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Anchorage Aurora Quest – Anchorage Northern Lights Tour

two people enjoying Alaskan night sky
PRICE STARTS AT
$295
August 17 to April 24
Nightly
Up to 8 Hrs
Anchorage Aurora Quest – Anchorage Northern Lights Tour

Anchorage Aurora Quest

This Anchorage northern lights tour is designed to maximize fun and opportunity with the Aurora Borealis. We are proud to have been highlighted by Iceland Air’s Stopover magazine as one of Anchorage’s “Hidden Hot Spots” in its Spring 2019 issue (page 64) and listed as one of “the best northern lights tours in Alaska” by U.S. News & World Report.

Our goal is to help you enjoy the magic and mystery of the aurora borealis with this tour. Whether you want to learn how to photograph it or simply enjoy viewing it, this tour is for you! This Anchorage northern lights tour only runs when the forecast indicates that there is a good chance of seeing the aurora borealis with the naked eye, applying the criteria we review (see below). We pick you up at your hotel 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 tour allows you to either select a single night or purchase a multi-day pass, increasing your chances of success. It’s the perfect complement to winter day tours and a great option for business travelers to Alaska from August to late April. This Anchorage northern lights 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 them. Cameras are available for rent, and tripods are complimentary. And if all you have is a smart phone, still join us! Most of our guests are just like you. 

Viator Badge of Excellence Sunset Photo Safari at Alaska Photo Treks

woman point towards Northern Lights
Upcoming Tour Status

THREE-DAY OUTLOOK

SAT APR 20 - TOUR WILL RUN AT GUEST'S DISCRETION [Partly cloudy to mostly clear skies, quiet-to-unsettled aurora forecast, bright moon]

SUN APR 21 - TOUR WILL LIKELY NOT RUN [Mostly cloudy skies, quiet aurora forecast, bright moon]

MON APR 22 - TOUR MAY POSSIBLY RUN [Partly cloudy to mostly cloudy skies, unsettled-to-active aurora forecast, bright moon]

Visit our Anchorage Northern Lights Forecast for more details on the aurora and weather forecast for this time period. Check this page and the forecast page daily if you are interested in a tour in the upcoming days.

PARAMETERS OF WHEN WE RUN A TOUR

On the day of the tour, we will use one of the following to indicate the tour status for the night:

WILL RUN – The tour runs if we have the minimum booking of two people for the night, and if conditions are favorable for viewing the northern lights. We will run a tour when there is at least a Kp1 aurora with clear or mostly clear conditions, and if the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center forecast modeling indicates there may be enhancements in the solar wind or magnetic field. In partly cloudy to cloudy conditions, we will run the tour if it is at least a Kp3 aurora forecast and a chance for some breaks in the clouds. If the moon is bright, we will run only with a Kp3 forecast. On a “Will Run” status, you will receive an email notifying you of tour status with a pick up schedule.

WILL RUN AT GUEST’S DISCRETION – There are many nights where the chance for seeing the northern lights is there, but it is a less than 50/50 chance. There are three factors that will affect aurora viewing: phase of the moon, brightness/activity of the aurora, and cloud cover. On nights when we go at guest’s discretion, one or more of those factors are not favorable. We know that for many people a chance to see the northern lights is an important part of their Alaska visit, and they may want to give it a chance even when the odds are less. On these nights, we let the guests decide based on available information. If guest’s choose to not proceed, it is considered a weather cancellation and a full refund is provided.

WILL NOT RUN – Unlike many tour operators, we will not run a tour if we do not think there is any chance of seeing the northern lights with the naked eye. We will not run a tour if there is a Kp0 forecast; or if there is a Kp1 forecast with no expected enhancements in solar wind or geomagnetic field; or if weather conditions are too cloudy, raining, or snowing; or if the moon phase is too bright for the forecast aurora conditions (i.e., a quiet aurora with a bright moon). We do not believe that it is appropriate to run a tour when we do not believe there is a good chance of seeing the northern lights. We will also not run a tour if the National Weather Service has issued warnings or advisories that indicate travel may be dangerous. You will be provided an opportunity to reschedule your tour. If you cannot reschedule, then a full refund is provided when the tour does not run due to weather conditions.

OUR TERMS

AURORA LEVELS are the common standards based on the Planetary K-Index (Kp):
Quiet – Kp0-2
Unsettled – Kp3
Active – Kp4
Minor storm – Kp5
Moderate storm – Kp6
Strong storm – Kp7
Severe storm – Kp8
Extreme storm – Kp9

MOON LEVELS are based on our own data for observability of a quiet aurora under different moon illuminations:
Minimal moon – Up to 40% illumination, will not interfere with viewing a quiet aurora display
Moderate moon – From 41% to 75% illumination, may impair viewing a quiet aurora display
Bright moon – Over 75% illumination, will likely or will interfere with viewing a quiet aurora display (forecast of Kp3 or higher required for viewing)

CLOUD LEVELS (percentage of skies covered)
Clear - 0-10%
Mostly clear - 10-30%
Partly cloudy - 30-60%
Mostly cloudy - 60-90%
Cloudy - 90-100%

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

When
  • Nightly, August 17 to April 24 when conditions are right, which means at least Kp1 and less than 50% cloud cover. (See our more detailed criteria above as to when we run a tour.)
  • 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 generally at around 3:00 p.m., but no later than 6:30 pm.
  • Duration is  approximately 6-7 hours.
Where

Ssshhh, it’s a secret, but we have several favorite spots within a 120-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 Anchorage northern lights tour are based on conditions at the time. We may travel to 1-3 locations during the evening.

