With the end of summer comes a new season - aurora watching. The season has gotten off to an early start, as aurora were spotted in late August and periodically through September already.
The northern lights are a natural phenomenon that have to be seen to truly be appreciated. When the darker nights return to Southcentral Alaska in late fall, our eyes turn to the skies. We always get asked where is the best place to see the aurora, and if they are always out. The answer isn't a simple one. No, you're not guaranteed to see the northern lights every single night. But when they are out, there are a number of great places to see them in the Mat-Su Valley. Cold, clear nights improve your chances of spotting them.
One of our favorite places to catch the northern lights is the Knik River Valley. While photographing them can be tricky, this location gives you a great opportunity to frame the northern lights with the Chugach Mountains, Knik River and other beautiful scenery. The same thing holds true for another one of our top spots - Hatcher Pass. In the northern regions of the Mat-Su Valley, Denali State Park is ideal because you can capture the Alaska Range and Denali in the same scene.
If you want to see the northern lights, there are a few ways you can plan ahead to maximize your chances. First off, make sure you check the Aurora Forecast from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute to see if the forecast calls for a high probability of auroral action. You can find it here. Then, pick a spot that isn't going to be impacted by city lights or overcast clouds that will obscure your view. Lastly, get ready to wait. The lights typically come out after midnight, and even then, it's not a guarantee, so make sure you dress warm.
As the fall turns to winter and the nights get longer and colder, the aurora viewing will continually get better and better. Make some hot cocoa and dig out your winter gear for a night spent under the lights.
Check out some of these images captured by aurora watchers in the Mat-Su Valley: