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The Best Places to see the Northern Lights in Alaska
Updated April 2020, Best Places to see the Northern Lights in Alaska was originally written in January 2020
For many people, seeing the northern lights is a major bucketlist item. They’re elusive, require (usually expensive) travel to far northern latitudes (and southern too!), and difficult to predict. So this is why my usual response to friends and even strangers who land in my inbox is to have other activities planned for your winter trip to Alaska because there’s a decent chance you will not see the aurora (case and point: in a women’s travel Facebook group a woman was asking for the best places in Fairbanks to see the northern lights on her day trip from Palm Springs. Yes, you read that right: day trip. She was planning to fly from Palm Springs to Fairbanks, land about 10 pm, and then depart Fairbanks back to Palm Springs midday the following day. No, she wasn’t working, or a flight attendant, she was planning to buy a full fare for this. She proceeded to get angry when most every comment stated a list of favorite spots in Fairbanks but voiced that she was more than likely NOT going to see them.).
Tangent aside, what I’m getting at here is that there’s a decent chance you may never see them. I’ve lived in Alaska my entire life and can attest to that. Some winters you may go weeks without seeing them, even if you regularly hunt for them. But when they’re out, its definitely a sight to behold. In this guide you’ll find a list of the best places to see the northern lights in Alaska, as well as bits if aurora info, what to pack, the best hotels and tours, and more.
Start here: 9 Tips For Viewing The Aurora
Basic Aurora Info
- Aurora is caused by charged particles from a solar event hitting the earth’s atmosphere. These are hard to predict and forecast. Read more on what aurora is here.
- You need a clear sky. If the weather forecast is calling for mostly cloudy, rain, or snow you will not be able to see the northern lights. With that said, I have seen them through scattered and partly cloudy skies.
- To cut to the chase: you can’t see the aurora in the summer. Alaska is nicknamed the land of the midnight sun, alluding to the fact that it doesn’t get dark in Alaska in summer. Above the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set for a decent chunk of the summer months. To be perfectly honest with you, the latest I’ve seen them in the spring is May 7 and the earliest was August 21.
- The two most active aurora months are May and September. These are typically better months in regard to the temperature being spring and fall.
- October to February makes the core of the aurora chasing season, but you can expect cold temperatures and winter weather.
- You’ll need to head somewhere without much light pollution. In cities, like Anchorage, you usually cannot see them.
- Interior and northern Alaska are the best places to see the northern lights. Anchorage sits on the southern edge on decent auroral activity nights, meaning that they won’t be as vibrant as in somewhere around Fairbanks’ latitude. You can still see them in southern Alaska, like Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan, but they do not reach this far south frequently.
Wanna shoot the northern lights? Read: How To Photograph The Aurora
The Best Places To See The Northern Lights In Alaska
Around Anchorage & Girdwood
Flattop is a popular hike located in the southeast of Anchorage. The beauty of Flattop is that on a clear night, you can drive up to the lot and start hiking up the trail and see the aurora dancing as you’re high enough above the city lights of Anchorage to see the northern lights.
Pt. Woronzof & Earthquake Park
Pt. Woronzof and nearby Earthquake Park are on the west shores of Anchorage on Cook Inlet. If you have a dark and clear night with decent auroral activity, it should be possible to watch the aurora from here.
Potter Valley is just uphill from Potter Marsh on the southern fringe of Anchorage. Potter Valley, like Flattop, is a bit darker as it’s on the edge of the city and elevated getting above the city lights.
A 20 minute drive south of Anchorage will bring you along the Turnagain Arm toward Girdwood. Beluga Point is a nice viewpoint over the inlet and with the mountains shielding the light from Anchorage, it can be a good spot to go when the aurora forecast predicts they’ll be out.
Plan your visit to Anchorage: The Anchorage Travel Guide
Where To Stay In Anchorage
Eagle River, Chugiak & Eklutna
Skyline Parking lot at the start of the Baldy Trail is probably the most popular place in Eagle River to go to try and see the northern lights. Skyline drive takes you winding up the mountain with views from the parking area being high enough over Eagle River and Chugiak to not only see them but get some pretty cool photographs of the northern lights dancing about the city lights below.
Eagle River Nature Center
Eagle River Nature Center is far enough back Eagle River Valley to yield fairly dark skies. On a clear night, this is a great place to try and see the aurora. If you don’t feel like making the drive all the way back here and walking along one of the trails to a good spot, another great alternative is the North Fork of Eagle River, a few miles before. A short walk will bring you down to the river and a great place for northern lights photography.
Beach Lake is a good spot to head to view the aurora, located in Birchwood.
Eklutna Lake is a pretty secluded area that yields some pretty dark skies given its proximity to Anchorage and Eagle River, as well to Palmer and Wasilla.
Eklutna Tailrace is another great place, especially if you’re wanting to photograph the northern lights. The artificial eddy coming down from the Eklutna power plant is usually ice-free giving you the chance to photograph the northern lights and their reflection.
Where To Stay In Eagle River
Hatcher Pass is a great place to take a drive to view the northern lights. The surrounding mountains help block out lights from nearby towns giving a pretty dark sky. There are a number of parking lots from which you can watch as well as several hikes you could try.
