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Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

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Fairbanks, Alaska
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Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

Viewing the Northern Light (Aurora Borealis)


Summer Months: So that a lot of your time is not wasted we will start with viewing during the months of June, July and August. One of the key ingredients for viewing the Northern Lights is darkness and we don’t have much if any during these three months. You will not be seeing any Northern Lights during these months. You may be offered tickets to go see a Northern Lights Show or Aurora Borealis Show but these are films or slide show inside a theater. Don’t waste your money you can see the same thing on the Discovery Channel.

Fringe Months: During the months of May and September you may have a chance to see them as there is some darkness late at night. You window for viewing is very limited then making your chances slim.

Outer Fringe Months: October, November, April there is a good chance to view the lights as darkness is more prevalent across the land.

Best Months: December, January, February, and March: These months your chances are high for seeing the lights. March is my preferred month to suggest to visitors if traveling to Fairbanks since there are more major events happening then.

Forecasting and Predictions: You now know the best months but will the lights be out for you? There are folks out there that do predictions and forecasts but just like weather closer to earth they are not a guarantee for activity. Basically Northern Lights activity is directly connected to Solar Activity. The stormier the sun is the more energy it release towards earth. The suns activity is measure in something called KP the higher the KP the more activity. Here are some web sites offering forecasts and more scientific information.





Viewing in and around Fairbanks: First off if you are at a hotel in town and look up and see the lights do not attempt to race out of town to see them. The lights may only be out for a few minutes or for hours why chance missing the show.

Safe Driving: If you are going to be driving to a viewing location I would like to take this time for some safe driving tips.

1. Watch for Moose: Moose will walk out into the road bed without warning. Continually scan the sides of the road for movement. If a cow moose crosses the road in front of you slow down and be aware that s Cow Moose may have one or two calves following behind her.

2. Do not drive with yours eyes in the sky! Our roads are covered with ice and snow and we have many a frost heave (a bump or series of bumps in the road caused by permafrost melting and re-freezing). Slow down on those curves as they may be slick and see number 1 above.

3. Take along winter gear even if you don’t think you need it. If your car decides to roll to a stop it can get really cold prior to someone coming to get you. Be ready to hoof it if you lose cell phone coverage. I think anywhere I recommend is inside cell phone coverage so you should be okay there.

4. If the temperatures drop down to around -40 F (-40 C) a phenomenon known as Ice Fog will occur. Ice Fog is caused by water vapor freezing and becoming microscopic ice particles. Ice Fog normally settles upon Fairbanks do to an inversion layer found in the city during the winter. As you climb in altitude the temperature increases and the fog clears up. These temperatures are normal during January and February but can also occur in December and March. The normal dangers of driving in fog are the same. The problem is that cars tend to roll to a stop for no reason. Winter clothing must be kept in the car! I don’t recommend anyone traveling when there is Ice Fog just for the temperatures alone.

Viewing Areas:

Here is a list of what I consider safe viewing areas.

1. You can drive to the south ends of South Cushman or Pegar Roads. Not much traffic and no city lights also they are close to town.

2. Drive to the South End of the runway at Fairbanks International. There is a road that wraps all the way around the airport. There is parking there and it is dark.

3. Hagelbarger Ave pullout. Nice pullout with a southern view of the city. Only 5 miles from the Johansen Expressway traveling north on the Steese Highway. Pullout is on the left as you turn onto Hagelbarger.

4. If you want to get higher than Hagelbarger you can cross the Steese onto Bennett Road and take the first left up Gilmore Trail and climb to the top you will be able to find areas safe for observing up there.

5. To can take the Parks Highway south, once you pass Ester there are pullouts all along the route on the way to Nenana. Left side pullouts will get and nice view of Fairbanks.

6. Chena Lakes Recreation Area just past North Pole is the Chena Lakes Recreation Area. It is open in the winter and really dark there. Just follow the signs after you past the City of North Pole.

Note: I consider driving out Chena Hot Springs Road as dangerous. The road is dark, curvy, and with lots of frost heaves.

Lodging: I will not address lodging since I live here and have never used any of those services.

Good Luck and Good Hunting!

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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21. Re: Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

Yeah I've got to say to make the trek from Seward to Fairbanks for just two days, regardless of purpose, will be a haul and perhaps not worth the effort. Add to that the uncertainty of seeing the aurora (solar activity and weather unpredictable), you have more reason not to do it.

