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Alaska, Northern Lights and More

August 19, 2016 | Oksana Szwaluk

Alaska’s tourism slogan is “Beyond Your Dreams, Within Your Reach” and my trip there was definitely both of those things! Alaska was a place I’d always had on my “wish list” to visit and I had the chance to go there on a Northern Lights tour.

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The tour I did was our Northern Lights, Alaskan Nights with Anchorage added on at the beginning.  We did a lot of interesting, fun things in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, like visiting the Anchorage zoo and the Anchorage Museum. The zoo was really different from what people think of as a zoo – it is set amongst a forest with paths lined with wood chips and the wildlife is housed amongst the trees. We were also very lucky to be in Anchorage at the same time as the famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race – 56 teams racing over 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. That’s a lot of mushing (and barking)! Cool to see them race through the city on the start day.

From Anchorage we drover to Whittier and went on a boat tour of beautiful Prince William Sound.  We then continued on to a major winter activities hub at Girdwood.  I took an amazing helicopter tour from here that flew over the wilderness landscape and glacier and then did a glacier landing – a total “must do” as far as I’m concerned! Seeing the patterns of the ice from above and then standing on the glacier was unforgettable!  We rode the Alyeska Tram to Seven Glaciers  where we stayed overnight.

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Our next adventure took us to Coldfoot.  We did an Arctic Safari tour during the afternoon and then, in the evening, did an aurora viewing tour to Wiseman.  Being away from all the lights, standing in the still, crisp air and watching the aurora dance above our heads was, well, incredible! The accommodations in Coldfoot are very unique and could come as a shock to anyone who is unprepared.  The Coldfoot Station is the last stop on the highway for the ice-road truckers and is a true “trucker’s stop”.  Guests stay in trailers with private washroom facilities but have to walk through the parking lot, filled with semi-trucks heading out onto the ice roads, to the restaurant for meals.  The food was not fancy, but was of good quality and quantity – you’d never go hungry.

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Our final stop was Fairbanks where we toured the Great Alaska Bowl Co., University of Alaska, Museum of the North, World Ice Art Championship and the Alyeska Pipeline Visitor Stop.  I also went on a dog sled ride there, which was great fun!  In the evening we did a Northern Lights tour as a “farewell to Alaska” treat.

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Winter is a wonderful time to visit Alaska, especially if going Northern Lights hunting is what you’re looking to do.  I went early-March and the temperatures varied from -10 to 30F (-23 to -1C), and there was about 11 hours of daylight. Even though it was winter the sun was still quite intense when it reflected off of the snow, so definitely bring sunglasses and sunscreen.  Dressing in layers is critical so you can add and remove layers as the weather and temperature changes – think like an “onion”.  People in Alaska dress casually, comfortably and warmly so there’s no need for any fancy clothes.  The small planes that fly between Fairbanks and Coldfoot, as well as other communities within Alasks, have a baggage limit of 15 to 20 pounds (7-9 kg) including everything you are taking on board (luggage, camera bag, purse).  Packing clothing that layer well will help you to not over pack and risk having to leave some items behind in storage in Fairbanks.  A small day pack is recommended to carry an extra sweater, some binoculars and camera, a bottle of water and anything you might need during the day, like medication.

I would certainly say that this is a worthwhile trip for any Aurora seekers who are looking for an authentic experience.