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When Can You See The Northern Lights On An Alaskan Cruise


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Natividad Guffey



Welcome to the enchanting world of the Northern Lights, where nature puts on a breathtaking light show like no other. If you’re seeking an unforgettable experience, look no further than an Alaskan cruise to witness the spectacle of the Aurora Borealis. Alaska, with its vast wilderness and clear skies, offers some of the best opportunities to catch a glimpse of this mesmerizing phenomenon.


The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, are caused by electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere. This collision releases energy in the form of vibrant, dancing lights that can be seen in the polar regions. Alaska’s northern location makes it an ideal destination to witness this natural wonder.


Planning your Alaskan cruise around the Northern Lights offers a unique way to explore the rugged beauty of the Last Frontier while chasing the ethereal glow that illuminates the night sky. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a photography enthusiast, or simply someone captivated by the beauty of celestial displays, an Alaska cruise will provide you with an unforgettable experience.


Before embarking on your Northern Lights adventure, it’s important to understand the optimal times to catch this elusive spectacle. The next section will guide you through the best time of year to see the Northern Lights in Alaska.


Understanding the Northern Lights

Before delving into the best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska, it’s helpful to understand the science behind this captivating phenomenon. The Northern Lights occur when charged particles from the sun collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, producing colorful displays of light. The colors are determined by the type of gas and the altitude at which the collision occurs.


The most common colors of the Northern Lights are green and yellow, which are caused by collisions with oxygen molecules at lower altitudes. Reds, pinks, and purples can also be seen at higher altitudes when the charged particles interact with nitrogen atoms. The lights typically appear in curtains, arcs, or spirals, dancing across the sky in a mesmerizing display that can last from minutes to hours.


Alaska’s position within the auroral oval, a region near the North Pole where the Northern Lights are most commonly visible, provides ample opportunities to witness this extraordinary natural phenomenon. The combination of Alaska’s proximity to the Earth’s magnetic pole, low light pollution, and vast open spaces make it an ideal destination for Northern Lights enthusiasts.


However, it’s important to note that the Northern Lights are a natural occurrence and can be unpredictable. While there are peak times and locations for viewing, there are no guarantees. Patience, persistence, and a bit of luck are key when it comes to chasing the Northern Lights.


In the next section, we’ll explore the best time of year to enhance your chances of experiencing the Northern Lights in all their glory on an Alaskan cruise.


Best Time of Year to See the Northern Lights in Alaska

If you’re planning an Alaskan cruise specifically to see the Northern Lights, it’s important to choose the right time of year. The prime months for Northern Lights viewing in Alaska are from September to April, with the peak season occurring in the winter months.


During the winter season, Alaska experiences long nights and relatively clear skies, creating optimal conditions for Northern Lights sightings. The absence of daylight allows for darker skies, making it easier to spot the ethereal glow of the Aurora Borealis. The months of December to March are especially popular for viewing the Northern Lights, as the nights are longer, increasing your chances of witnessing this celestial spectacle.


It’s worth noting that the Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon and can be affected by various factors such as solar activity, weather conditions, and geomagnetic storms. Planning your trip during periods of high solar activity, when the sun is generating more charged particles, increases your chances of experiencing a more vibrant and active display of the Northern Lights.


While the winter months offer the best opportunities for seeing the Northern Lights, it’s important to consider the extreme weather conditions and the limited daylight hours during this time. However, the magical display of the Aurora Borealis dancing across the night sky makes these challenges well worth it.


If you prefer milder temperatures and longer daylight hours, early fall and late spring can also provide opportunities to witness the Northern Lights in Alaska. September and April offer a balance between relatively mild weather conditions and darker nights, giving you a chance to catch a glimpse of the dancing lights.


Ultimately, the best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska depends on your personal preferences and willingness to handle cold weather. Next, we’ll explore the Alaska cruise routes that offer the best chances of witnessing this awe-inspiring natural wonder.


