Anchorage's bright starry nights are nature’s perfect backdrop for dancing northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis.
Vibrant blues, pinks, greens and yellows sway in the sky, marking the path of the dancing aurora. The shimmering opus can be seen swirling in Anchorage’s starlit skies as early as 8 p.m. during winter months. Also known as the northern lights, they can be incredibly bright, multihued and fast moving.
Ionized gas particles hit the Earth’s magnetic field, resulting is an amazing phenomenon of undulating curtains of light that glow, dance, ripple and sway, fold and unfold then suddenly disappear. The most common color is a brilliant yellow-green. Colorful northern lights displays can produce red, blue and purple patterns.
Fall, winter and spring are the prime seasons for viewing the northern lights, and the best displays tend to be accompanied by cloudless and moonless skies. The best hours are often near midnight. Of course, no one can guarantee when the aurora will be out. Visitors who wish to spot the northern lights should plan to spend a few days because the aurora is, like the weather, variable.
Best Aurora Views Near Anchorage
Weather conditions and man-made light greatly influence the ability to see auroras, so it’s best to be in a location known for clear, dark skies. Fortunately, one doesn’t have to travel far from downtown Anchorage to find prime aurora viewing locales. Many sightseeing tours focus on northern lights too. Below are just a few prime aurora viewing spots:
Eagle River Nature Center is located in the Eagle River Valley, about 22 miles from downtown Anchorage. Named a favorite aurora viewing location by a member of International Dark-Sky Association, the center is open throughout winter and features astronomer-led events.
Girdwood, home to Alyeska Resort, 39 miles south of Anchorage. When the skies open up above this charming, European style community nestled in a valley at the head of Turnagain Arm, the auroras can be stunning. Guests at The Hotel Alyeska can request aurora wake-up calls upon check in.
Sheep Mountain Lodge is approximately 100 miles north of Anchorage in a dark area known for frequent clear skies and feature comfortable amenities, access to miles of groomed nordic and snowmobile trails. The nearby Matanuska Glacier is an added attraction. Alaska aurora forecasts are available from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.
Summer Aurora Views
Even though the summer evening skies are too bright, visitors still find a way to enjoy the full splendor of Alaska’s northern lights. Projected in high definition, “Aurora, The Great Northern Lights” is a stunning digital presentation by Aurora photographer Dave Parkhurst, set to classical music and shown daily in summer at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.