When Can You See the Northern Lights in Alaska?

Viewing the northern lights on an Alaska cruise takes the right timing, the right location and the right conditions. The supernal shimmer of emerald and violet begins with a few streaks and then breaks out into a graceful ballet. The northern lights are an incredible natural phenomenon caused by charged particles from the sun entering the atmosphere and colliding with atoms in Earth’s atmosphere. Some believe they are spirits from the beyond.

Best Time to See Northern Lights in Alaska

The sky may be nature’s theater, but there’s no set time for this show. Like other natural occurrences, the northern lights come out to play when they feel like it. That said, being in the right place at the right time of year increases the odds.

The northern lights grow in brightness and color to coincide with the magnetic strength of the sun’s activity cycle. Alaska’s aurora viewing season stretches each year from late August through late April. An Alaska cruise in September is the optimal time for a northern lights Alaska cruise because the nights are long and dark.

These finnicky ballerinas prefer the hours between Midnight and 4:00 a.m. and favor crystal-clear skies. They also love to come out near the equinox as that’s when there are more disturbances in earth’s magnetic field, so choosing an Alaska cruise closest to the Autumnal Equinox may help your chances.

If you’d rather cruise Alaska in summer, don’t expect to see the northern lights, but do soak up that midnight sunshine.

Where to See Northern Lights on an Alaska Cruise

Alaska is by far the best place to see the northern lights in the U.S., though they have been reported as far south as Honolulu. That said, some towns in Alaska are better for aurora viewing than others.

To give yourself the best possible chance of a northern lights encounter, take an Alaska Land+Sea Journey cruise tour and visit these locations:

Fairbanks

When it comes to viewing the northern lights, Fairbanks knows what’s up. It consistently tops the list of places in the world to catch the dazzling display and it’s not because the dancing green lights just happen to favor this gold rush boomtown. Fairbanks is located inside the Auroral Oval, the geomagnetic North Pole. Fairbanks is accessible and full of conveniences, unlike remote towns farther north.

Denali

Denali is another good option, as it’s far enough north and free from light pollution. If the stars align and the conditions are ripe for the show, try to find a clear viewing path, free of buildings and forest and face north, as that’s where activity starts.

Anchorage

Anchorage also witnesses tantalizing displays, just not as frequently as Fairbanks and Denali as it’s farther south. But there’s plenty of moose to look at when you’re not watching the sky. If you’re in Anchorage and the conditions are ideal, head to a higher elevation. Glen Alps, Point Woronzof, and the Knit River Valley offer decent vantage points—some face north with no pesky mountain peaks in the way.

Hunting the northern lights is an adventure. If you see them (lucky duck), it’s a faux pas to wave, whistle, or call out—according to legend, that drives them away. Just sit back, relax and take in the extraordinary dance.