By all means the winter is a much better option, especially in late February to mid March, when there are a lot of other great activities to take part in during that time frame.

By all means, enjoy your couple of extra days exploring the Kenai Peninsula and perhaps a bit further north to Anchorage.

Frisco, Texas
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22. Re: Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

Thanks for the quick response, TimeshareVon. I appreciate the advice!

San Francisco...
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23. Re: Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

I planned to go to Fairbanks to see the northern lights from Seo 20-24. But something came up at work and I may have to delay the trip to Oct 4-8.

I've read somewhere that Sep 22 is the best day to see because that's the fall equinox.

Will Oct 4-8 be a better week for northern lights viewing in general (I know there's no certainty, but just wanna see if it gives me a higher chance?)

How much colder will it be in Oct 4-8? Will there be snow/rain already? Will it affect the road condition? (especially the roads to Cleary Summit, and also Denali National Park) I'm from California and I'm not very used to driving on snow road.


Atlanta, Georgia
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24. Re: Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

There are no guarantees nor is there any way to predict whether or when the aurora will appear on any particular night. The best anyone can say is that Fairbanks experiences the northern lights on 100 nights out of the year on average, so you greatly increase your chances of seeing them by staying for at least 3-4 consecutive nights.

As far as driving on snow - they keep the roads plowed and salted pretty well so that should not be a problem. My wife and I were in Fairbanks last year at the end of December (our first trip to Alaska), drove to Denali NP and back as well as making several trips up to Cleary Summit. We had no difficulties with the road conditions. Just use common sense - keep your speed down (especially on curves) and allow plenty of time for stops. Keep emergency supplies with you in the car. Make sure someone knows where you are going, what route you are taking, and what time you expect to return.

Good luck on your trip. Hope you see the aurora - we did and it was spectacular.


San Francisco...
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25. Re: Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

Thanks for your quick reply! :) Yeah hopefully we'll get to see the northern lights - fingers crossed!

San Diego...
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26. Re: Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

We are thinking of flying up to Fairbanks in February to view the Northern Lights and would like to have suggestions of lodges outside the city where we can view the show from our hotel. Does anyone have any info or review of "A Taste of Alaska Lodge", "Aurora Borealis Lodge" , 'Pikes Waterfront Lodge" or Chena Hot Springs Lodge?

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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27. Re: Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

I have only stayed Chena Hot Springs Resort twice. The 1st time was very good, but the 2nd not so much. Here is a link to my review for my last stay there: igougo.com/review-r1346301-Chena_Hot_Springs… .

San Diego...
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28. Re: Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

I was in Alaska last March (and going again in 20 days).......

My experience was that if you want to see the lights, plan your trip around them. I made the mistake of packing too many things in my schedule and I got a disappointing view of the lights.

A week is ideal because it would provide enough margin for error for the forecast.

Go as far away from Fairbanks as possible in order to minimize light pollution. Chena Hot Springs is understandably expensive, but on the way to Chena Hot Springs is a small family ranch called Chandalar Ranch. They take in guests for ~$30/night. Super cheap and you will get a good view of the lights. It is basic accommodation, but I was OK with it. You are going to be up at night anyway!

Driving conditions: I drove from Anchorage-Fairbanks passing through part of Denali and it was a fantastic drive with no hiccups. Of course, once you get off-road (like when driving to Chena), the roads are a bit icy, but it is manageable if you drive carefully.

Hope you have a blast.


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29. Re: Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

Great thread--glad it got bumped!

Someone mentioned rental cars having winter tires. Does anyone know which places offer this?

I've rented at Fairbanks Airport in 2/2012 and 3/2011; both times the (same) rental company offered all-weather tires only.

I did *not* check all companies and will look into this further for 1/2013, but also wanted to ask here.

Thanks for any info--always learn things on TA!

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30. Re: Viewing the Northern Lights in and around Fairbanks

beachlife4me--We were just up in Alaska and stayed our last night in Fairbanks at Pike's Waterfront Lodge. I did a review of it. It was nice and I would stay there again, FWIW.

We lucked out on our trip. We were up in the Brooks Range visiting a relative that lives in the bush. DS went up a few weeks before the rest of us, and he saw an Aurora, and then our first night there we saw one as well. Very cool!