The Best Ways to Watch the Northern Lights in Alaska

Even if you’ve never been witness to the northern lights phenomenon, you’re familiar with what they are. Also known as aurora borealis, these lights occur when gaseous particles from our atmosphere collide with charged particles from the sun’s atmosphere. Scientifically, it may not sound like much, but what you get is a stunning light show that illuminates the night sky. Bands of neon colors spontaneously burst and send greens, pinks, and purples dancing across the horizon.

Looking at pictures may move you to want to see the northern lights, but they are no substitute for the real thing. Once you experience the aurora borealis in person, you’ll understand that, unlike other popular travel attractions, this magical occurrence really does live up its hype. In fact, it’s even formed a new group of people who call themselves aurora hunters. Unlike others who are only interested in checking the northern lights off their bucket list, aurora hunters are driven by an obsession to chase the northern lights around the world.

Perhaps a part of what makes the northern lights so appealing (aside from their obvious beauty) is their rarity—and who isn’t excited by the exclusivity of experiencing something that not everyone will get to see in their lifetime? For this reason, nature enthusiasts flock to Iceland, Norway, or Finland in hopes of seeing the northern lights during their trip. Yet, what many people don’t realize is that you don’t need to leave the United States for a chance to watch this light show in person. Alaska is the only place in the U.S. where the northern lights can occur year-round, which should put it at the top of any sightseer’s travel list.

If you’re planning on visiting Alaska to catch the aurora borealis, here is where you should plan to watch from:

Fairbanks

Located under the “aurora oval,” where the aurora borealis appears most frequently, Fairbanks is reputed as being the capital of the northern lights in Alaska. Here, adventurers don’t have to travel far to see the lights. It’s a predominantly accessible area, close to the Fairbanks International Airport, with a number of lodging options available to travelers. However, being in such close proximity to the city, sightseers are likely to see the lights, but not as well as in darker parts of the state.

Anchorage

Alaska’s largest city also offers a good view of the lights during peak viewing season, which runs from September to April 20th. In Anchorage, the colorful bands of light appear much lower on the horizon, but many adventurers have had success seeing the aurora borealis from just outside the city. However, just like in Fairbanks, light pollution from the city can interfere with the viewing experience, making it more difficult to observe the green and pink hues (the more common colors) of the northern lights in their full vibrancy.

Utqiaġvik

Located 330 miles north of Alaska’s Arctic Circle, adventurers headed to Utqiaġvik must be prepared to brave frigid temperatures during the wintertime to catch a light show. But If you are up for it, you’ll find that Utqiaġvik’s dark skies and freezing climate are well worth the reward. Not only will you have a front row seat to the northern lights, but Utqiaġvik also gives travelers an authentic taste of Alaska’s history, with activities like Iñupiat games and dogsledding available to the public during the day.

Chena Hot Springs

For travelers who would like to stay closer to a major city, there are other options that offer a more lavish experience, like the Chena Hot Springs Resort. Here, guests not only receive a ‘northern lights wake-up call,’ but people can watch the lights from a heated log cabin with glass windows. This comes with a higher price tag, but it’s lack of ambient lighting means that adventurers have just as good of a chance seeing the show from the resort as they do from Fairbanks and Anchorage.