plenty of racing huskies and their owners. While you’re in Nome, bunk at the cozy Golden Sands Stables and Lodging.
3. Denali National Park
At Denali National Park, you can have the once-in-a-lifetime-experience of seeing an aurora in Alaska above the highest mountain peak in North America, Mt. Denali.
Besides being a beautiful location for Northern Lights Alaska photos, Denali National Park’s relatively untouched wilderness means no light pollution and the perfect celestial conditions for visible aurora displays. When you’re not aurora chasing, you can hike, bike, fish, and camp within the park.
Luckily, Denali National Park isn’t too challenging to get to; it’s only a 3-hour-drive from Fairbanks and is located between Anchorage and Fairbanks. If you want to stay in the area, Grande Denali Lodge is a great option. This accommodation offers panoramic views of Denali Canyon and rustic-style rooms.
Otherwise, the nearby mining town of Healy provides many different accommodation options. One of my top picks is Denali Tri-Valley Cabins, which has cozy wooden cabins with private decks. Another great choice is Denali Lakeview Inn, which offers stunning lake and mountain views along with a private beach.
This guided Northern Lights Tour of Denali, which leaves from Healy, is the best way to explore the area and have a good chance of seeing an aurora display in a gorgeous natural setting.
Even though Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, it experiences much less light pollution than most other major cities around the world, so you might get lucky enough to see the Northern Lights in Alaska from within the city limits.
Still, to give yourself a decent chance of seeing an aurora in Alaska, you should head outside of Anchorage to see the Northern Lights, although you won’t have to drive far to see a display well. Anchorage is also an ideal option if you need a well-located base for your aurora chasing or want the amenities and comforts that come with staying in a city.
After all, there aren’t too many locations in Alaska where you can shop, dine, visit museums, go wildlife spotting, and watch the bore tide. I highly recommend staying at Alyeska Resort, which is located in the Chugach Mountains and offers gorgeous mountain and glacial views. If you want to work on your aurora photography skills, this small-group tour can help capture amazing aurora images.
Alaska’s capital city, Juneau, is the least likely spot on my list to see the Northern Lights in Alaska, since it’s located rather far south, but it’s still not unheard of to be able to see an aurora display from here.
However, if you want a practically guaranteed chance of seeing an Alaska aurora display, go further north, since it is much more common to see visible Northern Lights in northern Alaska. One advantage to Juneau, though, is that many cruises to see the Northern Lights in Alaska leave from or stop here, so it can be a good location to use as a base for other adventures.
6. Chena Lake
Want to see an aurora display in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness without traveling far from Fairbanks? Chena Lake Recreation Area is the place to see Northern Lights in Alaska for you.
This 2,000-acre park is located only 17 miles from Fairbanks and offers plenty of parking for visitors. Since there’s almost no light pollution here, you’ll easily get clear views of any aurora displays. A popular way to see the Northern Lights at Chena Lake is by watching them from the lakeshore and admiring their reflections in the lake. The lake reflections also make beautiful Northern Lights Alaska photos.
When you’re not chasing the Northern Lights, you can fish, hike, camp, picnic, cross-country ski, or check out the abundant wildlife, which includes ospreys, beavers, and moose. My favorite place to stay in the area is the festive Hotel North Pole, which offers aurora wake-up calls for guests so you won’t miss any displays.
If you’re looking for a unique Northern Lights tour in Chena Lake, this Aurora Viewing and Ice Fishing Adventure Tour promises to be something different.
Like Fairbanks, Coldfoot is located directly under the “Aurora Oval” at the 67th parallel north, so it’s in an ideal area for Northern Lights Alaska viewing. Coldfoot is much more remote than Fairbanks, however, so it experiences almost no light pollution, another useful attribute for seeing an aurora in Alaska.
This former gold mining settlement, which is now a truck stop, can be a little difficult to reach, but it is possible to drive there yourself. If you do, you can stay at Coldfoot Camp, the main accommodation for the area.
Otherwise, many Alaska Northern Lights tours bring visitors here, so you can save yourself the time and stress of driving to this remote locale by booking a tour.
8. Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay
Dying to visit tundra and see the Arctic Ocean? Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay is a location unlike any other for seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska.
As with many of the places I’ve included on this list, Deadhorse is located in the far north of Alaska, which is optimal for aurora viewing, but also means chilly winter temperatures. This isolated town also marks the endpoint of the Dalton Highway, a mostly gravel road that can be very difficult to drive.
If you can manage to make the journey, though, you’ll be able to visit Alaska’s tundra and see many types of wildlife, including caribou. You can also take a tour to see Deadhorse’s oil fields, which employ most of the local population, and take in the Arctic Ocean.
Best Northern Lights tours in Alaska
You won’t have any trouble finding Northern Lights tours in Alaska. Aurora chasing is a popular reason for tourists to visit, so there are plenty of tours and activities that focus on seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska, often in a cozy or interesting setting.
As I’ve mentioned above, Fairbanks is the hotspot for aurora viewing in Alaska, so many tours leave from or stop there. Numerous tours include trips to explore the Arctic Circle and Denali National Park, while others offer meals, hot drinks, yurts, or dogsledding. I recommend any of the exciting Northern Lights Alaska tours below:
- Northern Lights and Arctic Circle Tour from Fairbanks
- Northern Lights Tour with Dogsledding and Dinner from Fairbanks
- Northern Lights Tour with Yurt Dinner from Fairbanks
- Yukon Northern Lights Full-Day Trip from Fairbanks
- Denali Aurora Tour from Healy
- Northern Lights Photo Tour from Anchorage
- Northern Lights and Ice Fishing Adventure at Chena Lake
The tours I’ve listed above are all-day tours, but you may find it easier to book a Northern Lights vacation package with accommodation, tours, and activities included. In that case, this tour package is the best option for you: this 6-day tour includes dogsledding, ice fishing, snowshoeing, and, of course, aurora viewing.
Finally, if you want to take great photos of the Northern Lights, you’ll need to use the appropriate gear and settings. My guide to photographing the Northern Lights will let you in on the step-by-step process I use to make sure my Northern Lights Alaska photos really stand out.