We were off to explore the Final Frontier where the polar bears play and Blockbuster is still flourishing. We had one goal on this trip, and one goal only, hunt down those feisty Northern Lights.
Destination: Fairbanks, Alaska.
Spoiler Alert: Our trek through Alaska remains one of our favorite trips to date!
Where We Stayed.
We booked a room at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel and Conference Center. Contrary to our previous trips, we opted for one of the nicer hotels in town. Fairbanks is quaint and lodging options are very limited. Let’s just say it was exactly what we expected for a vacation in the middle of no where Alaska, but it got the job done.
What We Did
Chasing the Aurora Borealis
Alright let’s cut to the chase. The Aurora Borealis is a fickle, fickle phenomenon.We were expecting to roll up and see the lights dancing across the sky the moment the sun went down.
The Northern Lights are incredibly temperamental and you should consider yourself lucky if they decide to grace you with their presence. In fact it’s recommended that you allot at least seven nights to the process to increase your chances of seeing them. September-April is the best time of year to view this mysterious phenomenon.
Here are our best tips to those wanting to hunt down the Aurora Borealis:
- Rent a car. The lights cannot be viewed in the city. You’ll need to drive out to a remote area and wait for them to appear. Having your own car allows you to choose where and when you hunt for the lights.
- Prepare for sleepless nights. Viewing the Northern Lights is a true waiting game. We never slept in Alaska, we napped. They appear out of nowhere and can disappear as quickly as they came. The lights didn’t reveal themselves to us until 3:30 a.m… on our very last night in town.
- Get a camera with a shutter. If you want to document your experience then you’re going to need a a camera that can have its shutter speed set between 15 and 30 seconds.
There we were sitting in our car in darkness at 3:30 a.m. We were exhausted, cranky, and 0 for life on witnessing the Northern Lights. Just when we thought our trip was an epic fail the lights shot out of nowhere above us in green and pink hues. We were jumping and screaming around in the middle of nowhere Alaska like the sleep deprived weirdos we were as we victoriously checked this monumental accomplishment off of our bucket list. Totally worth it.
Our sole reason for traveling to Alaska was to view the Northern Lights, but we quickly learned that The Last Frontier had so much more to offer.
Arctic Circle Tour
We booked a tour to the Arctic Circle through Alaska Wild Life Guide LLC (http://www.alaska-wildlife-guide.com/)
It’s a guided tour up to the Arctic Circle which supposedly presents some of the best spots to view the Northern Lights. Key word supposedly. Fourteen hours and $225 later we returned to Fairbanks not having seen a single glimmer of green in the sky. Their company policy is if you don’t see the lights on the tour then consider yourself SOL.
All bitterness aside, the tour was awesome and a great way to seethe Alaskan country side through the eyes of a local with meals and transportation included.
Aside from the Arctic Circle, here are a few other iconic spots the tour covered:
Drive along the famous Dalton Highway
Stroll along the Yukon River
Photo Op in front of the Alaskan Pipeline (took that one a little too literally)
Witness the beauty of the uninhabited parts of The Last Frontier
Snow Mobile Tour
If you have a need for speed like us, then this is a great way to explore the wooded areas of the state that are not accessible via car. We booked our tour through Chandalar Ranch (www.chandalarranchalaska.com). There’s just something about being surrounded by fresh Alaskan air that does good to the soul. Worth every penny.
The ranch also offers hospitality to those looking for a prime viewing spot of the Northern Lights. You can hang out on the lodge’s grounds for $30 a night.
If you go Alaska and don’t go mushing does your trip even count? Aside from the Northern Lights, this was hands down the best part of our trip. We booked a tour through Black Spruce Dog Sledding (blacksprucedogsledding.com)
The business is run out of the home of a young couple twenty miles north of Fairbanks. The tour starts with a meet and greet with all 35 of their sled dogs followed by a quick break down on how to properly harness them to the sled. Once you’ve assisted with the assembly line, they take you on a three mile run. Safe to say we our lives are now complete.
Denali National Park We wanted to continue the whole one with nature theme we had going and did so by making the trek to Alaska’s national park. It was about an hours drive from Fairbanks, again showing the importance of renting a car to get around during your trip, and you lose cell reception for about 90% of the drive. (map the directions out beforehand.) You’re welcome.
There are numerous trails varying from easy to difficult, and all of them offer stunning scenic views. Make sure to research what trails are accessible during your trip as certain parts of the park are closed to the public during the winter and early spring seasons.The sights Denali offered are unlike any other National Park we’ve visited. Definitely a must hit location during your Alaskan stay.
. Chena Hot Springs
After eight days of serious mountaineering and sleep deprivation, we were in desperate need of some R&R. Keeping in the Alaskan Spirit we treated ourselves to a “spa day” at Chena Hot Springs (http://www.chenahotsprings.com). With it costing only $10 for admission Chena Hot Springs gives Glen Ivy a serious run for their money.
Lunch in North Pole, Alaska marked the magical end of a truly magical trip. The town is decked out in Christmas decor year round, and if you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of the jolly fat man himself. Until next time we bid farewell to our favorite state.