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The Best Time to See the Northern Lights on an Alaska Cruise

Something you may not know: Alaska isn’t just a destination. The 49th United State of America is a wild, untamed natural wonderland just waiting to blow your mind. We’re talkin’ breathtaking ancient glaciers. Wildlife galore. Sights you’ll have to see to believe. Including (and especially), a little natural wonder you may know as the northern lights. 

A cruise to Alaska is a stellar (pun intended) way to see the northern lights and experience everything this glacial getaway has to offer. Keep reading and get ready to learn about a natural phenomenon that’s truly out of this world! 

What Are the Northern Lights?

The northern lights— known to science enthusiasts as the aurora borealis— are like a colorful dance party in the sky. Which, by all accounts, is the best kind. Your best bet for catching these magical lights are in locations close to the Arctic Circle. AKA, Alaska! This is because the magnetic fields of Earth’s North and South Poles are consistently weak enough for the sun’s charged particles to enter our atmosphere at high speed. And boy, do these particles make an entrance. 

The charged particles tango with gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere, heating them up and creating the magical lights we’ve come to know and love: the aurora borealis. Colors vary depending on which gas is being put on the burner. If you’re seeing green, oxygen is getting some heat, while nitrogen produces more blue, pink and purple hues. 

When Are the Best Cruise Dates to See the Aurora Borealis?

Catching a glimpse of the northern lights means being in the right place at the right time. Trust us cruise dates matter! For those cruising to Alaska, you can experience cruises in April, August, and September. Here’s a pro tip: opt for August or April cruises for the best chance of catching the northern lights. If you aren’t a night owl at heart, don’t forget to practice staying up late before the show! They tend to appear in Alaska from midnight until about 3:00 am.

northern lights over the water in alaska

Experts are predicting that this year may bring the most impressive northern lights in 20 years. Science talk: this is because the sun is reaching the peak of its 11-year cycle, and will experience heightened solar activity. If you’re looking to see the aurora borealis, now is the time to book!

Tips for Viewing the Northern Lights

So, you’re on your Alaskan cruise. You’re all bundled up. You’ve got your camera, a snack, and a heart full of patience, just in case you don’t see anything that night. The less-fun news is that there’s no guarantee you’ll see the lights— the show could easily be upstaged by a cloudy sky, a full moon, or even a weaker solar cycle. The good news? The fresh arctic air and the bright night sky alone will likely fill your cup. Even if you don’t catch a glimpse, you’ll still have every chance to kick back and experience everything that makes Alaska such a cruise-worthy destination.

snowcapped mountains in alaska at sunset

Top Tips for Planning Your Alaska Cruise

 Here are some tips for booking your first Alaska cruise, from us to you.

  1. Book early.
  2. Choose your excursions ASAP.
    • Keep in mind when planning your trip that Alaska shore adventures sell out quicker than your average cruise.
  3. Layer up.
    • Pack lots of layers— remove when the temperatures rise in the afternoon, and add when they dip at night. You’ll also want to bring a hat, gloves and rain gear.
  4. Don’t forget your…swimsuit? 
    • Trust us: if a warm afternoon hits, the ship’s pools and hot tubs will look extra inviting.
  5. Remember that big views are better from a balcony.
    • Glaciers and fjords, jaw dropping changing scenery and wildlife sightings mean having your own balcony might just be the best decision you could make.
  6. Long days and short nights = more room for adventure. 
    • Alaska’s summer days last up to 18 hours, so book excursions and expect plenty of time leftover to enjoy views from the ship. Be sure to get off at each port of call to soak up all those amazing daylight hours!

Alaska’s Top Shore Excursions

With so many fun-filled options to choose from, choosing your excursions can be tough. Our hot tip: scope out your schedule and see what’s available on your itinerary. Stick to what you love, and prep for unforgettable memories. Whether you’re learning about indigenous history or catching a glimpse of Alaska’s amazing wildlife, you really can’t go wrong! Here are some of our top picks:

  • Travel the Yukon Railway aboard a vintage rail car, then board a deluxe motor coach to see more of Canada’s Yukon Territory.
  • Fly across the treetops at Klondike Zipline Adventure Park.
  • Spot wildlife and the famous Mendenhall Glacier on a 3-hour cruise.
  • Join a dog sled ride and learn about the history of Alaska’s mushers.
  • Get the ultimate bird’s-eye view of glaciers and Alaska’s beauty from a floatplane.
  • Watch Bering Sea Crab fishermen at work on a commercial fishing boat

    If you’re dreaming of a cruise to Alaska, buckle up for the best kind of wild ride. Totally epic days and nights? Check. Sightings of the northern lights? It’s likely! Memorable fun no matter how you define it? Absolutely. 

snow covered mountain landscape in alaska

If you’re dreaming of a cruise to Alaska, buckle up for the best kind of wild ride. Totally epic days and nights? Check. Sightings of the northern lights? It’s likely! Memorable fun no matter how you define it? Absolutely

Check out our Alaska sailings and start planning your trip.