Each year thousands of travelers lace up fur-trimmed boots, put on layers of merino wool long underwear, zip-up feather down jackets and head out into arctic weather to see the atmospheric phenomenon known as the Northern Lights. These emerald green, fuchsia, and pink lights are caused when charged particles from solar flares collide with atoms in the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are the brightest in northernmost parts of the world near the Arctic Circle.
Tromso, Norway is repeatedly found on lists of the best places in the world to watch the lights along with Abisko, Sweden and Reykjavik, Iceland. Right here in the good old U.S. of A, Fairbanks, Alaska takes the prize as the best place to see them. As the nation’s northernmost city, Fairbanks sits right under the Aurora Circle—an oval sphere centered over the northern magnetic field, where viewers can see 80 percent of the aurora activity.
Travelers wanting to see the lights can rent a car to explore the Fairbanks area for the perfect pull-off points, but the problem with this scenario is the weather. Temperatures can plummet well below zero degrees limiting the time even the most diehard Northern Lights enthusiasts can stand outside, staring up at the lights. Some hotels have a designated auroral viewing building far away from the lights of the hotel, but walking to and from said building can be daunting as well.
For truly luxurious—and warm—Aurora Borealis viewing, you can't beat the Borealis Basecamp. The basecamp's owners took the popular concept of glamping (glamour camping) and made it quintessentially Alaskan. Ten insulated self-sustaining geodesic domes sit on top of a hill on a 100-acre swath of land an hour’s drive from Fairbanks, overlooking the White Mountains. Each dome has a 16-foot curved viewing roof that allows guests to lie in bed watching the red, green, and purple Aurora Borealis light show. The viewing roof is made from the same plexiglass used to make helicopters.
The auroral lights are typically most active between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. Because there is no telling what time the light show will start, the basecamp offers middle-of-the-night wake-up calls to alert guests when the aurora lights begin to appear. If Mother Nature cooperates, guests simply have to open their eyes to watch the dazzling light show before them. Adventure travel does not get better than this.
Each dome is furnished with a small kitchen, refrigerator, hot water shower, dry flush toilet, and a surprisingly warm space heater. The domes are powered by either solar or diesel-powered generators and all the water is trucked in. This is off-the-grid living Alaskans are famous for.
While the accommodations are designed around Fairbanks’ most iconic winter attraction, day time activities are not second-rate. During the day guests can rent snowshoes and explore the trails in the property’s boreal forest. They can spend the day dog sledding with local guides through the backcountry. And some guests like to rent snow machines to head to the nearby Trans-Alaskan Pipeline for photo opportunities.
A community yurt sits at the entrance to the basecamp, where an award-winning chef prepares meals from scratch. Lunch and dinner options generally include soup, king crab, baby-back ribs, and portobello mushrooms. Windows face the mountains, and if you want to experience the northern lights in the company of others, you're welcomed to order a glass of wine, sit near a window, and wait for the magic to happen.