Today, on the blog, I am sharing deets about our most recent trip. Let this be your Fairbanks, Alaska travel guide.
The reason for the trip was both business and pleasure. As you know, this year has consisted of being cooped up in our homes so we decided to change it up by visiting a place that will offer beautiful scenery and nature. We considered a few places north of Texas but as soon as we found out September was a great timeframe to hunt for the northern lights in Alaska, we knew we couldn’t pass up this amazing opportunity!
The Northern Lights
I learned really fast the northern lights is on a lot of people’s bucket list. And you know what? I can see why…it is a magical experience.
For those who don’t know much about the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, it is a natural light display that occurs when charged particles coming from the sun collide with the earth’s north and south poles. (Yep, this means you can see the southern lights, also known as the aurora australis.) When these high speed particles collide with the gases of the earth’s atmosphere, or magnetic field, this energy excites atoms and molecules, and as a result, we see quantum light. For a visual explanation, please watch this YouTube video. It really helped me understand how this phenomenon occurs.
In order to see the aurora, you need clear skies and darkness. Cloudy skies, brightness coming from the moon, or really any form of light, can hinder your chances of seeing the lights.
In terms of location, people travel to specific places dependent upon which aurora they’re trying to see. Since we were on the hunt for the northern lights, we decided Fairbanks, Alaska was our best bet.
And we were right.
I would say we were pretty lucky because we ended up seeing them a total of three times! The first time was from the airplane arriving to Fairbanks from Houston. It was the most insane experience. The pilot was so kind to alert everyone…he woke us up (it was probably midnight) and told us to look out the window. And sure enough, we saw hues of pink, blue, and green. It was magical!
I wish I could’ve captured the whole thing with my iPhone but the images, and video, didn’t give it the justice it deserved. All I hoped for in that moment was that I could see them again from the ground once we were in Fairbanks.
If you are planning to scratch off the northern lights from your bucket list, here is what you need to know:
- Aurora season is typically from August to April. Dependent upon location, the timeframe could change to September through March.
- The northern lights tend to intensify around the equinox months of March and September, because Earth’s tilt in relation to the sun means that the magnetic field of Earth and the solar wind are in sync.
- No one knows when the lights will actually occur, however, you can download apps to forecast the chances of seeing them. A few iOS and Android app suggestions include: Aurora Forecast, My Aurora Forecast & Alerts, and Aurora Forecast & Alerts. If you visit Fairbanks, Alaska, you can also refer to this website for the forecast.
- Having said that, I would plan at least five nights to increase your chances of seeing them. The first two nights in Fairbanks were cloudy, but on our third day, the skies cleared.
- Do you remember how this phenomenon begins? Well, it all starts with activity from the sun. The sun is currently at a solar minimum. During this period, the sun’s activity is lower than normal. This means, sunspot and flare activity doesn’t occur frequently. However, during a solar maximum, sunspot and flare activity is high. Therefore, the chances of seeing an intense aurora storm increases. (If you watch the YouTube video linked above, you can see what that solar activity looks like.) If you are interested in planning your trip around the solar maximum, it returns in 2024. However, as you saw, we had a beautiful display of the lights from Fairbanks so don’t let the sun’s activity levels stop you if you really want to see them.
- Last but not least, if you travel to Alaska, you must take a Covid test at least 72 hours before departure. If you do not take a test, you will be required to take one at the airport for $250. (Definitely plan accordingly so you don’t pay that ridiculous amount for a test.) You’ll also be required to create a profile on Alaska’s Travel Portal. This is where you will complete a Travel Declaration Form and upload your Covid test results. If you do not get your results on time, you can still travel to the state. You will simply be asked to quarantine until you get your test results back. Since our results came back negative, I am not sure what the protocol is for positive results. I am assuming you’ll have to quarantine and retest. Additionally, if you stay longer than seven days, certain steps are recommended. Since that didn’t apply to us either, I don’t have further information regarding that rule. For more information, please refer to Alaska’s Covid Information website.
Below are photos taken with an iPhone 11 – no filter applied so you can see what we actually captured. Not too shabby for an iPhone 11.
I would give our Airbnb a 7 out of 10. For those who asked for the exact Airbnb link through Instagram (IG), got my honest feedback about it, and I want to make sure I capture that on the blog as well. We felt the photos didn’t capture some of the things we saw in real life. (Some of those things included broken furniture, a room semi under construction, and an attached second home. For those in the South, this is referred to as a duplex. Because of this setting, we could hear the neighbors from the room we were sleeping in. You couldn’t hear them from anywhere else in the house.)
Anyway, these are minor things that didn’t affect my experience of watching the northern lights. The main things I cared about was having a warm house, a bed to sleep in, and a shower that ran warm water, which were all a part of the Airbnb. Not to mention, the views from the backyard patio were stunning. And most importantly, it was a prime location for the northern lights.
