Anchorage Aurora Quest
Embark on a nocturnal adventure to witness auroras rippling over snowy peaks and dancing across dark waters. Anchorage Aurora Quest significantly increases your chance of northern lights viewing success by allowing you to reserve as many nights as you like [space available] and pay only when when conditions are optimal for the tour to run. This tour is for everyone who has seeing auroras on their bucket list, from serious photographers to sightseers. Photographic coaching and aurora portraits are provided by your professional photographer guide.
This is a small group tour for photographers and sightseers alike, though due to demand and limited seating, no discounts are available for non-photographers.
- Nightly, August 21 to April 21 when conditions are right, which means at least 2Kp and less than 25% cloud cover.
- Departure is between 9-10 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 4-6 hours.
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 and mountain peaks. After pickup at your Anchorage area accommodations, the locations we visit are based on conditions at the time. We may travel to 1-3 locations during the evening.
Depending on group size, tour vehicle is either a high-top 12-passenger van or all-wheel drive Subarus. Driver is your photography guide.
This is a moderate activity that involves short walks on snow and ice. Weather conditions may include wind, and temperatures range from 0ºF [-17ºC] to 50ºF [10ºC].
- 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, cider, tea or coffee.
- Creative and technical photography instruction is offered by your professional photographer guide.
- A limited number of tripods are available for loan.
- 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 Shoot Recipe|Photographing the Northern Lights before the tour. You'll receive additional coaching in the field.
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 4GB memory card
- Sturdy Tripod [we have a limited number to loan]
- Smartphone users are recommended to upload an aurora app and bring a phone tripod
Photography equipment rental is available at Stewart's Photo Shop.
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. Your chances increase greatly the more nights you have available to tour.
Q: How many reservations can I make?
A: As many as you like. Just be sure to enter a separate reservation for each night, so you are not overcharged if/when the tour runs. Also, cancel reservations as quickly as possible if your plans change.
Q: Are there refunds if auroras don't show or are not very active?
A: We do our very best to ensure 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 multiple nights and successfully see auroras early on?
A: You may cancel the remaining reservations or keep them. We've had guests go out with us multiple nights and often, when auroras get going, they stay active for several nights in a row.
Q: I made a reservation, what's next?
A: Enjoy your day in Anchorage and if the weather is clear, it might be wise to take an afternoon nap. Check the aurora report here by noon and if the tour posts to run, submit payment by 3 pm. Once payment is received, you will be given 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! The tour is guided by a professional photographer who will help you set your camera in advance and explain what the settings do.
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.
- Make as many reservations as you like [separate for each night], but please DO NOT ENTER PAYMENT until the Aurora Report announces the tour will run. If you prepay and the tour cancels due to poor conditions, there is a 10% processing fee due to merchant processing fees.
- 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 may be billed for your seat if it was too late to fill with another guest.
- You may opt out of a tour if conditions are marginal, but taking a risk occasionally pays off. In any case, let us know your preference no later than 3 pm on the date of tour, so if there are other guests on the wait list, they will have a chance to tour if you decide not to.
- 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.
We'll be taking a break from the Anchorage Aurora Quest while the Midnight Sun shines upon us, but check back on Aug 21 to see what the aurora is doing. Meanwhile, consider coming with us on the Sunset Photo Safari to catch some of those splendid rays.
Read Important Booking Information prior to making a reservation
Contact Us if a tour appears to be sold out. Due to a flexible booking and cancellation policy, we are often able to accommodate waitlisted guests.