Northern Lights in Alaska: Where To See Them

aurora borealis

Seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska has been on my bucket list for years! Alaska is one of the most incredible spots on Earth to see the Aurora Borealis. Winter is the predominant season for witnessing this fantastic light display, so pack your long underwear and prepare to be amazed. But wait! What if you’re visiting Alaska in the summer? Can you still see the dancing clouds? Absolutely, and we’ll tell you how.

The Northern Lights in Alaska are comparable to nature’s own dance party. They put on a captivating color show as they dance over the Alaskan skies. However, the auroras are somewhat like celebrities in that they don’t always appear when expected, so be patient. 

We were also a little surprised that during the summer months, we didn’t see many colors with our naked eyes. We saw the Northern Lights as bright clouds crisscrossing the skies. But through our camera lens, the colors came to life. So, don’t worry—you’ll still get great pictures to document the dance party!

Standing in the Northern Lights
Self Portrait in the Northern Lights

What are the Northern Lights, and Where Do They Come From?

The Aurora Borealis is another name for the Northern Lights. However, the same light phenomenon is called the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights in the southern hemisphere. Together, the lights are the Aurora Polaris since they shine and dance around Earth’s magnetic poles.

When charged particles from the sun interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, the result is a breathtaking show of lights that dance and change color throughout the night sky. We saw a good video on lights at the Fairbanks Museum of the North. So, if you make it up to Fairbanks, stop by the museum and watch the show. It’s pretty interesting!

In the meantime, here’s a quick look at auroras. It’ll sure get you ready to pack your bags and head to Alaska to see the Northern Lights!

Credit: Canadian Space Agency, NASA, and Neil Zeller

Where To See the Aurora Borealis

To see the Northern Lights at their best, you’ll want to visit a location with minimal light pollution, especially during the winter months when the nights are the longest. Fairbanks is often regarded as one of the best places to witness the Northern Lights in Alaska. Its northern latitude and cold, clear winters make it an ideal location for aurora hunting. 

Additionally, the Fairbanks area is situated under the “Auroral Oval,” a region that experiences frequent and intense auroral activity. We boondocked a ways past the university at Peat Ponds Wildlife Area, where we hoped for good sky views. But instead, we got cloudy skies and a bit of rain. The area was still beautiful and worth a stop, especially if you’re into bird-watching and beaver dams!

Here’s a remarkable fact, but it won’t help you see the auroras. Haha! On the International Space Station, astronauts see the northern lights at eye level. Now, wouldn’t that be a wild experience?
Just look out your window to see the dancing skies.

Meanwhile, we had great aurora views back on Earth at Chena Lake Recreation Area. During our September stay, the campgrounds were closed. So, instead, we stayed in the recreation area parking lot with other campers. It was dark and cold, with amazing views around midnight!

Hard to capture the colors of the Northern Lights

Another exceptional location is Denali National Park, which offers spectacular natural beauty and great Northern Lights displays. The park’s pristine wilderness and low light pollution create an optimal setting for aurora viewing.

Anchorage can also provide opportunities to see the Northern Lights, although not as frequently as Fairbanks or more remote areas. On clear winter nights, if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the auroras dancing over the city. Our daughter and family live on the Air Force base, and they can get into dark areas near the campgrounds and lakes there. So they get great Aurora views, but many places in Anchorage have too much light pollution.

Best Phone Apps For the Northern Lights in Alaska

Download a phone app to find out when the lights will start to dance close to you. Our daughter uses Amazing Aurora, so we downloaded it, too.

Amazing Aurora Apple App

Amazing Aurora Google Play App

While I didn’t understand everything it told about the weather, the app was still pretty easy for beginners. We primarily used it on the spur of the moment, checking to see if the aurora was visible in our immediate area.

It’s backward in color-coding than what we’re used to as drivers. So green means poor conditions, yellow is fair, and red means good conditions to see some sky dancing. Of course, I took this screenshot while sitting in a hotel in Colorado, but it still gives an idea of how the app works.

Basically, when we mainly had red-colored data across all columns, we had the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska. I like that it tells you a forecast for the next hour, so we always had time to bundle up and get outside. And yes, you need to bundle up even in the summer because it’s COLD once the Sun goes down!

Our friends had some excellent night sky views thanks to their use of the premium edition of My Aurora Forecast & Alerts. Linda and I compared screenshots, and her app appeared to be a little more beginner-friendly. Honestly, though, it’s a win as long as the app works for you!

My Aurora Apple App

My Aurora Google Play App

When Is the Best Time to See Alaska’s Northern Lights?

To increase your odds of experiencing the Northern Lights, visit during the winter months when the nights are longest and the skies are darkest. The best window is August through May, but the longer, darker nights are the cream of the crop.

Moreover, monitoring aurora forecasts, checking local weather conditions, and being patient are essential. When the auroras do make an appearance, they’ll paint the night sky with green, pink, and purple hues, creating a breathtaking, almost magical, display you’ll cherish forever.

So, if you’re looking to witness the Northern Lights, bundle up, head to one of these prime Alaskan locations, and prepare to be spellbound by this celestial light show, a truly extraordinary gift from the cosmos.

This is the first article about our Summer 2023 Alaska trip. More are coming, even though we’ve taken a break to focus on family. Thanks for reading about our adventures, check out our Pacific Crest Trail hike, while you’re here!

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