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 are available to rent at Sixth Avenue Outfitters or Alaska Outdoor Gear Rental in Anchorage. For purchasing your own winter gear in advance of your trip, visit our Winter Outdoor Gear idea list on our Amazon storefront!
  • 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].

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.
Professional portraits of you with the aurora borealis or night sky are complimentary.
North Slope-rated heavy winter parkas/jackets are available for loan (indicate during booking if you need to borrow one).
A Sony mirrorless camera is available for rent ($30/tour).
Guiding and instruction
Tripods are available for loan, with a limited number of cell phone attachments.

What To Bring

If your aim is to take home aurora images of your own, you will need the following: Camera with manual settings
Camera with manual settings
Everyone should install the My Aurora Pro and Amazing Aurora apps for northern lights information.
Newer iPhones have a Night Mode that is capable of taking decent photos of the aurora. However, for more manual exposure control, smartphone photographers should install the Camera+ app (iPhone), the Filmic Pro or Camera FV-5 Lite app (Samsung), or Firstlight or Filmic Pro app (Google).
Headlamp
At least 64GB memory card
Wide angle lenses ranging from 14-70mm, with a preferred aperture of f/2.8 (f/4.0 can also work).
Camera with manual settings
Everyone should install the My Aurora Pro and Amazing Aurora apps for northern lights information.
Newer iPhones have a Night Mode that is capable of taking decent photos of the aurora. However, for more manual exposure control, smartphone photographers should install the Camera+ app (iPhone), the Filmic Pro or Camera FV-5 Lite app (Samsung), or Firstlight or Filmic Pro app (Google).
Headlamp
At least 64GB memory card
Wide angle lenses ranging from 14-70mm, with a preferred aperture of f/2.8 (f/4.0 can also work).

Transportation

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

IMPORTANT BOOKING INFORMATION

  • Cancel your reservation at least 24-hours in advance if your plans change and we will provide a full refund. 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.
  • For those who book a four-day pass, that does not guarantee that the tour will run each of the four nights. It allows you to participate in the tour as many times as the tour runs during those four days. The four days must be consecutive. The only time we will provide a full refund is if the tour does not proceed at all during your four-day pass  period. If the tour proceeds only one day, you are refunded your booking amount minus the rate for a single-day pass. If the tour proceeds only two days out of four, then no refund is provided (as the price for a four-day pass is slightly less than the cost of two single-day passes).
  • 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 minimum 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. However, if you do not see the northern lights during your tour, you can join us on another booked tour for free. Simply contact us to see if there is another booked tour during your visit, and we will reschedule you.

Comparing Anchorage to Fairbanks

Comparing Anchorage to Fairbanks

ANCHORAGE AURORA SEASON 2021-2022 STATISTICS

Frequently Asked Questions

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 51% of the scheduled tours. Of the tours that ran, the aurora borealis was seen with the naked eye 80% of the time. So, you should be aware that although we only run our Anchorage northern lights tour when conditions are good for viewing the aurora, approximately 20% of the time the aurora is not visible with the naked eye. Your chances increase greatly the more nights you have available to tour. This is why our four-night pass is a great option!

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. Forecasts and the models they rely on are not 100% accurate, and sometimes we do not see the aurora borealis with the naked eye. 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. However, if we do not see the aurora at all during your tour, you can join us on a subsequent night for a free make-up tour if we have paid guests booked for that night.

A: Enjoy your day in Anchorage and if the weather is favorable, it might be wise to take an afternoon nap. We will notify you via email by approximately 3:00 p.m. the status of your tour and, if it is running, the pick-up schedule for the tour.

A: Our destination each night will vary according to conditions, but we usually travel within a 100-mile radius and visit 1-3 locations.

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

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. Depending on the route, we may stop at a gas station for a bathroom break.

A: Yes! This Anchorage northern lights tour is 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!

A: No! We have many sightseeing guests. Your guide will take a complimentary portrait of you with the aurora, and it as well as scenic photos taken by your guide are complimentary parts of the tour.

A: Anchorage is within the aurora oval (region on earth where auroras are most frequently seen), and has its fair share of viewable nights. In a given season, the aurora borealis is visible on 75% of the nights the skies are clear. There are also some distinct advantages for aurora chasing in Southcentral Alaska.

REVIEWS

Both cities fall within the auroral zone, which in Alaska is around 60°- 70° N. At this latitude, communities positioned beneath the band will see northern lights almost every dark, clear night. That said, the following information may help you decide which location suits your aurora quest best.

Average January Temperature

  • Anchorage: 17.1°F [-8°C]
  • Fairbanks: -7.9°F [-22°C]

Median Cloud Cover

  • Anchorage: 93% [clearest in March]
  • Fairbanks: 73-92% [clearest in February]

Landscape Features to Include in Aurora Photos

  • Anchorage: mountains, boreal and temperate rainforest, coastal areas, rivers and lakes with areas of open water for beautiful reflections throughout the season.
  • Fairbanks: hills, boreal forest, [open lakes and rivers early in the season].

Aurora Season

  • Anchorage: Aug 7 – May 7
    Fairbanks: Aug 21 – Apr 21

Unique Advantages

  • Anchorage: Auroras often tend to be brighter and more active farther equatorward, relatively warmer temperatures, a variety of landscape features to include in aurora photography, longer aurora viewing season.
  • Fairbanks: More clear sky nights, more chance to see aurora during low activity periods.

Recommendations

Aurora chasers with a night or more in the Anchorage area have little to lose and much to gain by reserving an aurora tour here. Even those heading to or returning from Fairbanks will increase chances of seeing the northern lights, and enjoy the differing experience of each location. So if time allows, include both cities in your winter travel plan!

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