Northern Lights Show, Alaska

Photo © United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang

Have You Heard of the Auroral Oval?

Unless you’re an astrophysicist, probably not.
The “auroral oval” is a ring-shaped region positioned over the far north. Fairbanks, Alaska, sits beneath the auroral oval, which makes it the best city in the U.S. for viewing the spectacular natural phenomenon that is the aurora borealis.

Before your head to Fairbanks, it’s best to decide how and where you plan to view the aurora. Whatever your viewing plans, count on staying up all night. Prime aurora viewing hours are usually in the wee hours—late evening to early morning. While the best viewing odds are beneath the auroral oval, obviously, there are no guarantees. Weather and your whereabouts are key factors that dictate whether you get to take in the show. In Fairbanks and environs, the aurora will be visible an average of four out of five nights when the sky is clear and sufficiently dark. If you stay a minimum of three nights and are actively out during the evening and night hours, your chances of seeing the aurora increase to more than 90 percent.

What are your viewing options? In Fairbanks, you can rent a car, drive to a nearby vantage point and wait for the northern lights to appear. You can also arrange to view the aurora from a heated “aurorium” cabin or lodge, usually part of a guided, overnight dog sled or snow cat tour. Some visitors opt for a combination flight/driving tour above the Arctic Circle for the most remote viewing. You can even lay low in your hotel and ask your lodging’s front desk to give you a wake-up call when the northern lights start their show.

Whatever your chosen means of viewing and length of your stay, be prepared for a spectacular, otherworldly display, especially if it’s your first time. To plan your aurora-viewing getaway in Fairbanks, check out