It’s late August and that means we can once again witness the wonder of waving colors up above --- Aurora Season officially kicks off August 21st!
When the skies are dark enough (August 21 to April 21) this otherworldly phenomenon happens so reliably that Fairbanks is often cited as being the best place in the United States (and one of the top locations in the world) for northern lights viewing. In fact, those that are in Fairbanks for 3-nights or more during Aurora Season have a 90% chance of seeing “the lights!” No guarantees, but the longer you're here, the better the chances.
Fairbanks gets this honor mainly because of its location under the “Auroral Oval,” a ring-shaped zone over the far north where aurora borealis activity is concentrated. Additionally, Fairbanks’ low precipitation and distance from coastal areas contribute to consistently clear nights.
Watch the magic of the northern lights in this short video.
Track the Aurora
To help gauge your chances of seeing the northern lights while in Fairbanks, check out the Aurora Tracker! The Tracker gives real-time and three-day forecasts of northern lights data correlated to six different viewing locations. This mechanism is a one-of-a-kind tool especially created for aurora chasers in the Fairbanks region. The real-time calculator helps to correlate the big three factors - location, weather conditions and aurora forecast - in northern lights viewing and is compatible with all devices including smartphones, tablets and desktops.
To view the northern lights from afar, the Aurora Tracker page has a link to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute webcam at Poker Flat Research Range located north of Fairbanks. Between this, using the Aurora Tracker and watching the aurora forecast, you are able to watch the northern lights from the comfort of your own home.
The Aurora Tracker page has a wealth of information about hunting the northern lights, as well as real-time forecasts.
Aurora Tours and Wake Up Calls
Of course, nothing compares to seeing the lights dance with your own eyes.While it's completely normal to see the aurora overhead within the Fairbanks city limits, some travelers may want to venture further out of town, away from the little light pollution we have, to catch a show with a darker sky.
There are several passionate tour operators in the Fairbanks area that will guide you to the best spots. In addition to a comfortable drive on local (sometimes snowy) roads, they provide expert information about the aurora as well, will help keep you warm and will maybe even take your photo with the lights! But maybe you’d like to combine a tour to the Arctic Circle with aurora viewing? Or an aurora photography class or perhaps snowmobile to an ice fishing hut with the possibility of auroras dancing overhead! These types of combination tours are readily available as well.
As evidence to Fairbanks’ aurora fever, many local accommodations will gladly offer “wake-up calls” when the northern lights are out. But you don’t want to be getting your beauty rest while there are curtains of light above you, so rely on the Tracker to give you the best times to set an alarm during the night.
Several dog sledding outfitters do evening/early morning aurora tours, and even overnight excursions to see the lights! [photo: Last Frontier Mushing Co-op]
Local Hot Spots for Northern Lights
For the do-it-yourselfer, we have a handy guide to five local viewing locations. These locations match up with the Aurora Tracker so you can be really prepared before heading out. So if you're feeling up to it, pack warm clothes, charge your cell phone, load up on some snacks and hit the road for a late-night tour with Fairbanks as your basecamp.
With its northern exposure, Cleary Summit is a popular aurora viewing location. [photo: Explore Fairbanks/Hogue]
Plan your Winter Vacation
Aurora Season is an incredible time of year because it is solidly based in our Winter Season. If the northern lights are on your bucket list, Fairbanks is the place to make it happen. But if combining that pursuit with wintery things to do, then this is your winter wonderland!
Fairbanks’ winter attractions and activities include dog sledding with a team of huskies across the wilderness, snowshoeing with a Ranger in Denali National Park and Preserve, making the journey above the Arctic Circle, visiting Santa in North Pole, or delighting in the warmth of an Alaskan hot spring at the end of an adventure-filled day. Request a guide today and start planning!
Follow the Fairbanks Aurora Action
Here at Explore Fairbanks, we love the aurora and relish the winter season. We commonly share images of the aurora all year long, but it naturally ramps up as the northern lights become active and visible. Follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for plenty of visual eye-candy from talented local photographers and aurora chasers. Consider this a warning --- it’s going to make you want to visit!
What a show! Curtains of light filled the night sky on February 10, 2018 at @borealisbasecamp. Photo by: @nateinthewild • • • • • #explorefairbanks #northernlights #auroraseason #fairbanksaurora #winterseason #winterinfairbanks #instatravel #auroraborealis #nightsky #bucketlist #alaska #fairbanksalaska