Alaska Cruise Routes for Northern Lights Viewing

When planning an Alaskan cruise with the intention of witnessing the Northern Lights, it’s crucial to choose a route that maximizes your chances of viewing this natural phenomenon. Here are a few popular cruise routes that offer excellent opportunities for experiencing the Aurora Borealis:

  1. Inside Passage: This iconic route takes you through Southeast Alaska’s pristine fjords, glaciers, and charming coastal towns. While the Inside Passage offers breathtaking scenery and wildlife encounters, it’s not typically known for its Northern Lights visibility due to milder weather and increased cloud cover. However, if you’re lucky and the conditions align, you may still get a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
  2. Alaska Gulf Coast: This route follows the coastline of Alaska along the Gulf of Alaska and offers a higher chance of seeing the Northern Lights. The Gulf of Alaska frequently experiences clear skies and a lower risk of cloud cover, providing better conditions for spotting the Aurora Borealis. Ports of call along this route include Valdez, Kodiak Island, and the Kenai Peninsula.
  3. Arctic Circle: For the ultimate Northern Lights experience, embark on an Arctic Circle cruise. These cruises take you further north, exploring regions like the Bering Sea, Nome, or Barrow, Alaska. These remote areas offer a higher probability of witnessing the Northern Lights due to their proximity to the Arctic Circle. However, these cruises are typically shorter in duration and may involve rougher seas and colder temperatures.

When choosing an Alaska cruise route for Northern Lights viewing, it’s essential to research the itineraries and consult with cruise operators to ensure that Northern Lights sightings are a part of the planned experience. While cruise routes can provide incredible opportunities, remember that seeing the Northern Lights is ultimately a matter of luck and nature’s whims.


In the next section, we’ll provide you with some valuable tips to increase your chances of witnessing the Northern Lights during your Alaskan cruise.


Tips for Maximizing Your Chance of Seeing the Northern Lights

While witnessing the Northern Lights is a magical experience, it’s worth noting that they can be unpredictable. However, there are several tips you can follow to enhance your chances of catching a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis during your Alaskan cruise. Consider the following:

  1. Choose the right time of year: As mentioned earlier, the best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska is during the winter months, from September to April, with the peak season being December to March. Plan your cruise during this time for optimal viewing opportunities.
  2. Monitor solar activity: Keep an eye on solar activity and geomagnetic storm forecasts. Increased solar activity can lead to more vibrant and active displays of the Northern Lights. Websites and apps dedicated to Aurora predictions can provide valuable real-time information.
  3. Seek dark skies: Light pollution can hinder your ability to see the Northern Lights. Choose cruise itineraries that take you away from major cities and into areas with minimal light pollution. This will increase your chances of witnessing the ethereal glow of the Aurora Borealis.
  4. Be patient and flexible: The Northern Lights can be elusive and may not appear every night. Be prepared to spend multiple nights trying to spot them. Stay flexible with your schedule and be open to changing plans based on weather conditions and expert recommendations.
  5. Stay up late and be alert: The Northern Lights are most commonly seen after midnight when the skies are darker. Stay awake, wrap up in warm clothing, and keep your eyes peeled for any signs of the lights appearing.
  6. Take advantage of onboard resources: Many Alaskan cruises have knowledgeable naturalists and resident experts who can guide you in spotting the Northern Lights. Attend their informative talks and participate in any stargazing or Aurora-centric activities offered on the cruise ship.
  7. Bring the right equipment: To capture the best photos of the Northern Lights, bring a tripod for stability and a camera with manual settings that allow you to adjust exposure and focus. It’s also essential to have spare batteries and memory cards on hand.

Remember that witnessing the Northern Lights is a combination of science, luck, and being in the right place at the right time. Stay positive, enjoy the journey, and appreciate the beauty of Alaska’s wilderness, even if you don’t get to see the Aurora Borealis.


In the next section, we’ll explore the onboard activities and amenities that make Alaskan cruises with Northern Lights viewing even more memorable.


Onboard Activities and Amenities for Northern Lights Cruises

Embarking on an Alaskan cruise with the intention of experiencing the Northern Lights is not just about the awe-inspiring natural phenomenon. Cruise lines understand the significance of this experience and often provide onboard activities and amenities that enhance your Northern Lights journey. Here are some common offerings:

  • Astronomy lectures and stargazing: Many cruise ships feature expert astronomers who deliver informative lectures on the science behind the Northern Lights and other celestial phenomena. Take advantage of these educational sessions to deepen your understanding of the cosmic wonders.
  • Stargazing decks and lounges: Some cruise ships have designated areas on deck or in lounges with minimal lighting to create optimal conditions for stargazing. These spaces provide a cozy and tranquil atmosphere where you can relax and wait for the Northern Lights to appear.
  • Northern Lights photography workshops: Photography enthusiasts will appreciate photography workshops specifically focused on capturing the perfect shot of the Northern Lights. Learn valuable techniques from professional photographers, such as long exposure settings, composition, and editing tips.
  • Northern Lights-inspired cuisine: Indulge in Northern Lights-inspired meals and drinks offered on the ship. Cruise lines often curate menus featuring regional Alaskan cuisine with a touch of magic and creativity. Savor delicious meals that celebrate the beauty of the Aurora Borealis.
  • Relaxation amenities: After spending hours outside in search of the Northern Lights, take advantage of the onboard spa and wellness facilities to unwind and rejuvenate. Treat yourself to a massage, sauna, or soothing hot tub session to recharge for another night of Aurora hunting.
  • Northern Lights viewing parties: Some cruise ships host special Northern Lights viewing parties on deck, complete with warm beverages, cozy blankets, and live music. Immerse yourself in the enchantment of the Northern Lights alongside fellow passengers, creating a sense of camaraderie and excitement.

