Whether you are coming to Alaska for the first time, or have lived here your whole life, you might be surprised to find out how easy it is to see the magical Aurora so close to Alaska’s largest city!
In this article we will show you some of the best spots to view and photograph the Aurora within a day trip’s distance from Anchorage Alaska.
Keep in mind the best times to view the Aurora are between August to April of each year. The darker the skies the better the view.
Check the current Aurora forecast provided by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
We will show you exactly where to go for premium viewing, and also share some insights from several local photographers. Let us help you find amazing places to see the Aurora and how to take amazing photos using everything from your cell phone, to high end camera set-ups.
Viewing The Aurora In Anchorage Alaska
That’s right, you don’t even have to leave Anchorage to have some of the best Aurora viewing in the state.
Whether you are just peaking out of your hotel, or are up for a small hike, there are several locations around Anchorage that make for excellent viewing.
1.) Flattop Mountain Trail
The photo above was taken at the top of the Flattop Mountain Trail and is a breathtaking 3.3 mile loop trail that offers amazing sights of the sprawling city lights below fading into the twinkling stars and awe inspiring Aurora above.
- Driving Directions: Parking lot, Blueberry Loop Trail, Anchorage, AK 99516
2.) Glenn Alps Trailhead
If you are not in a hiking mood, don’t worry! You can also park at the base of the Glenn Alps trailhead (this is the same parking area as the Flattop hiking trail) and take a short (less than 10 minute) walk to a large viewing platform to observe the beautiful ribbons of the Aurora as seen below.
3.) South Anchorage (Hillside Neighborhood)
There are many locations in the city itself to look up and enjoy the elegance of the Aurora. A very popular spot, that provides spectacular views with only a 15 minute drive to South Anchorage, is the Hillside neighborhood area (this includes Hillside Drive, the upper end of O’malley Road, and the Upper Abbott Road).
This is a popular viewing spot, but unlike Baldy, the parking lot is large, and there is plenty of room for lots of people.– Chad Kotter
Chad Kotter, the photographer who captured the image above, shows how this area is a great “example of finding clear (enough) dark skies with a northern view.” This was taken in the Hillside area of South Anchorage. You can find safe places to park out of traffic and respecting private property, that are great for observing the aurora.
Viewing or photographing the Aurora in Anchorage is as easy as stepping outside and looking up, but for the best sights and shots, getting away from the downtown areas is always best.
4.) Bayshore Klatt Area
The last popular area in Anchorage, with very low light pollution, is the Bayshore Klatt area, not only can you take your time and cruise the area looking for your favorite spots in this quiet neighborhood, but you are also likely to avoid the big crowds chasing the Aurora.
In this area you can find, Turnagain Refuge Park and Carr-Gottstein Park.
These photos were taken by local Anchorage photographer Lacee Johnson using her iPhone 13, no fancy camera techniques, just point and click. Just another reminder that you don’t need high end equipment to capture the beautiful Aurora.
You don’t have to mess with any camera settings, it does an amazing job, and is so much faster and quicker for the average person, and modern phones pick up the color of the Aurora perfectly.– Lacee Johnson
5.) From The Seward Highway
Many people think about heading North when it comes to seeing the Aurora. However, taking a short 1 hour drive (or less) South of Anchorage will reveal incredible opportunities to view them, such as the picture above.
On a good night, the aurora isn’t limited to the northern horizon, and a bright moon helps illuminate the landscape and add interest. Proof that the moon doesn’t ruin aurora photos! There are many safe pull-offs all along the Seward Highway to view the aurora.– Chad Kotter
6.) Turnagain Arm Pulloffs
Along the highway itself and in the areas surrounding Turnagain Pass, you can expect to witness incredible ocean scenes leading into towering mountain ranges, with the Aurora dancing overhead on a good clear night.
There are multiple spots to stop, so whenever the action above has your attention, you won’t have to wait long before you can pull over and soak it all in.
- Just start driving south of Anchorage towards Girdwood.
7.) Turnagain Pass or Taylor Creek
If you go as far as Turnagain Pass or Taylor Creek, you can actually enter the majestic high mountain passes and watch the Aurora from a very different perspective.
Even when the Aurora is less active, this area still offers amazing night-time scenes, “Sometimes an anticipated display doesn’t live up to expectations. I liked the composition of this scene, so I captured star trails with a simple auroral arc by stacking many images together. Chasing lights is definitely a game of patience, but there is beauty everywhere to enjoy, and sometimes even capture on camera.”
8.) Knik River & Eklutna Tailrace
Heading north a little on the Glenn Highway will bring us to a very special location, the Eklutna Tailrace and Knik River area.
One of the things that makes this area so unique is that the water around the tailrace almost never freezes as it passes through turbines at a local powerplant. This means viewing the beautiful Aurora can be done, complete with incredible reflections, all year round.
