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What’s What: The Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are one of nature’s most spectacular shows. This strange dance of green lights glowing overhead in the Arctic attracts tourists from around the world. It’s tricky to time viewing just right, but everyone who has seen the Northern Lights has said it is more than worth the trouble.
Amava Take: The natural phenomena called the Northern Lights happens when the Earth’s tilt in relation to the sun syncs with the magnetic field and the solar wind. If these spectacular wonders are on your bucket list, Alaska is touted as one of the best places on earth to see them. The lights intensify around the equinox months of September and March, with peak time in Alaska around mid-March. Alaska’s Arctic is remote and much of it is only accessible by air. A trip to this region is an adventure even if you miss the lights. You’ll experience a location where moose sightings are daily and people run errands on snowmobiles.
From the Front Lines:
What is one thing an adventurer should know about a Northern Lights experience?
It’s a phenomenal experience, but you do need the patience to stay in one spot for a few days in a place where it’s mostly dark and bitter cold.
Any tips for first-timers to make it a productive and fulfilling experience?
The aurora is like the weather and can change at a moment’s notice. Your best chance of timing it right is with a tour company that has a reputation for chasing the lights. The Aurora Tracker can help you plan, but pick your spot based on the location you want to see most. If you miss the lights, you’ll still have a great vacation.
What’s a typical daily schedule like?
It depends on the forecast for the lights. You can only see the Northern Lights when it’s completely dark and you should plan to stay at least three nights.
From the Trenches:
What’s the most satisfying part of the experience?
Witnessing the beauty of science and nature on this level was like seeing poetry in motion. I have a new appreciation for our vast and mysterious universe.
How would you describe the hard parts?
Having to get up in the middle of the night in the freezing cold, but it was totally worth it!
What surprised you the most about the experience?
Snow is so much a part of daily life in Alaska, the locals wear snowshoes and get around on sled dogs and snowmobiles.
Special Requirements: You should be comfortable with being a little uncomfortable. The best way to catch the show is to bundle up and watch the sky between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. for consecutive nights.
Finding a Position: There are plenty of tour companies that specialize in seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska and there are local tour guides you can book in advance as well. Explore Fairbanks is a good place to start and will give you an idea of what to expect and how to plan. Alaska.org has the entire Aurora zone mapped out with numerous suggestions about the best ways to go. The website covers tours, lodging and other things to do. Visit Anchorage is packed with useful information. Alaska Tours has over 100 years of experience planning Alaska vacations. You can also search “Alaska Northern Lights tours” online.