You can actually spot this phenomenon around Fairbanks without driving too far.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...” ~ Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!
Picture this - you've finally made it to Fairbanks and one of the main things you want to do is to see the northern lights. You've done your planning having arrived here during Aurora Season (between August 21 and April 21). And with Fairbanks' northern location directly under the Auroral Oval, your chances of seeing a light show is 90% if you are here for three nights and actively hunting.
Your best bet is to always to head out on an aurora viewing tour with a local guide or book a spot at a comfortable, local viewing location. But for the do-it-yourselfer with confident winter-driving skills (when in doubt, take your time and go slow), finding the aurora close to town can be an option. Just be sure to use caution and never, ever park on the highways. Only use plowed pullouts as the snowpack on the sides of the road can be very soft and you can easily get stuck! So with that said, if you are 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. Here are a few suggestions of accessible hot spots with Fairbanks as your base camp.
Where Should I Go To See The Aurora?
Fairbanks - Creamer's Field
Landscape: Creamer's Field is a 2,200-acre/8.9 km² bird sanctuary, located within the city limits of Fairbanks. If you’d like to stay in town, Creamer’s Field is an open area on the north side of the town with great visibility and very little man-made light, making for excellent aurora viewing. There are many short winter trails you can venture out on as well. We recommend taking a headlamp or a flashlight.
Accessibility: Easily accessible on a well-maintained, paved road. 2-wheel drive vehicles are acceptable during the entire Aurora Season except during stormy conditions.
North Pole - Chena Lakes
Landscape: The Chena Lake Recreation Area is a 2,000-acre/8 km² park. Wide open areas and a large lake, away from the city lights with plenty of places to park, make this an excellent location for aurora viewing. There are two parks within the recreation area, the River Park and the Lake Park, that are both suitable for viewing the northern lights. If you're feeling like a walk, there are several winter trails on and around the lake. We recommend taking a headlamp or a flashlight.
Accessibility: Paved on the way out with well-maintained gravel/dirt road in the recreational area. 2-wheel drive vehicles are acceptable during the entire Aurora Season except during extreme stormy conditions. An all-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle is suggested if you’ll be pulling off into infrequently plowed or unplowed areas.
Steese Highway to Cleary Summit
Getting There: From Downtown Fairbanks, take the Steese Highway 11 miles/32 km to the Steese Highway/Elliot Highway junction and continue onto the Steese Highway.
Landscape: We recommend these large, safe pullouts to view the aurora from the Steese Highway.
- Mile 16.6: Felix Pedro Monument Area. Plowed, large safe turnout with signage
- Mile 17: Very large, plowed pullout to right with clear, unobstructed view.
- Mile 19: Very large, plowed pullout to right with clear, unobstructed view.
- Mile 20: Cleary Summit: From an elevation of 2,233 ft/680 m, on a clear day you can catch a great view of Tanana Valley to the south and the White Mountains to the north. This is a very popular location, so there may be other vehicles and tour buses there, please turn off your headlights as soon as is safely possible.
Accessibility: There are some very sharp turns and major elevation changes. Paved all the way. 2-wheel drive vehicles are acceptable during the first and last few months of the Aurora Season and an all-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle is suggested during the winter months.
Getting There: Located 25 miles/40 km from Downtown Fairbanks, about a 40-minute drive. [Map]
Landscape: Murphy Dome is the highest point close to Fairbanks at 2,877 ft/877 m. You’ll enjoy scenic vistas as you wind through lowland forest and climb up toward the dome, with views opening up over the valley. Here, you’ll be able to enjoy unobstructed views for excellent aurora viewing.
Accessibility: The road curves around the outer rim of the dome toward the end with pullouts for photos or a brief stop. Murphy Dome Road turns to packed dirt and gravel for the last five miles. 2-wheel drive vehicles are acceptable during the first and last few months of the Aurora Season and an all-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle is suggested during the winter months.
Chena River State Recreation Area & Chena Hot Springs Road
Landscape: There are excellent aurora viewing areas along Chena Hot Springs Road from Fairbanks all the way to Chena Hot Springs Resort, a renowned aurora viewing location at mile 58. Notable spots include turnouts along Nordale Road, Two Rivers and Pleasent Valley communities, Mile 25, Mile 35, Mile 37, several campground areas and the public use cabins (cabins require a reservation).
Accessibility: Chena Hot Springs Road is fully paved road and leads directly to (and ends at) Chena Hot Springs Resort. 2-wheel drive vehicles are acceptable during the entire Aurora Season except during stormy conditions. An all-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle is suggested if you’ll be pulling off into infrequently plowed or unplowed areas. Moose are often seen in the area and people should drive cautiously.
- Smithsonian Magazine: Your Guide to Seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska
- National Geographic Magazine: “Fairbanks is the best place in the U.S. to take in the northern lights."
- CNN: “The city of Fairbanks, in Alaska, is often cited as the best place to see the Northern Lights in the United States”
- Travel + Leisure and Smithsonian Magazine's both call Fairbanks the best place to view the northern lights in the U.S.
- Fairbanks: The Top Place to Chase the Northern Lights
- Amazing tips for Photographing the Aurora from the local Pros (post coming soon!)
- Local Aurora Scientist Neal Brown's technical presentation (video: 24mins)