Best time to travel to Alaska

Northern Lights in Alaska

Spanning under the "Auroral Oval," Alaskan Arctic belongs to the world's top locations to observe polar lights

Best time: late August–late April

Northern Lights
Northern Lights
Northern Lights
Northern Lights
Northern Lights

The northern lights or aurora borealis is one of the most amazing things to do in Alaska. Polar lights appear in the skies when charged solar particles interact with the atmosphere. The celestial show typically comes in a swirling array of green, while the most intense aurora gets a purple edge. The curious shapes range from curtains to bands, rays, and coronas.

When to view aurora borealis?

Northern lights dance across the sky all year round, but we are able to see it only on a dark and clear night. So the season stretches from late August through to late April. Winter being the best season is a myth. You can spot absolutely stunning aurora borealis displays in September or October, as well as March or April. The best time to look for the shimmering lights is between midnight and 2 am.

Where to see the northern lights?

The flickering lights can be spotted anywhere in the state, including its largest city of Anchorage and other places in the south. However, the number of displays there is dramatically fewer than in the north. The chances strengthen when going up the latitude. Therefore, the remote inland Alaskan Arctic and extreme north work the best.


The most popular place for viewing the rare and spectacular phenomenon in Alaska is Fairbanks. Even though it's located just below the Arctic Circle, 180 mi (290 km) south to be more precise, the aurora borealis appears quite frequently there. A good place to head to in the vicinity is Cleary Summit Aurora Viewing Area, situated about 20 mi (32 km) north-east of Fairbanks. The area is easily accessible, offers a solid view of the horizon, and has parking, which is also convenient. Also, visit Chena Lakes Recreation Area to look for vibrant green reflections in the water. The area is also 20 mi away, but south-east of Fairbanks.


At 67° N latitude and 60 mi (97 km) above the Arctic Circle, Coldfoot is the prime northern lights destination in the Alaskan Arctic. The former gold-mining settlement on the famed Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay nowadays serves as a truck stop. You can find overnight accommodations at the rustic Coldfoot Camp set on the edge of the Gates of the Arctic National Park, which is the northernmost national park in the US. The camp operates year-round and offers other services, including a cafe, tour options, fuel, and minor tire repairs. If you're into more adventures, follow the road to Prudhoe Bay.

Barrow (Utqiagvik)

To maximize your chances of seeing celestial lights in all their beauty, go to the extreme north. The best choice is Barrow also called Utqiagvik. The northernmost town in the US is also home to the native Iñupiat Eskimo culture. You can get there by Alaska Airlines departing from Anchorage and arriving at the town's Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport. Otherwise, you can opt for a tour package.

Denali National Park and Preserve

If you dislike the idea of the extreme north, national parks provide an alternative. Denali National Park is about a three hour drive south-west of Fairbanks. The key benefits are low light pollution and picturesque landscape that includes Denali or Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak in North America. With over 6 million ac (nearly 2.5 million ha) of wild nature, there are plenty of stunning views in the national park.

What to wear?

A general recommendation is to dress warmly and wear layers. Rely on synthetic, fleece, and wool materials. It would be sad if you have to watch the polar show from the inside because of the unbearable cold.

Practical info

When is the optimal time for viewing the beautiful aurora borealis in Alaska?

The best months to witness the beautiful northern lights in Alaska are from August to April (late). There's a misconception that winter is the best season, but viewing opportunities are present in September or October, and March or April. The northern lights can be seen at midnight until 2 am, and the display can be breathtaking provided that it's a clear and dark night. Show more

Which time is ideal for observing the aurora borealis?

If you plan on viewing the aurora borealis in Alaska, the best time is at night, between midnight and 2 am. This is irrespective of your geographic location. Additionally, you need to venture out to a location devoid of bright city lights for an optimal view. A clear and dark night sky is the perfect recipe for experiencing the stunning display of the northern lights. Show more

What are the top locations in Alaska to witness the northern lights?

If you're scouting for the finest places to view the northern lights in Alaska, your best bet would be small remote inland Arctic sites or the far north. Some preferred locations are Fairbanks, Cleary Summit Aurora Viewing Area, Chena Lakes Recreation Area, Coldfoot, Denali National Park and Preserve, and Barrow (Utqiagvik) town. Fairbanks is one of the well-liked tourist destinations, but the Utqiagvik town is the northernmost town in Alaska and proffers the unparalleled aurora borealis display. Show more

What travel options are available for reaching Barrow, Alaska?

Barrow, or Utqiagvik, is Alaska's northernmost town and top-rated site for observing the northern lights. You can fly there by taking the Alaska Airlines flight directly from Anchorage to Barrow's Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport. Alternatively, you can journey with a tour package that includes a trip to this remote town. Note that Barrow can be accessed entirely by air or water and there are no land routes leading to the town. Show more

How can one prepare to stay comfortable while viewing the northern lights?

You need to prepare adequately to stay comfortable when heading out to watch the northern lights in Alaska. Dressing warmly with layers is crucial, considering the cold temperature. Synthetic, wool or fleece materials for clothes are useful, along with covering your hands with thick gloves, your feet with rugged boots or shoes, and your head with a hat. Since viewing the aurora borealis can take some time, dressing in a comfortable, warm, and layered outfit is of utmost importance. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin