When the sky darkens in Fairbanks, Alaska, the aurora borealis overtakes the night.
This spectacular light display can be seen throughout the year, but the best time to go is now.
Aurora hunters travel to Fairbanks from around the world for the chance to glimpse the green, blue, purple and pink dancing waves of light. On clear nights, the northern lights ignite Fairbanks in a flurry of otherworldly colour. Take a look for yourself:
Why is the aurora so good in Fairbanks?
Fairbanks is uniquely positioned under the “Auroral Oval” - a zone of unprecedented aurora activity. Northern lights hunters have their choice of vantage points: from cozy log cabins to heated “aurorium” huts, to dog sled excursions and flight-seeing trips above the Arctic Circle.
It’s also the largest inland city in Alaska, meaning those who venture north for the lights have their pick of unique activities, restaurants and lodging to round out an adventure-filled vacation.
There’s something extremely serene, spiritual and almost eerie about watching the aurora borealis in Fairbanks. One thing’s for certain - once you’ve caught the northern lights, you’ll never look at the night sky the same.
When you go:
Sherman Hogue/Explore Fairbanks
Travel during peak viewing season
The best time to spot the aurora in Fairbanks is from late August to late April. When the temperature dips, the fluorescent lights flair up, increasing your chances of spotting bright colours in the night sky.
Fun fact: If you stay a minimum of three nights and are actively out during the evening hours, your chance of seeing the aurora is more than 90%.
Let an expert guide you
Secret viewing spots and letting someone else do the late-night driving are all upsides to joining a guided aurora tour.
How to shoot the northern lights
The spectacle of the northern lights is one you’ll carry with you forever. What better souvenir to bring home than a personal photograph of the aurora? Follow these best practices for shooting the aurora borealis:
- Bring the right equipment: A camera with settings can be manually adjusted (DSLR is best), a tripod, and spare batteries.
- Pick the right place. Bring your camera and tripod to a dark area with minimal light pollution. Don’t forget to dress warmly, as you might be waiting awhile.
- Use the right manual settings. Select the highest ISO possible, widest focal point and lowest aperture. It's a good idea to practice night shooting before your trip.
- Review as you go. Take time to review between pictures and adjust your settings as necessary.
Take a photography course
Want more aurora photography advice or to be in a photo with the northern lights yourself? Several companies, including Sean Kurdziolek Portraits and Gallery, offer personal and small-group photography workshops and aurora portrait tours.
Sleep beneath the northern lights
Mok Kumagai/Aurora Borealis Lodge
Designed specifically for aurora hunters, the Aurora Borealis Lodge perches on the top of Clearly Summit. This location yields panoramic aurora views right from your bedroom. Rooms feature two queen beds, private kitchens, en-suite bathrooms and north-facing windows.
Explore the area
During the day, there are several things to do around Fairbanks. Soak in Chena Hot Springs steamy waters, discover the history of Alaska’s Native cultures at the University of Alaska Museum of the North or taste-test vodka made from local potatoes at Fairbanks Distilling Company.
While you’re in the north, take the opportunity to try a true Alaskan sport, like dogsledding. You’ll bond with the resilient canines and learn how to mush in an unforgettable afternoon.
How to get to Fairbanks from Canada
- Flying from Vancouver or Calgary will require a layover in Seattle. Land in either Anchorage (ANC) or Fairbanks (FAI). Both final destinations are 5 and 6 hours flying time from Vancouver and Calgary, respectively. Flights can be surprisingly affordable with fall/winter 2017 round-trip tickets costing as little as $444 round-trip.
- Flying from Toronto to Anchorage will require a layover in Minneapolis and Fairbanks will likely require a two-stop combination (YYC/YVR and/or SEA). Land in Anchorage in 7.5 flying hours or in Fairbanks in 9.
Note: Prices are reflected in Canadian dollars for fall and winter 2017. They are approximate and subject to change. Search performed on Google Flights. Trip duration does not include time spent on the ground during layovers.
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