Where and when to see the Northern Lights in Alaska

The fabled Northern Lights in Alaska is often referred to as Mother Nature’s greatest show, and it’s on the bucket list of many for good reason. When it comes to viewing the Aurora Borealis, Alaska has the best seats in the house, and this handy guide will tell you all you need to know about where, how, and when, you can see this magnificent spectacle. Viewing the Northern Lights is never guaranteed, but this guide will give you all you need to put yourself in the best position for seeing a truly remarkable night’s sky.

When to See the Northern Lights:

It’s possible to see the Aurora in late August, but due to the nights being so much lighter, it’s far less likely. The best window to see the Aurora is from late-September until mid-April when the sky is at its darkest. At this time there are often clear skies and you can expect some mild weather. Peak Aurora activity tends to be between 11.30 pm and 3.30 am local time in winter, and an hour later in autumn and spring. A trusty alarm clock, an Aurora tracker or a gentle wake up call from staff are great allies to put you in the best position to see the Aurora of your dreams.

The Northern Lights in Alaska shining above a lake
When the days draw shorter, the nights glow green!

What to Wear when Aurora Watching:

Although on some tours you can enjoy seeing the Northern Lights from indoors, you’ll more than likely want to step outside to experience this occasion in all its natural glory. We highly recommend doing this! You’ll be able to see the Aurora far better away from any artificial light, and it lends a full view of the horizon. However, it can get chilly this far north, so it’s best that you’re prepared for temperatures well below freezing. Thermals are a must, socks and all – no-one wants cold toes! Additionally, don’t forget warm hiking shoes, thermal wind-proof trousers, a warmer fleece or down insulated mid-layer (or two!), and a wind and waterproof external shell. Warm hats, mitts, insulated gloves and scarves or balaclavas are also a necessity. Handwarmers are a great addition!

When watching the Northern Lights in Alaska we recommend building a fire for toasty aurora-watching bliss! Credit: Jody. O
We recommend building a fire for toasty Aurora-watching bliss! Credit: Jody. O

How to Take Photos of the Northern Lights in Alaska:

Unforgettable moments seeing the Northern Lights are worth bringing your camera for! The Aurora can be tricky to photograph if the settings aren’t right, but when you know the tips and tricks, you’ll be shooting stunning nighttime snaps in no time. Set your camera to manual mode with a wide aperture and a low shutter speed – 20 seconds is a good start. This will mean that more light will enter the lens for a longer period, creating brighter and better shots. It’s also a good idea to bring a tripod which reduces shake and frees up your hands for giving out hugs – it can be an emotional moment! Got some great shots of the lights? Be sure to let us know and we might just share your pics on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages.

For the best photos of the Northern Lights in Alaska, bring a tripod. Credit: Jody O
For the best photos of the Northern Lights in Alaska, we recommend a tripod. Credit: Jody O

The Best Places to see the Northern Lights:

The area surrounding Fairbanks is one of the best, if not the best, places to view the Northern Lights in Alaska. This is because it’s perfectly situated under the Auroral Oval – the region that consistently has the most solar storm activity. Any journeys here will have a great chance of featuring some green-tinged skies.

Find a dark spot away from the city and enjoy the show! Credit: Juno Kim
Find a dark spot away from the city and enjoy the show! Credit: Juno Kim

An Entrée Destinations’ favorite in this area is Chena Hot Springs. This Alaskan retreat is just a short drive from nearby Fairbanks and is in a prime location for Aurora viewing. No visit here is complete without a ride in their famous caterpillar track SUSV (a military-style small unit support vehicle) to the brow nearby hill Charlie Dome. This knoll offers an unobstructed view of the spectacular night’s sky. Featuring heated yurts and hot beverages, you’ll be kept warm and able to fully appreciate one of the natural world’s most famed sights. Chena Hot Springs also has an ice bar, and we can organize dog sled rides, kennel tours, and more, all in the surrounding area. If you visit during the first three weeks of March you may also see the internationally renowned Ice Art Championships! At this competition, carvers must remain cool under pressure to craft the finest ice sculptures in the world. It’s a hugely impressive skill. Have a read of the Alaska Northern Lights itinerary to find out more.

Chena Hot Springs has some pretty unique aurora-viewing vehicles.
Chena Hot Springs has some pretty unique Aurora-viewing vehicles.

Another unforgettable destination that exhibits true Alaskan hospitality is the Lodge at Black Rapids. The two-story timber-frame lodge is a 2-hour drive south of Fairbanks that’s idyllically situated overlooking Black Rapids Glacier and the Delta River. Regular activities from the lodge include glacier exploring, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and time spent relaxing in the hot tub and sauna. If you’re lucky, the most memorable will more than likely be the Aurora viewing. Here, you can see some of the best Northern Lights in Alaska. Whether it be from the comfort of the lodge itself or from a nearby lookout spot, any display of those green hues slicing through the sky will be a grounding and euphoric sight. Our Aurora at Black Rapids journey even features ice cave explorations with world-renowned experts and reindeer-drawn sleigh rides!

The Lodge at Black Rapids has some magnificent views day & night.
The Lodge at Black Rapids has some magnificent views day & night.

For an all-out Aurora-filled lodge experience from internationally accessible Anchorage, our luxury mountain retreat perfectly fits the bill! Featuring some of the most remote and beautifully wild sanctuaries in the world, this journey will put you in the best position to see the Northern Lights in Alaska, along with some of its most iconic natural sights. Nestled in Chugach State Park, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge offers world-class adrenalin-filled activities with the views to match. Just a 40-minute flight from Anchorage, this remote lodge is near the airport yet has minimal light pollution, perfect for Aurora hunting! This journey also features a visit to Sheldon Chalet, an opulent retreat over 1800metres above sea level dramatically built into Denali Mountain. Possibly the wildest luxury chalet in the world, this unique sanctuary showcases unfettered views of Don Sheldon Amphitheatre and the night’s sky above. Experience the full itinerary for the most show-stopping way to experience the Northern Lights in Alaska.

The Northern Lights in Alaska above Sheldon Chalet
Sheldon Chalet has some of the best Northern Lights viewing in the world!

See the Northern Lights in Alaska:

Although viewing the Northern Lights in Alaska is never guaranteed, our where & when guide offers the best advice if you’re interested in viewing the famed Aurora Borealis! Our recommendation would be to have an itinerary that will delight all members of your trip, Aurora or not, leaving that bucket list opportunity as a possibly featuring highlight! To hear from a luxury travel specialist, fill out our quick Plan Your Trip Form, or call us toll-free on 1-888-999-6556

Credit: Juno Kim
Credit: Juno Kim

If you’re interested in learning more about the last frontier our blog on the best time to travel to Alaska could be for you!