Anchorage Aurora Quest

The city’s longest-running northern lights photo tour! 

Highlighted by Iceland Air’s Stopover magazine as one of Anchorage’s “Hidden Hot Spots” in its Spring 2019 issue (page 64), this northern lights photo tour is designed to maximize fun and opportunity with the aurora borealis.

This tour is designed to help you enjoy the magic and mystery of the aurora borealis, or northern lights. Whether you want to learn how to photograph it, or simply enjoy viewing it, this tour is for you! This tour runs when the conditions allow for potential aurora viewing. We pick you up at your accommodations and take you on a nocturnal adventure to witness the magical lights rippling over snowy peaks and dancing across dark waters. This Anchorage northern lights photo tour allows you to either select a single night or purchase a multi-day pass, increasing your chances of success. It’s the perfect compliment to winter day tours and a great option for business travelers to Alaska during August to early May. Led by a professional photographer guide, this tour also provides information to help you understand the science behind the aurora borealis. Photographic coaching and aurora portraits are provided for those who desire.

Tour Details

Who

This is a small group northern lights photo tour for photographers and sightseers alike, though due to demand and limited seating, no discounts are available for non-photographers.

When

  • Nightly, August 7 to May 7 when conditions are right, which means at least Kp1 and less than 50% cloud cover.
  • Departure is generally between 9-11 pm. Once the tour is confirmed to run, you will receive a specific pickup time at your Anchorage area location by text and/or email no later than 7 pm.
  • Duration is  approximately 6 hours.
Where

Ssshhh, it’s a secret, but we have several favorite spots within a 70-mile radius of Anchorage that offer wonderful views of the night sky, and great land features such as reflective lakes, forests, coastal waterways, and mountain peaks. After pickup at your Anchorage area accommodations, the locations we visit for this northern lights photo tour are based on conditions at the time. We may travel to 1-3 locations during the evening.

What's Included

  • Anchorage area hotel pickup and drop-off (Girdwood and Alyeska Resort bookings may be made for groups of 6 or more).
  • Narrative on the science and lore surrounding auroras provided by your guide.
  • Light snacks and water (we strive to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the environment, so fresh water from a jug along with refillable cups).
  • Hot beverage selection including hot cocoa, apple cider, tea or coffee.
  • Hand and toe warmers
  • Creative and technical photography instruction is offered by your professional photographer guide.
  • Tripods are available for loan.
  • A Sony mirrorless camera is available for rent ($30/tour).
What to Bring

If your aim is to take home aurora images of your own, you will need the following:

  • Camera with manual settings
  • Wide angle lens wide aperture (something in 24-70mm f/2.8 range will work well, but the wider the better)
  • Charged battery (preferably at least 2)
  • At least 16GB memory card
  • Sturdy Tripod (we have a tripods available to loan)
  • Smartphone users are recommended to upload an aurora app and bring a phone tripod

Photography equipment rental is available upon request.

How to Prepare

  • Rest up before your scheduled booking(s).
  • Dress in warm layers! We may be away from the vehicle for up to 1-hour. It’s important to gear up appropriately and plan to keep moving while out. It’s also better to wear one pair of warm socks than two. This is because the more socks you add, the more likely you are to constrict circulation. Try to leave a pocket of airspace around your foot in the boot. Also wear a warm, moisture-wicking under layer, mid layer [preferably fleece] and thick, snow proof outer layer, along with hat, scarf and gloves. Arctic gear including bibs, parka and boots is available to rent at 6th Avenue Outfitters.
  • Use the restroom in advance. There are very few restrooms open in state parks this time of year, and limited public options available in the wee hours of the early morning when the tour takes place… though there are complimentary trees and bushes available at all locations. 🙂
  • If capturing the northern lights on camera is your main objective, we recommend reading a How to Photograph Northern Lights before the tour. You’ll receive additional coaching in the field.
Conditions

This is a moderate activity that involves short walks on snow and ice. Weather conditions may include wind, and temperatures range from -20ºF [-29ºC] to 50ºF [10ºC].

Transportation

A specially outfitted high-top 12-passenger van. Driver is your photography guide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How likely am I to see auroras?

