Over the next two years, aurora borealis viewing is supposed to even more amazing. // © 2011 Christopher Batin
Few wintertime tours can match an aurora borealis expedition, and Interior Alaska offers a great balance of clear nights and aurora activity that draws people from all over the world. Astrophysicists have forecast that the start of Solar Cycle 24, an increase in sunspot activity, is expected to occur in the winter of 2011-2012 and continue through 2013. These sunspots will result in intense auroras here on earth, with vibrant colors and substance.
“We have been told by photographers that Bettles is the best place worldwide that they have found for aurora photography,” said Jamie Klaes with Bettles Lodge. “The intensity of the lights here needs to be seen to be believed.”
Bettles is about one hour north of Fairbanks via bush plane and is centered directly under the aurora band.
“Bettles Lodge offers winter aurora viewing tours from Dec. 1 to April 10,” Klaes said. “The success rate of seeing the lights with a three-night package is 80 percent.”
Klaes said the Bettles area has some of the clearest weather days in all of Alaska.
“There’s little to no light pollution from nearby cities or traffic, which makes for great photographic opportunities and optimal viewing,” she said.
Bettles Lodge features a rustic aurora viewing cabin that is two miles from the lodge on a scenic lake. Lodge staff will transport guests to the cabin, or visitors can choose to snowshoe or ski there. The lake offers a 360-degree view of the night sky.
The lodge’s Northern Lights Tour includes a one-hour flight over the Yukon River from Fairbanks to Bettles. Parkas, snow pants, mittens, hats, neck warmers and boots, as well as hand and toe warmers, are provided. The lodge offers regular and deluxe rooms with Jacuzzi tubs and a wood-fired sauna. The package also includes guided snowshoe excursions, cross-country skiing, bonfires in the evening, three meals per day, snacks, one non-alcoholic beverage per meal and dessert. A full bar is also available.
The cost for an overnight tour with a standard room is $865 per person, and each additional night is $315 per person. Discounts are offered for longer stays and for children. A 50 percent deposit is required at the time of booking. Bettles Lodge is offering a special of one night free with two paid nights in January.
Travel agents should be aware that most flights from the Lower 48 arrive in Fairbanks late at night, and Bettles’ scheduled flights are in the morning and afternoon. One option for an overnight stay is at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge. Before turning in, tell clients to ask the front desk for a wake-up call if the aurora appears. They are more than happy to oblige.