Here’s your fun fact for the day; people literally travel from around the world to see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska. Now, I technically knew this when we first got orders to Fort Wainwright, but I don’t think it really hit until this past week. Interior Alaska is remote, and it offers some of the most spectacular views of the Northern Lights and, honestly, I think we can get a little spoiled by it. My parents came for the Thanksgiving holiday though, and it was the perfect opportunity to get out and really see them in earnest. And let me tell you…they delivered.
Viewing the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska
It’s no secret that Alaska is arguably the best place in the world to see the Northern Lights. And, in fact, Alaska is actually the only place in the United States that the Northern Lights are nearly an everyday occurrence. However, folks can be somewhat divided on where, exactly, the best viewing can take place. While you can see the lights across the state, the best viewing takes place where there is less light pollution.
So, yes, you can see them in Anchorage and the surrounding areas, though you’ll often spot them lower on the horizon. In the city, they’ll also be harder to spot. We’ve been lucky to see the Northern Lights here on Fort Wainwright a few times but, like Anchorage, it’s been lower on the horizon and more of a pale, muted green color – honestly, nothing too spectacular. The Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska are renown though, so I decided to do some research and find the best local spot to take my parents.
Where to See the Best Northern Lights in Fairbanks
I knew that if we drove an hour+ out towards Delta Junction, we’d definitely clear the light pollution and see some beautiful views, but I didn’t have it in me to drive that far out at night. So, we did some research and found out that these are the best spots to see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks:
- Creamer’s Field
- Chena Lake Recreation Area in North Pole
- Cleary Summit
- Murphy Dome
- Chena River State Recreation Area
I immediately omitted Coldfoot because there was no way I was driving 260ish miles from Fairbanks. We’ve done Murphy Dome, and it was questionable whether I’d be able to comfortably drive up that last stretch to the top. I didn’t want Creamer’s Field because it’s a low valley area in downtown, and I wanted to escape the light pollution. So, we decided on Cleary Summit.
Seeing the Northern Lights at Cleary Summit
Cleary Summit is only about 30 minutes from Fort Wainwright and, while it offers a bit of an elevation gain, the road is pretty well traveled and maintained. It was a super clear night, and we decided to chance it and head out early – around 8:30 PM – even though prime viewing is arguably closer to 10 PM or later. We could see the ribbons of green as we passed the turnoff to Chena Hot Springs, and we started to get excited.
When we pulled up though, we had no clue just how spectacular the light show would actually be. Guys, when I say the lights were dancing, I mean it. They were dancing. They swirled in greens and purples and pinks. And even stranger? We could hear them sort of buzzing and humming. We stayed for about 30 minutes until there was a little lull in activity, but the sky was alive that entire time, completely surrounding us. I posted this video of the Northern Lights on my Instagram!
How to Plan Your Northern Lights Excursion
Above all else, you want to plan to view them on a clear night. The next most important thing is ensuring you’re out and, ideally, away from the bulk of the light pollution. The higher you go, the better, in most cases. Here are some of the best real-time Aurora Borealis checkers:
- Explore Fairbanks Aurora Tracker
- Aurora Borealis Forecast & Alerts
- Arcticans Aurora Forecast
- iOS Aurora Forecast
The Bottom Line When Looking for the Lights
Ultimately, whether you opt for a Northern Lights tour because, yes, those are available (and super pricey!) or you hope to view them on your own, you want to be prepared! It was so cold when we went – about -4 degrees – but it was absolutely worth it.
Many locations will require 4WD or, at the very least, all wheel drive, but there are so many places to see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks. I’m so glad we went to Cleary Summit because we honestly thought they were overrated until we went there. Now, we get what the hype is about!
Cleary Summit Address: 2315 Fish Creek Rd, Fairbanks, AK 99712