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Aurora in late March

Aurora in late March

Old Dec 25, 13, 6:50 am
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Aurora in late March

Time to plan our next AK trip and I value the advice from yall. Here are our thoughts and the situation.

The main purpose is to see the Aurora. If it was just the two of us, wed probably do a mileage run / vacation to FAI and pick up lots of MQMs. However, were bringing two friends who have both AK and the Aurora on their bucket lists, whove obviously never been to AK before and dont know if thisll be their only trip. Since its OUR trip and theyre just tagging along, our priorities come first and if we can do more for them, at a reasonable price, well be more than happy to do so.

My little bit of research indicates that this should be a great winter for viewing. According to the UofA Fairbanks Geo Institute, we should have good viewing around the Spring Equinox and a new moon. Our schedule wont allow us to leave New Orleans until after Mardi Gras and St. Patricks / St. Josephs Days. We can head north from March 20th onward and are figuring a 6 or 7 day trip (including Travel) with 4 nights available for viewing. That puts us in AK at and just after the equinox on a waning moon.

The first question is where to go. My initial impulse is Fairbanks since we can also view the Ice Sculptures. If we do FAI, are there other things for our friends to do and see during the day?

Can I have some recommendations for viewing please? Should we do the outside the city tours? I see that theres an Arctic Circle tour that we could do one night. Is it worthwhile? It would also reduce their bucket lists. Or, should we base out of Anchorage, where we know there are daytime things to do. The airfare is also $200 less per person to ANC and we stand a better chance at upgrades (My wife and I are both DL PMs and our friends have no status but would try for companion or mileage upgrades.)

One other thought is to base at ANC and fly to FAI one afternoon, have dinner, see the ice sculptures, do the Arctic Circle Aurora tour and catch the early flight back to ANC. If it was just me, thats what Id do.
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Old Dec 30, 13, 5:51 pm
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I recommend Fairbanks, but I'm biased. I've lived here for 35 years and love it. March is possibly the best month of the year. There's lots of sunlight, the days are long, and the temperature is usually above zero. Some of the events taking place during the second half of March are the Arctic Winter Games (3/15-22), the Ice Art Championship, the Limited North American Championship Sled Dog race (3/15), the Open North American Championship Sled Dog Race, and the Sonot Kkaazoot Cross Country Ski Race (3/29). Other things to do include taking a soak at Chena Hot Springs, viewing the aurora, walking with reindeer, visiting the Museum of the North at the university, and taking a dog sled tour. I'd be glad to answer questions if you have any.
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Old Jan 1, 14, 11:12 am
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I agree that Fairbanks is your best spot. I would plan on a full week in Fairbanks though to greatly increase your chances of seeing the Aurora.

If you are coming March 20th, don't count on the Ice Art Championships. They are judged in late February/early March and usually are in pretty bad shape by about March 20, depending on the weather. Technically they are open until March 30th, but I would go there sooner rather than later.

You also might consider a day trip to Denali. You should be able to drive the first 12 miles of the road to Mountain Vista by then and they usually run a ranger-led snowshoe hike on weekends through end of March.
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Old Jan 1, 14, 8:25 pm
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Thank you both for the information. After a few days of no response I was beginning to think that all of you were in hibernation.

Fairbanks it is. We (both couples) discussed the trip briefly last evening and we're getting together on Saturday to firm it up and make those reservations that we can.

When we take airfare, hotels and other stuff into consideration, were almost settled on a 3/23 or 3/24 afternoon arrival from Anchorage and a 3/28 departure to New Orleans. If we dont catch an Aurora in 4 or 5 nights at the peak viewing time, then it isnt meant to be. We dont have a lot of flexibility on dates for this trip due to other previous commitments.

Fairbanks hotels are an issue due to some of the events that youre suggesting we might see. Wed prefer to stay downtown rather than the airport. I booked us into the SpringHill Suites Marriott which wasnt available before Sunday the 23rd. suggestions and recommendation for other places are welcome.

The overall plan is to fly into ANC (Leave MSY on 3/19 arrive after midnight 3/20). Tour in the ANC area until the 23rd or 24th when we catch a morning flight to FAI.

The focus of the trip is the Aurora. There seem to be many night time excursions where youre picked up at the hotel, go to wherever youre viewing and returned in the early morning. The one to the Arctic Circle is one that has a lot of appeal, even if theres no Aurora that night. Which tour operators and viewing places do you recommend?

