Discover Alaska: Your Guide to Seeing the Northern Lights
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Alaska is the final frontier for most tourists. It is a massive patch of land tucked away in the corner of the world and wrapped up in the untamed wilderness. Hardly anything can compare to the sheer awe of its landscapes and biosphere trapped in glaciers, lush evergreen forests, and impressive biome. It’s not a place for the faint of heart nor for adventurists who are used to the “casual mode.” However, the harshest places in the world usually offer something truly remarkable and awe-inspiring. Alaska has aurora borealis – so if you are eager to discover this patch of land, here is your guide to seeing the northern lights in Alaska.
Vast and Untamed
The 49th state of the US covers the biggest surface and yet it appears to be a lot smaller to people for one simple reason – most of its infrastructure is relegated to the coastline. This is due to the fact that, so far north, it’s hard to fight against the elements. Even though the hinterlands of this area (that is practically a subcontinent – the fact that it’s spread across five time zones should give you an idea of its size) are unfriendly to people, they still “hide” true natural treasures, such as the aforementioned phenomenon of aurora borealis.
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Therefore, if you ever plan to visit this part of the country, you’ll probably arrive by plane – because it is the most convenient. Anchorage is serviced by most established and renowned airlines and even Fairbanks airport functions well. On the other hand, if you are from the US or Canada, you might want to take a longer but more scenic route – by going on an epic road trip along the Alcan highway (the name is a portmanteau of words Alaska and Canada). Finally, the whale watching enthusiasts sometimes crown their trans-pacific journeys by arriving via boats and cruise liners.
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The “Golden” Time Frame
If you are very specific about your Alaskan trip – in other words, if you are really focused on enjoying the northern lights, you should definitely come between September and April. During this “golden” time frame for aurora borealis, you will get the clearest skies, mostly pleasant weather (for Alaskan standards, that is) and the most frequent displays of this phenomenon. Even though many northern light enthusiasts come to Fairbanks to enjoy these lights, you should definitely make arrangements in an accommodation out of town – light pollution can noticeably affect your enjoyment of the lights.
Still, Fairbanks is a popular destination for watching because it is geographically located under what’s called the “auroral oval” – a zone which has the most frequent displays. If you are staying in Anchorage or any other city that is potentially out of this oval (though lights are unpredictable and can happen anywhere), you can apply for some amazing and convenient northern lights packages with prepared tours for you. Each of the cities offers transportations beyond the city limits where you can see the lights unhindered by the urban verve.
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Fickle, Yet Worth It
As it has been mentioned before, the most frustrating aspect of aurora borealis is that it is an unpredictable phenomenon. The lights can appear all over the country and they don’t exactly adhere to a strict schedule. Still, there are certain parameters you can apply to your visiting schedule, and they will increase your chances to enjoy this fickle yet worthy light show.
If you are looking for a specific time window when the activity of northern lights typically peaks – it is between 10 PM and 2 AM (solar time). In other words, between September and March, you should be on the lookout between midnight and 4:30 AM while, during the winter, the “sweet spot” moves to between 11:30 PM and 3:30 AM. Furthermore, you can start observing the sky tentatively about an hour after sunset and really pay close attention to it about ninety minutes to two hours after the last daylight has dissipated over the horizon. If the weather is bad and if it’s cloudy, even partly, you shouldn’t bother with skygazing, look at the weather forecast and find the most opportune (i.e. clearest) nights.
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What are They Actually?
There are many places around the world to enjoy northern lights. They are a fairly common phenomenon in the far north, near the north pole cap and they also have a southern counterpart known as aurora australis. This phenomenon that is awesome to look at is actually a surge of solar particles that are blown into the magnetic field of our planet, an occurrence that transpires around 60 miles above the Earth’s surface.
Those who brave the biggest difficulties are often rewarded with the best prizes. Should you dare to venture into the wilderness of Alaska and conquer its most daunting challenges, you will be rewarded with the most unforgettable vista in the world – the skyline covered in ephemeral northern lights. Okay, the entire endeavor is not as “harsh” as it used to be – Fairbanks boasts some truly remarkable accommodations and amenities for tourists and the entire corner of the American continent is much better connected than ever before. Still, you can “pretend” that you’re a hunter braving the wilds beyond the frontier as aurora borealis lights the path in front of you. Nobody would blame you for it and, in fact, it is completely legitimate if you truly decided to come to Alaska. Despite the expansion of infrastructure and tourist establishments, it is still not for the faint of heart.