** Updated : January 2023 **
Use the map to see a visual of our favorite Northern Lights viewing spots - click the arrow next to our photo to have a pop up list! This post may also contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you purchase a product via these links, with no extra cost to you!
**Before booking any Northern Lights tours, PLEASE make sure to do your research. It's important to only book tours during Winter months (September to April) as it doesn't fully get dark in the Summer months in Alaska. We've heard some truly terrible stories from visitors booking Northern Lights tours, so if you ever have any questions please feel free to reach out on Instagram @RaarupAdventures to ensure it's not a money waster!
While chasing the Northern Lights in Alaska...and in Minnesota before that...and Iceland before that...we've managed to learn a few tips and camera settings on how to best see the Northern Lights, also named the Aurora Borealis! Read on for all of our best Northern Lights tips - as well as a list of what camera settings we use to capture them! Above, we've also included some of our favorite spots to watch the Northern Lights in Alaska!
Chasing the Northern Lights
Step 1 : Clear Skies
Just like you need clear skies to see the Northern Lights, it's just as important to have dark skies. Get away from any city lights, street lights, head lights, etc., any extra light pollution will truly diminish your Northern Lights viewing experience. We encourage you to head out onto one of Alaska's highways away from any cities and using one of the many pull-offs on the road. Make sure to always have enough gas, and be safe while venturing out in an Alaskan winter.
Step 2 : Dark Skies
The Northern Lights can be difficult to see, especially if you don't know what to look for. In order for the Northern Lights to be visible to the human eye (in Alaska or anywhere else) there are a number of things that need to happen in the sky and atmosphere. The first thing to look for is a clear night sky, or at the very least, breaks in the clouds. If it's cloudy then unfortunately you won't have a chance to see the Northern Lights. Any app that shows cloud cover should have a map that also shows you where the breaks in the clouds will be. We use AccuWeather and go into the Enhanced Real View Radar to track this - however, it's worth noting this only covers North enough to include Fairbanks (this is where the weather satellites cut out). The main thing we always tell others is to look for the stars, if you can see them then there's a chance you'll see the Northern Lights as well.
** Pro Tip : DO NOT be the car that leaves their headlights on while waiting for the Aurora. Either dress warm enough to turn the car off or figure out a way to keep the car running with all other lights off. (For us this meant putting the emergency break on.) There is truly nothing more annoying...
Step 3 : Look North, Be North
Just like you need clear, dark skies, the more North you are, the better chances you'll have. (This is why some of the best places to view the Northern Lights are all in the North - Alaska, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Sweden.) It's also important to know which direction is North, this is the direction you'll want to look and where the Northern Lights will begin and come above the horizon. Unless the Northern Lights are VERY strong, the Northern Lights will always be coming from the North. (We've only had the Northern Lights completely surrounding us a handful of times, and you should consider yourself very lucky if this happens!)
Step 4 : Watch the NOAA Website
The NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) shares information on the probability of seeing the Northern Lights as well as any other major weather events. Their data can be a bit difficult to read if you're new to these types of graphs, but in general you want to look for a higher KP number (7 being the best chance to see the Northern Lights, 0 meaning there's not much of a chance at all). You'll also want a negative BZ number, with the lowest number being better (for example, -5 would be much better than a 1 or positive 5). There are also multiple apps that show this information, we use the AuroraAlerts App which tells you the probability of seeing the Northern Lights based on exactly where you are. This app is very user friendly! (There is a paid version of the app that will send you alerts when the probability is high to see the Northern Lights, however we've always just used the free version!)
Step 5 : Stay Up LATE
We cannot tell you the number of times that we've been watching the Northern Lights and people starting leaving at 11 pm or midnight because the Aurora hasn't come out yet. Anytime you're watching the Northern Lights (or chasing them) we always recommend that you plan to stay out until at least 2 - 3 am. We've always seen our best shows around 2 am.
Camera Settings to Capture the Aurora Borealis
To be quite honest, a newer iPhone will do great nowadays - this is what Tyler always uses. In order to get the best iPhone camera settings to capture the Northern Lights, we recommend :
However, if you've got a nicer camera that you're hoping to use, then we recommend starting with the following settings :
You can also try using a GoPro or PowerShot type digital camera. We've had varied results with these, and the GoPro never worked for us, but they're always worth trying out in our opinion! We went ahead and put our RAW images from each type of camera below - this way you can compare them for yourselves!
Have any other questions about the Northern Lights?! Leave them in the comments and we'll do our best to get back to you!
Watch our Northern Lights Adventures & Tips here!
Check out our other Alaska blogs here!
Pin this post for later!
We're Deborah & Tyler, a pretty average husband and wife duo from a pretty average state that didn't want to live so averagely. After our *Covid wedding we sold everything that didn't fit into the Jeep and moved to Alaska, then decided to take a gap year!
We share bucket list itineraries and cost saving guides to help you travel easier and inspire your next adventure! ;)
Our blog and all its content are free to you, however when you purchase through referral or affiliate links on our site we may earn a small commission. Learn more here.