If you stay three nights in Fairbanks, Alaska, you have an 80 percent chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Also known as Aurora Borealis (Aurora is the Roman goddess of dawn; Borea is the Greek name for the north wind), the ribbons of green and red light that twirl across the sky seem otherworldly, but really, it’s just science: Particles from the magnetosphere and solar wind collide with photons in the earth’s upper atmosphere, and result in streams of colored light. And because Fairbanks sits within the Auroral Oval—an arctic zone that’s so chilly, the skies are almost always clear—the city’s a particularly stellar spot to take in the show.
The best time to view the Aurora falls smack-dab in the middle of Alaska’s notorious winters, when the skies are good and dark. If your human instinct to stay warm outweighs your desire to see the lights, you’re in luck: Most Fairbanks hotels offer Aurora Borealis wake-up calls. For the heartier set, Sirius Sled Dogs leads a nighttime mush, followed by a gathering in the outfitter’s private cabin for a fireside dinner and light viewing while the pups howl. Or hit the wilderness on a one-, three- or six-hour snowmobile tour beneath the night sky. Perhaps the most luxurious way to view the lights is from Chena Hot Springs Resort’s natural rock lake, where the steamy, mineral-rich water and the green rivers in the sky remind you just how awesome Mother Nature really is.
BREWERY STOP: Just outside Fairbanks in Fox, Alaska, lies Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling, the country’s northernmost beer maker. At the brewery, grab a growler of specialties like Hardpack (an oatmeal-wheat stout tweaked with coriander, orange peel and Belgian yeast and spiked with local espresso), or pick up a sixer of the easy-drinking, Vienna-style Fairbanks Lager.