Day 2: The Arctic Circle tour

After an exciting first day in Fairbanks, I was ready for an action packed 2nd day. I booked two tours for the day, an Arctic Circle tour and an aurora viewing tour. The Arctic Circle tour offered both driving and flying tours to the Arctic Circle. I had chosen the flying tour since it took the least amount of time and was offered multiple times a day.

Flying to the Arctic Circle

It was a quick taxi ride from the hotel I stayed to the flight departure terminal, which was located beside the Fairbanks Airport. After a quick introduction, we boarded a small twin-engine plane that was capable of holding 8 passengers.

It was a clear and sunny day in Fairbanks, so I had a perfect view of the Alaska winter landscape during the flight. The snow covered rivers and evergreen forests formed pieces of artworks on a vast white canvas. The view of the white mountain ranges in the distance was simply breathtaking. Occasionally, we would see small herds of caribou walking along the sides of hills or in the forests.

Touring around Coldfoot

After a one-hour flight, we landed in Coldfoot, a tiny town in the Arctic Circle. There wasn’t an official airport, just a runway. A local guide picked us up and drove us around the area. She took us to see the Trans-Alaska crude-oil pipeline and explained to us how Coldfoot was built due to the pipeline. We saw some cute sled dogs along the way and ended our tour in the town center, which had a cafeteria, a fuel station, and a USPS post office. Surprisingly, there was an inn for visitors as some people go there to see the aurora. The entire tour in Coldfoot was less than two hours, but that was more than enough time to see everything. Interestingly, it wasn’t as cold as I had imagined within the Arctic Circle (but yes it was cold if you stood outside for long), probably because I was wearing a lot of thick layers that day.

Preparing for the aurora viewing tour

If you had read my previous post, you would have known that I had trouble capturing good photos of the aurora due to the lack of a wide-angle lens and a tripod, so I went directly to rent the missing equipment after coming back from Coldfoot.

Tips
  • I went to Alaska Camera for my equipment rental. They had a variety of camera equipment and knowledgeable staff providing you with information on how to take good aurora photos.

Aurora viewing tour

Shortly before 10pm, the aurora view tour driver picked me up from my hotel. I brought all my camera equipment ready to test out my newly learned skills. After a half-hour ride, we arrived at the aurora viewing lodge on a hilltop. The lodge was much better than I had imagined. It was equipped with heating, a clean restroom, and several seatings. They also had warm drinks and snacks for guests. It was definitely a comfortable environment for an aurora viewing experience.

After we settled, I set up my tripod and camera in anticipation of the appearance of aurora. Unfortunately, after a whole night of waiting, the aurora never became active:( I could only capture a very faint aurora in the sky using my camera. It was barely visible through naked eyes. However, I was able to practice my photo taking skills so that the photos appeared much better than the ones I took on the previous night. We eventually left the lodge knowing it would not get any better. Luckily, I had left the next night open, so I booked another aurora viewing tour with the same company.

Day 3: Denali air adventure

It was my last full day stay in Fairbanks. The very first tour I booked for the day was the Denali Air Adventure. The tour was a three hour flight around the famous Denali mountain, which is the highest mountain peak in North America. The Denali National Park surrounding the mountain peak is a beautiful summer destination if you love nature adventures.

The plane we took was similar to the one used for the Arctic Circle tour since it was offered by the same company. The pilot told us lots of information about the mountain and the national park throughout the flight. As we flew closer to the Denali mountain, I began to realize its enormous size. We circled around the mountain peak for about an hour to look at it from various angles.

Tips
  • Make sure you use the restroom ahead of time as there is most likely no restroom available during the entire flight.
  • Wear warm clothes and shoes because sitting on the plane can make you really cold, especially when you sit at the back or close to the exit.
  • Eat some light breakfast before going on the tour. I felt quite lightheaded halfway through the flight as it was getting really cold and low-pressure (probably my blood sugar level was low, so it wouldn’t harm to bring a piece of energy bar on board).

Ice Art VIP Tour

Since the Denali Air Adventure only took 3 hours in the morning, I had plenty of free time in the afternoon, so I decided to go to an Ice Art tour in the city. The tour was to see all the ice sculptures created during the annual World Ice Art Championship. Teams from all over the world came to Fairbanks to compete in this multi-day ice sculpting competition. There were two categories of sculptures, single ice block and multi-ice blocks. All of the ice blocks used in creating the sculptures were carefully harvested from the area, so the ice sculptures looked crystal clear. The sizes and level of details in the sculptures were impressive. Some of them would have looked more beautiful when being lit up at night. However, I left early to prepare for my last chance of aurora viewing.

Last aurora viewing tour

The tour driver picked me up at the same time as the previous night. This time, we went to a lodge farther than the previous one. It was my last chance to view the aurora, so I really wished it would be a good show. Thankfully, when I stepped out of the van, I could already see a strong band of aurora in the sky. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen! Not only was it stronger than any of the aurora viewings from the two previous nights, it was also multi-colored. I could barely withhold my excitement. I immediately set up my camera equipment outside before stepping into the lodge.

The most beautiful display of aurora

As time passed, the aurora activity became stronger and stronger. I barely sat in the lodge throughout the night. As I was so busy enjoying the view and taking photos outside, I could hardly feel the cold (trust me, it was SUPER COLD). It was as if my long-awaited dream had finally come true. I got to see the aurora in its variety of shapes and colors throughout the night. I could even see it moving across the sky during its peak activity. Words couldn’t describe its phenomenal beauty, just take a look at the photos!

Tips
  • Whenever you see vertical streaks, it is a good indicator that the aurora activity will get stronger soon, so have your camera ready.
  • Leave your camera set up outside so you can go out to take photos quickly when needed.

My recommendation

I was lucky to experience a spectacular show of aurora on my very last night in Fairbanks. Every time I look at the aurora photos, I can still feel the level of excitement I was feeling at the time. Even though I have been visiting many beautiful places on earth, this will most likely always remain on my top three most memorable trips. If anyone asks me, I will say aurora viewing is definitely one of the must-do activities in a lifetime. If you do decide to go, remember to plan for multiple nights of aurora viewings to maximize your chance of seeing a strong and beautiful aurora. Good luck and have fun!

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