The neat thing about the Airbnb was that it was located by the Chena River, which reflected the northern lights beautifully. We literally stood in the backyard to watch the dancing lights two nights in a row. The first time we saw them, we got a little too excited…as you can probably imagine. We hopped in the SUV and drove to find a better location. It turned out the Airbnb was the best location. We learned our lesson and stayed put the second time.
To catch a glimpse of the Airbnb, head over to my highlights on IG, and watch the Alaska highlight reel. According to the host, it is pretty much guaranteed to see the northern lights from his home. (We met him on one of the nights while hanging out on the patio.)
If you decide to book an Airbnb in Fairbanks, Alaska, consider booking along the Chena River for beautiful views and definitely rent a car to get around. The photos below were taken from the Airbnb’s backyard area.
Chena Hot Springs Resort and Aurora Ice Museum
We visited the Chena Hot Springs Resort on our very last day. (You don’t need to book your stay at the resort in order to visit.) There are plenty of activities to do at the resort including: ATV tours, aurora viewing tours, kennel tours, and more. I’ll link more about those activities here. The only two activities we took part in was the ice museum and hot springs.
We started our adventure by eating dinner at the restaurant located inside the resort. The food was eh – I’ll leave it at that. The warm bread they served as an appetizer was tasty though. If there’s a next time, I will most likely order the grilled cheese and tomato soup since the tomato soup was good. The cocktail menu wasn’t extensive – all I really remember were martinis, which isn’t what I normally drink. I ended up going for the watermelon martini since it had the least amount of ingredients, which is how I prefer my cocktails.
After dinner, we went to the Activities Center to purchase tickets for the Aurora Ice Museum. Luckily, we were able to catch the last tour at 7 p.m. so it was perfect timing before dipping our toes in the hot springs. Personally, I enjoyed the ice museum. I told my friends I love doing “corny” things. I am cheesy like that and I don’t care what anyone thinks, lol! It’s the child in me and this is why I visited Santa too, haha! (More about that below.)
The amount of hours the ice sculptors took to complete the museum is insane to think about. Some displays were more detailed than others, but still, all of them were admiring to see. Our guide was quite funny so she definitely made the experience what it was. The museum was about 24 degrees cold for obvious reasons but they offered free coats before entering. (They followed sanitizing procedures for the coats.) If you purchase a drink ticket, you can enjoy an appletini in a “glass” made of pure ice. Below is a photo of the bar area.
If you plan to visit the Aurora Ice Museum, here is what you need to know:
- The museum is open every day, 365 days a year!
- Tours are scheduled for 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm, 5 pm and 7 pm.
- The tour lasts at least 45 minutes.
- There is a chapel inside where you can renew your vows (or plan a wedding) – cool, huh?
- There are four hotel rooms inside for the brave souls willing to sleep on ice – yikes!
To catch a glimpse of the tour, head over my IG highlights under Alaska.
I would definitely visit the hot springs again, especially in the winter. I don’t know what it is…but there’s something about being surrounded by white snow that makes the experience look pretty cool! As you know, we visited in the fall so I didn’t think it was too cold going from our warm sweaters and jeans to bathing suits in order to bathe in the hot springs lake.
I’ve gathered all of the relevant facts directly from their website to help you plan your visit:
- If you are not staying at the resort, it costs:
- Nothing (aka $0) for children 5 years and under, with paying adult
- $12 for children (ages 6 – 17 years)
- $15 for adults (ages 18 – 59 years)
- $13 for seniors (ages 60+)
- $5 for towel service
- Dressing rooms, lockers, showers, and bathrooms are available for guests. The lockers require 50 cents.
- Each pass includes the hot springs lake (adults 18+ only), indoor heated pool, both outdoor and indoor hot tubs, plus use of the locker area and shower facilities. There are no lifeguards on duty.
- They are open from 7 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Final admission to the outdoor natural hot springs rock lake, hot tub, interior pool, and hot tubs is 11:30 p.m.
- Swimsuits are available for sale.
- Average depth of the hot springs varies from day-to-day around four feet depending on the activity of the springs.
- The outdoor natural hot springs lake (ages 18+) is not chlorinated. It is all natural water constantly flowing in and out of the hot springs lake, creating circulation and natural filtration. It is drained weekly, cleaned, and refilled. The interior family pool uses salt water. All hot tubs are chlorinated.
- Hot Springs average temperature is 106 degrees F year-round.
- Indoor heated pool average temperature is 90 degrees F.