These onboard activities and amenities enhance the overall Northern Lights experience, making your Alaskan cruise a truly memorable journey. They provide opportunities to learn, relax, and connect with other passengers who share your passion for witnessing the ethereal beauty of the Aurora Borealis.


Next, we’ll delve into the ports of call and destinations that are popular for Alaskan cruises with Northern Lights viewing.


Ports of Call for Alaskan Cruises with Northern Lights Viewing

An Alaskan cruise with the goal of witnessing the Northern Lights offers a variety of ports of call that provide unique opportunities to explore the natural beauty of Alaska while also maximizing your chances of catching a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis. Here are some popular ports of call for Alaskan cruises with Northern Lights viewing:

  1. Juneau: The capital city of Alaska, Juneau is known for its stunning fjords, glaciers, and wildlife. While Juneau itself does not typically offer the best Northern Lights visibility due to light pollution, it serves as a gateway to nearby areas with darker skies, such as Tracy Arm Fjord and Glacier Bay National Park.
  2. Skagway: Skagway is a charming town nestled in the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. While primarily known for its gold rush history and scenic beauty, Skagway’s location on the southeastern coast of Alaska provides opportunities for Northern Lights sightings, especially during the winter months.
  3. Nome: Located on the western coast of Alaska, Nome is a remote city known for its gold mining history and abundant wildlife. Due to its proximity to the Arctic Circle, Nome offers excellent chances of seeing the Northern Lights, especially during the peak season from December to March.
  4. Ketchikan: Ketchikan is a charming town known as the “Salmon Capital of the World” and is famous for its totem pole heritage and lush rainforests. While it may not be the primary destination for Northern Lights viewing, it is still possible to spot the Aurora Borealis on clear nights during the peak season.
  5. Barrow: Barrow, also known as Utqiaġvik, is the northernmost city in Alaska. It offers a unique opportunity to explore the Arctic region and witness the Northern Lights in a remote setting. Be prepared for extreme cold temperatures and limited amenities, as this destination is geared towards adventure seekers.

When planning your Alaskan cruise, consider the ports of call that align with your desired Northern Lights viewing experience. Research the best times to visit each destination and consult with your cruise operator for expert guidance on optimal viewing spots and excursion options.


Finally, let’s conclude our exploration of Alaskan cruises with Northern Lights viewing.



An Alaskan cruise with the opportunity to witness the Northern Lights is an extraordinary adventure that combines the rugged beauty of Alaska’s wilderness with the ethereal display of the Aurora Borealis. By choosing the right time of year, monitoring solar activity, and selecting an optimal cruise route, you can maximize your chances of experiencing this magical natural phenomenon.


Understanding the science behind the Northern Lights and the ideal viewing conditions will help you plan your trip accordingly. Whether you choose to sail through the Inside Passage, explore the Alaska Gulf Coast, or venture into the Arctic Circle, each route offers its own unique charm and potential for Northern Lights sightings.


While sightings of the Northern Lights are never guaranteed due to their unpredictable nature, following tips such as being patient, staying up late, and seeking dark skies can significantly increase your chances of witnessing this celestial spectacle. Embrace the experience, immerse yourself in onboard activities, and capture breathtaking photos that will forever remind you of this awe-inspiring adventure.


As you explore the ports of call on your Alaskan cruise, keep in mind that some destinations, such as Nome and Barrow, offer a higher probability of seeing the Northern Lights due to their proximity to the Arctic Circle. Research the best times to visit each port and consult with experts to ensure you make the most of your journey.


Remember, while witnessing the Northern Lights is undoubtedly a highlight, your Alaskan cruise will also offer an array of other remarkable experiences, from exploring stunning fjords and glaciers to encountering diverse wildlife and immersing yourself in the rich culture and history of Alaskan towns.


Set sail on an Alaskan cruise and let the magic of the Northern Lights illuminate your journey, leaving you with memories that will last a lifetime.