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Northern Lights in early 2013

San Francisco
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Northern Lights in early 2013

Hello - we would like to plan a 3 day trip to view the Northern Lights outside Fairbanks early 2013. During my research, it appears the February or March provide the best chance of viewing. Has this been other's experience? Also - we are trying to decide the best way to plan the trip. Is it better to organize on our own or purchase a package? Do folks have recommendations for accommodations, tours etc?

Thanks for your input!

fti
MN
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1. Re: Northern Lights in early 2013

Short answer to your question... you never know.

Honestly, 3 days is a VERY short time frame to try and see the Northern Lights. I was there for about a week one year and had no success (early March). I was there last March for just less than a week and saw them.

I would look for posts by TimeshareVon. She has lots of good info in her posts about the Northern Lights, links to forecast sites, etc.

I would do it on your own and not a tour package. But I would personally never go unless you have about a week or more to spend there, especially if the Northern Lights is your main or only goal.

Late February or early March gives you options like the Ice Art Championships, maybe the Iditarod in Willow the first Sunday of March, the Denali NP Winter Carnival the last weekend of February, etc.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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2. Re: Northern Lights in early 2013

I'd encourage you to search this forum (AK and/or Fairbanks) and read other comments to similar questions asked about trips to Alaska specifically for aurora viewing.

Personally, I would never go for just the aurora . . . and especially with only 3 days. Too many factors go into being able to see the northern lights and unless you have other activities planned to make the trip worthwhile, it could turn out to be a big wast of time, money and effort.

And for that reason, I would not suggest purchasing a package or tour!

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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3. Re: Northern Lights in early 2013

LOL thanks FTI. I'm dashing out the door for work but have provided my initial 30 second response. I'll look to post follow-up later, after the OP has dones some research and if they ask more questions :)

Atlanta, Georgia
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4. Re: Northern Lights in early 2013

I'm going to agree with fti and TimeshareVon - it's not a good idea to book a trip specifically to see the aurora, especially with only 3 days available. Fairbanks experiences auroral displays only 100 nights out of the year, so 3-4 days is the minimum stay you would need to even have a chance to see the lights (and even at that you are subject to sky conditions).

IMO, a better strategy would be to plan the trip around other activities, with the aurora as a sort of "bonus" if you are able to see it. My wife and I did this last year during Christmas break and had a wonderful trip, capped off by a spectacular auroral display on New Year's Eve. We were very fortunate, but also realized (and were mentally prepared) that we might not see the aurora at all.

Our trip was a wonderful one-of-a-kind experience even without seeing the aurora. As long as you approach it with that in mind, then I think it will be fine. Otherwise you may be setting yourself up for a huge disappointment if you don't have some other activities planned.

-JimG

Wheatland, Wyoming
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5. Re: Northern Lights in early 2013

It will take a bit of luck but the odds aren't that bad for seeing the aurora on a 3 day trip. While the lights may only be visible 100 days a year, as was stated, you must remember that you basically lose 120 days during the summer when it is just too light in the sky at night for them to be seen. That alone would mean you could see them 100 out of 240 nights, a much better ratio than at first glance. Last year I took out about 20 groups in Fairbanks that came on 4 day tours. ALL saw the lights while there, though one group only got about 15 minutes on their last night.

I would advise January - February when it is the coldest. That is because the really extremely low temperatures means Fairbanks is sitting under a high pressure system so the skies would be crystal clear, the first requirement for viewing the display.

I would go on your own because then you can react to changing conditions quickly, if cloudy at some viewing points it may be clear elsewhere. Good places to stay would include Aurora Borealis Lodge(may be hard to get a room)http://www.auroracabin.com/, Chena Hot Springs Resort http://www.chenahotsprings.com/, Northern Sky Lodge http://www.northernskylodge.com/. The hot springs offers activities for guests, nothing like coming out of the rock lake at -30! SkiLand at Cleary Summit offers a nicely heated building to await the appearance of the lights. http://www.skiland.org/

You should not need 4wd but I would strongly advise renting one for the added security on ice/snow covered roads. It helps having those front wheels pull you through the curves. SLOW DOWN, every winter I see many visitors off the roads and far too many on their roofs because they don't respect the roads. The roads are safe, the drivers aren't.

Like I said at the start, some luck is needed but it is a doable visit with a good chance of getting to see the lights, just realize you may be shut out. Good luck and happy travels!

Atlanta, Georgia
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6. Re: Northern Lights in early 2013

Just as a follow-on to Steve'n'Fairbanks - we rented an AWD when we were in Fairbanks last December, but never engaged all four wheels the entire time we were there. The road crews in Alaska do an amazing job of keeping things clear, and as Steve'n'Fairbanks mentions, the key is to slow down and give yourself time to react. Also learn how to use the lower gears on your car for the downhills - you cannot steer as effectively if you are riding the brakes the whole way.

"nothing like coming out of the rock lake at -30!"

Been there, done that!

-JimG

Miami, Florida
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7. Re: Northern Lights in early 2013

Hi guys, I saw on wiki it states out that '...northern lights, which are visible on average more than 200 days per year in the vicinity of Fairbanks.'..

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairbanks,_Alaska

something wrong with the source of wiki?

can I say it has higher chance to see the norther lights in winter (nov-april) than in summer? thanks!

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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8. Re: Northern Lights in early 2013

>>>Hi guys, I saw on wiki it states out that '...northern lights, which are visible on average more than 200 days per year in the vicinity of Fairbanks.'<<<

Sounds like CVB or tourism statistics. "Being visible" takes a lot and while the conditions (dark night skies) may be possible 200 (or more) days per year, does not mean that the solar activity or earth's weather (clear skies) will cooperate.

>>>can I say it has higher chance to see the norther lights in winter (nov-april) than in summer? thanks!<<<

Yes because with 24 hour daylight and the lack of total darkness for most of the summer (until late August) . . . you have zero chance of seeing the aurora.

Edited: 11:46 am, December 09, 2012
Atlanta, Georgia
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9. Re: Northern Lights in early 2013

The "100 nights a year" that I quoted previously was taken from a museum display at the Museum of the North in Fairbanks. Somehow that seems like a more credible number to me than something from a website (even one so august as Wikipedia).

Also, "visible" may mean different things to different people. We saw a very faint auroral display on our first night in Fairbanks, but initially dismissed it as a cloud because it was so thin and wispy. So while it was technically "visible", it definitely did not look like the more typical "ribbon of light" image that people normally associate with the aurora.

-JimG

Edited: 11:55 am, December 09, 2012
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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10. Re: Northern Lights in early 2013

Great points Jim. I actually have a photo of one of those "middle of the night heading to the outhouse . . . is it or isn't it . . . 'aurora' photos" from my Denali trip last fall. Here's the link to the photo: https:/…298310_1980960164662_504438399_n.jpg .

And yes, 100 nights per year seems far more reasonable an estimate in my opinion too.

Edited: 12:01 pm, December 09, 2012