By the way, Chena is pronounced like the word China in Spanish, if you know how that sounds 😉
Santa Claus House
Okay, so if you are staying in Fairbanks, you may as well drive to Santa’s house, which is located in a town called the North Pole. (It’s a 20 minute drive so not bad at all!) It is literally a must-see for Christmas lovers and enthusiasts. (Yep, even if you are 30 and don’t have kids!) I really enjoyed reading the letters little kids wrote to Santa, some of which I shared on IG stories – they were a hoot! One kid even had graphs and all on his letter, it was quite hilarious! I didn’t see the jolly man, or his wife, however, we saw a bunch of Christmas ornaments, decorations, gifts, toys, Santa’s workshop, Christmas trees, and so much more. Being there made me really excited about the upcoming holiday season. We even purchased a Christmas ornament, which is a tradition we started a couple of years ago.
If you love sweets, you are also in for a real treat! They have a small cafe where you can purchase cookies, fudge, and truffles. As we were leaving, I noticed a red barn next door and it appeared to be where the reindeer were located so we checked it out very briefly from the outside. And sure enough, we saw them!
Denali National Park & Horseback Tour
We dedicated an entire day to drive and visit Denali National Park, which was incredible to see. It was a two hour drive from Fairbanks and you can bet the views were amazing! The fall foliage in Alaska is something I didn’t expect. I noticed the leaves fall way faster compared to leaves in the fall in Texas. Seriously – the trees by our Airbnb were bright yellow and full when we first checked in, and by the time we checked out, they were pretty bald. (Let’s be real – I thought Alaska was going to be covered in snow.) Anyway, the natural beauty of this state was very peaceful and breathtaking.
As we got closer to Denali, we actually stopped in Healy, AK for a one hour horseback tour. The owner, Ivana, was our guide and told us cool things about Alaska during the tour. We learned about her horses, how she ended up in Alaska, and even pointed out fresh bear marks on the muddy trail we were on!
If you are interested in a horseback tour, with awesome views, definitely consider her company. Ivana was so sweet and kind. The horses were well behaved for the most part, lol! Mine was actually pretty great…but the one my friend was on, was a little stubborn (or hungry), and paved his own way a few times, haha! Either way, we felt safe riding and we are not your regular horseback riders. I’ll link more information here.
After our horseback tour, we drove to Denali’s Visitor Center. They had tables set-up outside the building with information regarding the trails and park. After gathering the information we needed, we basically drove for about 30 miles along Denali Park Road until we couldn’t drive any further. Our first stop was Mountain Vista Trail, which was about .6 miles to “hike”, not too shabby for someone who wasn’t wearing hiking boots. The trail was pretty flat and easy. The second stop was Teklanika River, which was so beautiful to see! The only way to get to the river was to climb down a hill, which was a little tricky wearing my little black studded booties, but I did it! (Ok, maybe the hubs helped.) And finally, our last stop along Denali Park Road was, the Savage River. This was where we spotted a bear…using the binoculars, of course.
In between those three stops, we made a few quick stops to observe wildlife spotted along the way. Thankfully, our friend has an eagle eye and spotted these animals from miles away! The biggest tip I can give you is to bring binoculars. I am not sure if I would’ve been able to see any wildlife without them.
Other things to consider for your day trip to Denali National Park:
- Wear hiking boots
- Pack sunglasses
- Dress in layers
- Bring water
- Pack snacks, food, drinks, etc. There are a few picnic tables along the way, makes for a perfect picnic stop.
- Take hand sanitizer, baby wipes, and toilet paper. The portable potties are not the cleanest.
- Bring a camera and tripod to capture still images.
Eats & Drinks
Below is a list of the places I recommend to visit during your stay in Fairbanks.
- The Library Bar & Bites – best cocktails ever. I had the One Flew Over The Cosmos Nest and LOVED it. We didn’t eat dinner here but everything looked amazing!
- HooDoo Brewing Co. – must try this place, especially if you drink beer. I don’t drink beer but tried the Bavarian Weissbier, and it wasn’t too bad. Anyway, they have a cute outdoor patio with fireplaces – neat place for happy hour with the fwiendz.
- The Cookie Jar Restaurant – come here for breakfast. You will not regret it. (Oh – and definitely try the cinnamon roll 😉 )
- Great Harvest Bread Co. – I’ve never tried Great Harvest Bread before, so if you’re on the same boat, I think this is a must-try as well!
Well, that is a wrap for today! I hope you enjoyed learning about Fairbanks, the northern lights, and Denali National Park. As always, if you have any questions about my Fairbanks, Alaska travel guide, please never hesitate on reaching out. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through IG.
If you visit Alaska, and see the northern lights, I want to hear all about YOUR trip too! Message/email me and let ya’ girl know 😉
Ps. If you missed Monday’s blog post, I will link it here. I shared a few outfits I wore in Alaska. Perfect for fall weather!