A: Aurora viewing is dependent on both space and earth weather. While forecasts for the former are based on much scientific data coming from many tracking stations, space weather tracking and research is still in its infancy, and data is available only from a limited number of satellites. It’s best to expect the unexpected. Based on the previous year’s statistics, conditions were right to run 28% of the scheduled tours. Of the tours that ran, auroras were seen 90% of the time. Data from this season indicates that if aurora forecast is Kp1, chances are at least 50% to see the northern lights. Your chances increase greatly the more nights you have available to tour. This is why our four-night pass is a great option!

Q: What are my reservation options?

A: You can either reserve for a single night or purchase a four-day pass, which allows you to see the aurora as many nights as the tour runs during that time.

Q: Are there refunds if auroras don’t show or are not very active?

A: We do our very best to run the tour when forecasts indicate conditions are optimal to see auroras. Nature sometimes surprises us in pleasant and unpleasant ways. Whatever happens, it is our aim to make the best of it. We will show you a variety of night photography techniques and prepare you for taking advantage of a better aurora viewing situation you will hopefully experience in the future. Once the tour commits to run and you have submitted payment, there are no refunds regardless of conditions.

Q: What happens if I book the four-day pass and successfully see auroras early on?

A: Your pass is good for all four days, and you are welcome to join us on remaining days during your pass.

Q: I made a reservation, what’s next?

A: Enjoy your day in Anchorage and if the weather is favorable, it might be wise to take an afternoon nap. Check the aurora report here by 2:00 p.m. and if the tour posts to run, you will receive an email by 7:00 p.m. with a pickup time at your location.

Q: How far from Anchorage does the tour travel?

A: Our destination each night will vary according to conditions, but we usually travel within a 70-mile radius and visit 1-3 locations.

Q: How long will I be outside?

A: Up to 2 hours. There are some locations where we may stay within close range of the vehicle, and others where we may walk up to 1-mile. Much depends on conditions and capability of the group.

Q: Are there restrooms available?

A: Not many. Most State Park Restrooms are closed this time of year and there are few other options available in the wee hours of the night, other than a bush or tree. Toilet paper is provided.

Q: Will I learn to photograph the northern lights?

A: Yes! This is a northern lights photo tour guided by a professional photographer who will help you set your camera in advance and explain what the settings do. We want you to enjoy seeing them and photographing them!

Q: Do I have to be a photographer to take this tour?

A: No! We have many sightseeing guests. The tour is guided by professional photographers, so if you would like a complimentary aurora portrait you can have one.

Q: I’ve heard Fairbanks is the best aurora viewing location in Alaska, can you really see auroras from Anchorage?

A: Anchorage is within the aurora oval (region on earth where auroras are most frequently seen), and has its fair share of viewable nights. There are also some distinct advantages for aurora chasing in Southcentral Alaska.

IMPORTANT BOOKING INFORMATION

  • Cancel your reservation at least 24-hours in advance if your plans change. If you are not available for the night you reserved and the tour runs, you will be charged for your seat if it was too late to fill with another guest.
  • You will be notified if the tour is canceled due to cloudy, rainy, or snowy conditions. You will be fully refunded in such a case.
  • A 2-person minumum is required to run this tour. If the minimum is not met, you may be given the option to purchase a second seat, reschedule, or cancel.
  • Payment is confirmation of your acknowledgment of the risk inherent in this natural phenomenon; once it’s received and the tour departs, no refund will be issued if auroras do not appear as expected.

UPCOMING TOUR STATUS

FRI JAN 24 – TOUR WILL RUN 

SAT JAN 25 – TOUR WILL NOT LIKELY RUN

SUN JAN 26  – TOUR WILL NOT LIKELY RUN

To learn more about to expect for upcoming conditions – both northern lights and weather – please visit our Anchorage Northern Lights Forecast page.

WHAT THIS MEANS AND WHAT TO DO NEXT [Instructions for reserved guests]

TOUR WILL RUN – We will run a tour when there is at least a Kp1 aurora with clear or mostly clear conditions. A Kp1 aurora can be visible approximately 50% of the time with favorable solar winds and magnetic field. Submit final payment on your booking invoice by 5 p.m. to secure your seat [provided you are not prepaid]. Pickup time at your location will be sent by 7 p.m. [Better than 25% chance of seeing the aurora borealis.]

WILL NOT RUN – We will not run a tour if there is a Kp0 forecast, or if weather conditions are cloudy, raining, or snowing. No further action is needed, your reservation will automatically cancel. [Less than 25% chance of seeing aurora.]