9.) Knik River (Off The Old Glenn Highway)
Down by the edge of the Knik River, for the first 10 miles off the Old Glenn Highway, there are many opportunities to stop and bask in the glory of the Aurora. Because the Knik River has such beautiful curves and leading lines with far reaching mountain backdrops, it makes for stunning and extraordinary viewing.
The Knik River area is special, it really is, it affords so many different views of the Aurora. So if you don’t like one scene, you can just drive down the road a little and find your favorite!– Phillip Flippo (Flippo Photography)
These locations are excellent because there is almost zero light pollution, but are also safe and accessible for those trying to set-up to watch the Aurora in the dark of night.
I look for locations with little traffic, that have unobstructed northern views with minimal light pollution, and some type of interesting landscape or architectural feature, or other foreground element. I think about ease of access, and if it’s a place I can easily find in the dark, and feel safe at.– Chad Kotter
- Find these locations by driving north of Anchorage towards Wasilla/Palmer.
A Further Drive Away From Anchorage But Within A Few Hours Drive Towards Denali (The George Parks Highway)
This last option is much further away from Anchorage and can offer you some of the best viewing of the Aurora. It’s still within a few hours drive of Anchorage which is why we are listing it within this article.
10.) Drive Towards Denali / Fairbanks
If you have a little bit more time and really want to make a whole night (or more) of seeing and capturing the beautiful Aurora, with a massive variety of Alaskan locales, the highway heading up towards Denali and Fairbanks is a must!
The absolute solitude, the sheer number of places to stop, the awe-inspiring vast wilderness, and the epic scale of the mountains along this stretch of highway, not to mention Denali itself, make this one of my favorite Aurora spots, period.– Phillip Flippo (Flippo Photography)
11.) North and South Denali Viewing Areas
The stretch of road between Talkeetna and Cantwell is the real star here. If it’s a clear night, you might get to see one of the rarest sights on earth, the Aurora and Denali (North America’s tallest mountain) together.
There are so many locations to pull over and check out including the famous North and South Denali viewing areas. The photo above was taken 45 minutes north of Talkeetna right from the highway.
- Getting There – put into Google maps Denali Viewpoint South
Although you can always just drive a portion of the highway, driving the full 3 hours and 40 minutes to Cantwell from Anchorage is an incredible experience.
It is the only trip on our list that gives you a real chance to see the Aurora change drastically as you head north. Also, as weather may not always be on your side, it gives you the opportunity to potentially bypass patches of cloudy skies.
Between the sheer number of places to stop, and the ability to “out-drive” the bad weather, it’s a long, but well worth it trip to take!
Final Thoughts On The Best Places To See The Aurora Near Anchorage
Now that you know some of the absolute best places to see the Aurora near Anchorage we thought we would ask a few of our local Alaskan photographers who chase them for their final thoughts.
If you are anywhere under the Aurora, you are already in the right place, I just hope we gave you some ideas to find your next right place.
Suggestions From Our Photographers Who Chase The Aurora
Phillip Flippo: I think that if you really want to witness the Aurora in all its beauty, hope for a clear night and you will probably see something very cool if you go to any of these places we have been talking about! Alaska is full of incredible locations to see the Aurora, so start with what is easiest for you and then travel further as you become more comfortable. If you are anywhere under the Aurora, you are already in the right place, I just hope we gave you some ideas to find your next right place.
Lacee Johnson: They (the Aurora) can be unpredictable, you could be here for three weeks and see them every night, or never once. The northern lights are not photoshopped things, they are real, and if you get to see them, they are incredible. Again, you don’t need a high-tech camera, you don’t need to climb a mountain, you can be in Alaska’s largest city, and still see the most amazing lights.
I also want to tell people that the real Alaska in winter, it’s not this big miserable cold and dark experience, it is so bright and beautiful, it’s my number one thing, to show people. There is so much life and color in Alaska in the winter.
Todd List: Once you witness a strong Aurora show it can become addicting, and even though you are on Earth, the lights are truly out of this world!
Chad Kotter: For those traveling to Anchorage to see aurora, locations become harder to get to. Most rental cars aren’t the type you want to drive around on dark isolated roads, and you’re lucky if you find one with studded tires.
Your best bet in this situation is probably to hire a reputable guiding service. Alaska Photo Treks is a great choice (I guide with them part-time), they will pick you up at your hotel, take you to the best location(s) for that particular night, and assist you with your cameras. They also will take your portrait in front of the aurora! A good guide service won’t run the tour unless chances to see the lights are ideal, with both favorable earth weather and aurora activity.”
Jacob Cohen: The most important thing you have to be able to do in order to see the Aurora on any given night; is to see the stars. Look for the big dipper, in that direction is where you will see the Northern Lights in Alaska. If you can’t see stars, you have no shot!
We all wish you luck and please let us know where your favorite Aurora viewing spots are!