The beautiful blaze of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is caused when material thrown off the surface of the sun collides with the atmosphere of the Earth. Think of the sun as the father of the northern lights. It gives off high-energy charged particles that travel out into space.

A cloud of such particles is called plasma. The stream of plasma coming from the sun is known as the solar wind. As the solar wind interacts with the edge of the earth's magnetic field, some of the particles are trapped by it and they follow the lines of magnetic force down into the ionosphere, the section of the earth's atmosphere that extends from about 60 to 600 kilometers above the earth's surface.

When the particles collide with the gases in the ionosphere they start to glow, producing the spectacle that we know as the auroras, in the northern skies: the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis and in the southern skies: Aurora Australis. The array of colors consists of red, green, blue and violet. The aurora has a curtain-like shape; the altitude of its lower edges can reach to upwards of sixty miles.

The Northern Lights are constantly in motion because of the changing interaction between the solar wind and the earth's magnetic field. In the northern hemisphere they extend over northern Scandinavia, the whole of Canada, northern USA, Alaska and Siberia. In the case of Alaska, the Earth's rotational axis means the best time for viewing the Northern Lights is late at night until the early morning hours from 10PM until 3AM.

On the other hand, it is always worth keeping in mind that a solar storm can appear at any time of the day or night, and hunters of spectacular shows would therefore be well advised to concentrate on following the various types of forecasts and predictions which are published on the Internet.

Best opportunities to view the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights at Chena Hot Springs Resort:

Activity Center

The Activity Center is open 24 hours per day. It is located next to the Administration Building. It holds up to 80 people comfortably. The Aurora Cafe is located inside the Activity Center and has specialty coffee drinks and snacks available for purchase. It is open until 12 midnight.

Snow Coach Aurora Viewing Tour

The large track vehicle (SUSV) Snow Coach Tour (holds 13 persons total) departs nightly between 8PM to 10PM (December 1 through March 31 - snow ground cover permitting. Which means a minimum of 12 inches of snow is necessary to operate the snow coaches. Check with the Activity Center desk upon arrival at the resort for nightly departure times.

The 30 minute ride from the Resort (1100 ft.) up to the top of the ridge (2600 ft.) allows for unobstructed views of the northern lights when showing. Once arriving at the top, a party-sized yurt is heated for your comfort and hot beverages such as tea, cider and hot chocolate are served inside. Alaskan “outhouses” are also available for use during the tour. For more information check out Snow Coach Rides on our activities page. If you decide to stay at the resort to view the aurora you usually can see them nightly from August to May. 

Aurorium

A prow-front heated log cabin with large plate-glass windows facing northeast is open 24 hours per day for guests staying at the resort. It sits high on a hill overlooking the Resort and outdoor rock lake. Simply ask the front desk for a map to walk there. It is also available for weddings and special events and is a short walk from the lodge. It holds up to 20-25 people comfortably.

Special Aurora Wake-Up Calls

If you are staying at the Resort in our Moose Lodge room and wish to be awakened when our night staff sees the lights, simply ask for our Special Aurora Wake-Up Call (only available in Moose Lodge). Please be aware, the lights undulate and move very quickly, sometimes by the time you are notified, get dressed and arrive outside, they have often disappeared. It is highly recommended the best way to ensure seeing them, is by taking a late afternoon or early evening nap which allows flexibility in staying up late to watch for them yourself from 10PM-3AM.