Where To Stay Near Hatcher Pass
Hatcher Pass Lodge
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Eureka Roadhouse is right off the Glenn Highway on the way to Glennallen from Anchorage. Eureka is far enough out that you’ll have a dark sky prime for aurora viewing.
Talkeetna is pushing close to the interior of Alaska, and therefore will typically have better shows than down in the Anchorage area.
Where To Stay In & Around Talkeetna
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McKinley View B&B
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Susitna River Cabins
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Paxson is another good spot to head for an extremely dark sky for seeing the northern lights. Not too awfully far from Eureka Roadhouse, you’ll continue along the Glenn Highway to Glennallen and then head north on the Richardson Highway. Paxson is at the beginning of the Denali Highway.
Cantwell is just south of Denali National Park and north from Talkeetna. There are plenty of spots to view the aurora, even right along the highway near Cantwell.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park offers some great vantage points for viewing the aurora. It’s worth noting though that the park road is closed to vehicles and not maintained from late September until May.
Heading to Denali? Learn everything you need to know in the Denali Travel Guide
Locations around Healy, which is just a short drive north of Denali National Park and is another good spot for trying to view the northern lights.
Where To Stay In & Around Denali
Alpine Creek (along the Denali Highway)
You won’t have great views if you try from downtown Fairbanks, but head to the outskirts of the city and you’ll likely have a good dark sky for watching the aurora dance above.
Plan your time in Fairbanks: The Fairbanks Travel Guide
Where To Stay In Fairbanks
Billie’s Backpacker Hostel
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Lux Stay Waterfront
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Chena Hot Springs
Chena Hot Springs is one of the best places to travel to see the northern lights in Alaska. Being located in the interior gives you typically better aurora storms, but also, how awesome is it to watch the northern lights dance above while kicking back in a hot spring pool?
And don’t worry about the myths you may have been told about the Japanese coming here to have sex under the northern lights to bring good luck for the child they’re hoping to conceive… it’s not true. The myth originated from a dumb sitcom from the 90s that was set in Alaska.
Where To Stay In Chena Hot Springs
Ester Dome is a mountain just west of the city of Fairbanks. A 2.5 mile loop goes around the top, with only 465 feet of elevation gain. Needless to say, if you want to stray far, it’s best done in spring and fall when temperatures aren’t as brutally cold.
Murphy Dome is one of the most popular northern lights viewing spots around Fairbanks as it’s one of the highest points near the city. Many aurora tours will bring you to Murphy Dome to view the aurora.
Chena Lakes is located between Fairbanks and North Pole and is a great place to get out to watch the northern lights.
Clearly Summit is another popular spot outside of Fairbanks to head for aurora viewing. Just north of Fox along the Steele Highway, Cleary Summit offers up some amazingly dark skies.
A little further up the Steese Highway from Cleary Summit will bring you to Chatanika, another great spot to try and see the aurora. Chatanika is home to the Aurora Base Camp Hotel, which was listed as the most unique place to stay in Alaska in 2018 because of its glass ceiling domed hotel rooms designed specifically for viewing the aurora.
Where To Stay Near Chatanika
Borealis Base Camp
| Hotels.com |
Although I’ve never personally been to Tok in the winter myself, I’ve seen some epic photos of the northern lights that have been shot from locations near Tok.
A drive part the way up the “haul road”, officially the Dalton Highway will bring you to Coldfoot. Coldfoot is pretty far from most everything making it an insanely dark spot to get the best views of the aurora from.
Where To Stay In Coldfoot
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Located on the Arctic Ocean coast, Utqiagvik, or formerly known as Barrow and its surroundings are prime for aurora hunting.
You’d be hard-pressed to find yourself in Nome in the winter unless you’re headed out in early March to see the Iditarod finish. If this is the case, keep an eye out for the northern lights dancing above in the dark of Alaska’s winter night.
Just a bit north of Nome, Kotzebue can be a good place for spotting the northern lights, but it’s an unlikely winter destination.
What To Pack For Northern Lights In Alaska
Gear To Stay Warm
All of the following cold weather gear I’m recommending below can be purchased from one of my favorite online stores, Backcountry.
- Long sleeve top
- Fleece pants
- Long Underwear
- Fleece Jacket
- Winter Jacket
- Snow Pants
- Hand Warmers
Gear For Photographers
Read more here for an in-depth guide to what aurora photography gear to bring.
For getting to the best northern lights spots in Alaska you’ll most likely need to rent a car unless you’re planning to join an aurora hunting tour. Having your own wheels will also give you the utmost freedom to plan your daytime adventures too. For large distances or places unreachable by road, you’ll likely need to book flights as well.
Best Aurora Hotels In Alaska
Best Northern Lights Tours In Alaska
Fairbanks Northern Lights Tours
Northern Lights & Chena Hot Springs Tour from Fairbanks
Aurora & Arctic Circle Tour from Fairbanks
5 Day Aurora Tour Including A Night At Borealis Base Camp from Fairbanks
Northern Lights At Murphy Dome Tour from Fairbanks
Anchorage Northern Lights Tours
Greatland Adventures Northern Lights Tour from Anchorage
Anchorage Aurora Photo Quest Tour With Alaska Photo Treks from Anchorage
Have Any Questions About The Best Places To See The Aurora In Alaska?
Ask in the comments sections below.