Alaska has always been one of my bucket list destinations. There’s something about this place that fascinates me… the thought of being secluded or away from this crazy city life? Wildlife? Maybe. One thing is for sure, AURORA BOREALIS or the northern lights is one of the reasons why I’ve been wanting to go for the longest time. If you’ve seen them in pictures and think it’s extraordinary, just wait until you see them dance right before your eyes. The best time to see the northern lights is in September until March. My husband and I stayed in Alaska for a week in early February to have enough time to see Aurora.
Day 1: We flew in from SFO to SEA, then SEA to ANC, picked up a rental sedan, and explored the city before checking in at Americas Best Value Inn Executives. One thing I’ve noticed is that they don’t require chained tires and I instantly regretted not renting an AWD. I would recommend getting an AWD especially if you’re not used to driving in snowy or icy conditions.
Day 2: We took a 1.5 hour trip to Turnagain arm and Portage Glacier. We were unable to walk across the frozen river to see the glacier because the path had already melted, no thanks to global warming. Next stop for the day was Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. An admission fee of $16 for adults is collected at the entrance. You have an option to either walk around or drive around to see the wildlife. If you don’t do too well in cold weather (plus wind chill), driving around is the best way to go.
We constantly checked the Aurora forecast to get an idea if we have any chances of seeing Aurora. The Kp index (level of geomagnetic activity) is a number from 0 to 9. The higher the number is, the better chances you have of seeing Aurora. We started driving around at midnight and stayed in places like Earthquake Park. We also asked the locals for best places to see Aurora in Anchorage but they said that the chances of seeing Aurora are low due to light pollution. If we had any chance at all, it would probably have to be Kp 5 or higher.
Day 3: We checked out of our hotel and drove to Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. We were hoping to see wildlife, unfortunately… NADA. Although we knew it was off-season, if we had a chance to plan this trip all over again, I would’ve planned just one full day in Anchorage. To be honest, I was somewhat frustrated spending 3 days here and not being able to see or do much. We dropped off the rental car and took a flight to FAI (which was delayed for a couple of hours by the way). Upon arriving at FAI, we picked up a rental AWD and went straight to Best Western Inn Chena Lodge. I wasn’t gonna waste any more time so after dropping off our luggage, we picked up a late dinner/early breakfast at Taco Bell. It was a bit cloudy but we took our chances and headed to Cleary Summit. It was about a 30-minute ride that felt like forever.
Here I am sitting in the dark, cold SUV, sleepy, tired and hungry as hell, about to take a bite out of the burrito when all of a sudden I see green streaks in the horizon. I thought I was dreaming! Keep in mind that we didn’t have the time to set up the correct camera settings and we were freezing cold at 2 A.M. but we tried our best to capture it. FINALLY!!! (checks bucket list) AURORA YOU DID NOT DISAPPOINT!!!
Day 4: We checked out of the hotel and headed to Morris Thompson Cultural Center. There is no admission fee at MTCC but you’re welcome to make a donation. They have an amazing number of exhibits and extensive information on The People and The Land. We only spent about an hour at this place before we went to our next stop–Denali National Park.
During winter, Denali National Park has limited activities and accessible roads. Activities include snowshoeing, dog sledding/mushing, stargazing, and cross-country skiing. We were only able to explore 1/3 if not 1/4 of the park. We barely scratched the surface! But don’t worry, a visit to the Denali Kennels will make your trip worth while.
I could imagine Denali National Park would also be a good spot for Aurora viewing due to it’s location, away from the city lights. After visiting Denali, we checked in at A Taste of Alaska Lodge. If you are traveling on a budget, this might not be the best option for you. The cost to stay here ranges from $200-250/night. I can’t say it wasn’t worth it when we watched the sunrise in the comfort of our bed and with the heater turned on. We could also see Denali from the dining room where they served our delicious breakfast. If the weather permits, they have a Yurt that everyone can use if you decided to stay up for Aurora viewing.
Day 5: I don’t regret not getting into the Chena Hot Springs. Getting in is no problem but I couldn’t imagine getting out of the water, walking a long way and freezing to death! Being the coward that I am, we just walked around and decided to go for the Aurora Ice Museum instead. As the name suggests, everything, absolutely everything is made out of carved ice. Before you enter, there’s an employee that will explain the do’s and dont’s while inside the museum. If you purchase an Appletini, it will be served in an ice glass. I should’ve listened to the lady when she was talking because when I finished my drink I was too excited to step out to break my ice glass. I thought we’d be able to break the ice glass outside and come back in. But she had already locked us out before I even knew it. We were only able to see about half of the ice sculptures.
Day 6: I knew I wasn’t gonna see Santa but I was thrilled to say that I’ve been to North Pole. This is where we bought all the souvenirs for our family and friends. If you are big on Christmas decors, this is the best place to go. After buying souvenirs and taking our “picture with Santa” we went to the Museum of the North. Since we didn’t get to see much of the real thing, seeing the wildlife taxidermy will have to do. I had to get a picture with the famous #OttoBear.
Day 7: Going back to reality. We took a flight from FAI to SEA then SEA to SFO. Just a piece of advice for newbies like me– if you have a connecting flight make sure you do the math and allow yourself a couple of hours in between flights in case your first flight gets delayed.