Northern Lights

A winter vacation in Alaska may not sound ideal for many travelers, but for those willing to brave temperatures that can dip below -40 degrees Fahrenheit, the payoff is truly worthwhile as the aurora borealis—the Northern Lights of Alaska—puts on its cosmic show from late August through early April, with the most intense displays in December and January. These colored curtains of light in the upper atmosphere are caused by magnetic disturbances from the sun and give off colors that include red, green, blue and violet. A single display can last 10 to 15 minutes.

aurora borealis

Photo by Brian Adam

Because Fairbanks is closer to the highly active area over the Arctic and because its winter nights are longer than they are to the south, the light show is often much brighter and reliable over Fairbanks than over Anchorage and other parts of Alaska. Hotels and lodges near Fairbanks offer winter packages for travelers who want to increase their chance of seeing this natural wonder. At most of them, clients can ask the front desk to call and wake them up if the aurora appears.

The best places for viewing are outside town, away from the city lights. At nearby Ester Dome, visitors are treated to a view from horizon to horizon. Advise your clients to ask for directions locally and head up there during the day so they know their way—it's completely unlit at night. If staying in town, recommend that they try to get away from the lights.

If your clients prefer a more organized (and warmer) approach to Northern Lights viewing, the Aurora Borealis Lodge offers evening tours to a location 20 miles away from the city lights, where they can watch the Northern Lights inside where it's warm. Included in the tour are roundtrip transportation from Fairbanks and hot beverages served in a comfortable lodge. The tour runs from 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. and costs $75 per person. Note: A minimum of two guests is required. Reservations can be made at (907) 389-2812.

Where to Stay

Accommodations in the Fairbanks area include the Westmark Fairbanks, the newest and largest downtown hotel (owned and operated by the Holland America cruise line). A $34 million expansion has transformed this 400-room hotel into one of Fairbanks’ finest properties, with a brand-new fitness center, two new restaurants and free Wi-Fi. Agents can contact Shelley McCool, regional sales manager, at 907 459-7706.

Set right on the Chena River and close to the Fairbanks Airport, the 208-room Pike’s Waterfront Lodge is a rustic resort with an upscale sensibility. Conveniently located near both the Fairbanks Airport and Alaska Railroad, Pike’s Lodge offers complimentary shuttles to both. For the winter, Pike’s is offering a special weekend package: Clients can stay in a riverview room Saturday night and enjoy Sunday brunch, with a noon checkout on Sunday for $129 for two, plus taxes. Contact General Manager Patty Weaver at [email protected], or call 907 456-4500.

And for those clients who may find Alaska’s winter a little too intimidating, the 325-room Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge offers its summertime “Northern Lights Photosymphony” from May through September. Guests can experience the wonder of the aurora borealis in a special theater at Ester Gold Camp, where they will learn a brief history of this phenomenon and watch the Northern Lights display on a panoramic screen in a multi-image presentation set to  inspirational music. At $10 for adults and $5 for children, it may be the most comfortable and family-friendly way to enjoy the Northern Lights. Visit the website for details.