Northern Lights (a.k.a. Auroras) in Fairbanks
You’ve heard of them, you’ve seen awe inspiring photos of them all across social media. The Auroras, also known as the Northern Lights is an amazing experience that cannot be compared to anything else. The lights don’t just glow, they dance across the night sky. It’s elusiveness adds to the excitement!
When people think of the Northern Lights, they most often times think of exotic locations like Iceland, Finland, or the Northern Territories of Canada. The best kept secret is that our good ‘ole USA has perfect viewing spots for this natural phenomenon. No international currency exchange, no half day flights, no roaming fees on your phone, and no language barrier. The closest place from the Bay Area is straight north up to Alaska and the best city to view it from is Fairbanks.
To see the Northern Lights conditions need to be just right: clear skies, high kp levels (The kp index is a scale of numbers between 0 – 9 known as the planetary index), far from city lights, and right time of the year. Fairbanks, Alaska has a higher chance to see the lights than most places because it is actually located an arctic desert with less than 10 inches of precipitation annually. More snow falls in the lower 49 states than in the Arctic Regions. The reason is that the air is very dry and that there isn’t enough moisture for snow to form. This usually means higher chance of clear skies perfect for Aurora viewing.
We had the lucky chance to visit Fairbanks in late December and have rounded up some fun and unique things to do in the area while you’re waiting for the Northern Lights to show up in the winter time.
Fairbanks in the Winter
You know Dasher and Prancer and even Rudolph! But did you know Reindeer shed their antlers once a year? We had the chance to visit Archipelago Farms which is a working reindeer farm to see and learn about these interesting creatures. Since the reindeers are all semi-wild, you are not allowed to pet them, but you can get close to view and take photos. During your visit you’ll learn tons of interesting facts on how these animals survive in below freezing temperatures.
Creamer’s Field is a great place to go bird watching during summer, but in winter it turns into a winter wonderland with snow covered fields. We loved walking on their elevated boardwalk through the trees for a peaceful winter walk. During the winter there are no birds, but the park is dog friendly and you’ll be too busy enjoying to beautiful surroundings to think about anything else.
Dog Sledding is a must when visiting Fairbanks! The dogs love running and its an amazing experience to glide in the snow while watching the winter scenes fly by. Learn about different techniques used in the famous dog sled races and hear first hand stories from many retired or part time racers who own many of the dog sled tour companies. If you get lucky you might even see some puppies!
Ice Fishing is something you don’t get to experience in most parts of the US. Most of the lakes in Fairbanks are completely frozen over with ice thick enough to drive on (make sure to ask a local which ones are safe to do so before attempting this!). A true winter Alaskan pastime is to go ice fishing. Huddle up in a hut, drill a hole through the ice, sit back, and try and keep warm as you wait for the fish to bite!
Denali National Park is open in the wintertime. One of the biggest National Park in Alaska is located about 2 hours South of Fairbanks. The drive is straight and easy and the park is beautiful. During our visit there we encountered a giant moose, borrowed free snowshoes from the Winter Visitor Center, and visited the Dog Sled Kennel. The rangers use dog sleds in the winter to access different areas of the park. Make sure to go for a visit and say hi to the super friendly dogs.
The North Pole is in Alaska! You heard that right. North Pole, Alaska is located 30 mins from Fairbanks. It’s a pretty small town, but make sure to make a stop at Santa Claus House where its Christmas every day! You can send letters that will be post marked from the “North Pole” and take pictures with Santa. In the Winter they also have an Ice Sculpture Park that you can enjoy.
Chena Hot Springs Resort is the biggest resort in the area. Located about 1 1/2 hours drive from Fairbanks, this place has it all. Many tour groups run through this resort with some people never stepping foot outside of it during their stay. They have everything from an Ice Museum, Natural Hot Springs pool, restaurants, and all the tours you can think of. They also have multiple viewing areas to watch the Northern Lights!
Fairbanks isn’t too far from the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle is the most northerly of the abstract five major circles of latitude as shown on maps of the Earth. It does take a whole day to get there and back, but its worth it to see the eerie frozen landscape and learn about the brave souls that drive up the Dalton Highway- also known as one of the most dangerous highways in the world. Many tour groups offer half, full, and even overnight trips way up North.