Im hoping that we get good views of Denali for our friends but a trip to the park doesnt make a lot of sense for us. My wife and I are very active and in good shape but were in our 70s. Our friends are in their 60s and he has some physical restrictions so a lot of walking or snowshoeing wouldnt work. Also, the time in Fairbanks will be more late afternoon and night time oriented. If we miss some of the events, no problem Ive never been bored in Alaska. Theres always something interesting to see and do and suggestions for day time activities. Wed also love to have you and a companion join us for a dinner if that fits into your plans.

Well be flying DL. My wife and I are both Platinum and well hope for upgrades. Our friends will get the minimum benefit of EC seating and possible companion upgrades. I can sleep anywhere so Ill probably give any that I get to our friends.
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Old Jan 2, 14, 2:03 pm
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Are you planning on having a car in Anchorage or Fairbanks? I think it would be wise for both places. You can take a day in Anchorage and drive along Turnagain Arm to Girdwood and even a bit further. Lots to do/see even in the winter - Potter Marsh is a great place to stop for potential wildlife viewing. Girdwood is a neat town, the Wildlife Conservation Center should be open, driving to the Portage Glacier area is easy and though things are closed, I have seen moose in that area in the past.

I would not rely on the "excursions" for aurora viewing. In fact, if my objective was the aurora I would not stay in the city. I would try and stay somewhere outside the city where you don't even need to drive or get out of your lodging if you don't want. Or at least that makes it easy to peek out the window to see if the aurora is "out" then you can get dressed and go outside to view/photograph it.

The Arctic Circle tours get good revies, though I have only done something like that on my own - a day trip to Barrow using miles and vouchers. But I did it in September, not in the winter! Northern Alaska gets great reviews for their Arctic Circle tours. I am not sure what they offer in the winter, but the fly-drive tours are the best option IMHO.
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Old Jan 2, 14, 5:25 pm
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Anchorage is a definite for a car. I've been there enough to feel comfortable driving around. We were there over Labor Day weekend to spend some time at the Anchorage Museum and then Native Heritage Day at the State Fair. My wife and I both love being there. She's been to Denali (RR up, bus back) Seward and the Anchorage Area as well as a couple of flight seeing trips with Rust's. I've fished Halibut in Homer (7 days straight - what a haul, well over 1000 lbs cleaned and packed) and Silvers in Lake Creek also for a week where we'd limit out before breakfast and spend the rest of the day catch and release fly fishing for Steelheads and Dolly Vardon and having interesting encounters with moose & bears. Since our friends have never been and we don't know if they'll go back (as we will), we'd like them to see the Anchorage area which is 2 days minimum.

A car in Fairbanks will depend on where we stay, what we do with tours and what else we decide on doing. I'm assuming that if we were out in the country we'd have cell phone and possible ham radio contact.

I'm trying to figure if we can reschedule to the beginning of the month. My friend and I both ride in a Mardi Gras Krewe. Mardi Gras is 3/4 and we can't get flights out until the 6th. We could do Anchorage on the 7th and 8th, then fly to Fairbanks on the 9th but we'd have to be back in New Orleans by the 13th so we'd have to leave the night of the 12th and only get 3 nights in Fairbanks for possible viewing or skip Anchorage. Decisions, decisions, decisions - never easy. Sure wish I had unlimited time & $$$.

Northern Alaska does run Aurora tours to the Arctic Circle and even if we don't see them that night, we'd all want the experience. My wife & I will get north of the circle on our next trip which will include Kotzebue. Alaska is becoming an annual trip for us - so much to see and do and people to meet.

Do you have any suggestions about where to stay outside Fairbanks?
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Old Jan 3, 14, 10:09 am
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I have only stayed at Chandalar Ranch on the Chena Hot Springs Road. Pretty basic, but great large window facing north so you can peek out often to see if the Northern Lights are out.

One that I read good comments about on Trip Advisor is Dale and Jo View Suites.

If it were *me* I would never stay in the city if my main goal was to see the Northern Lights. Your chances diminish immensely - do you rely on the hotel's wake up call? can you book a taxi or some sort of shuttle/tour at the last minute? do they go where you really feel is best? will they stay as long as you want or, since a couple of people are getting cold and didn't bring enough camera batteries, do they make you leave early? I prefer to be in control of my travel and not rely on others, especially with something like this. But it is your trip, so you certainly can do what you want!
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Old Jan 3, 14, 2:53 pm
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You are so right - thanks for not pulling punches.

I'll get going on checking places out before our group meets tomorrow.
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Old Jan 6, 14, 11:04 pm
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We met and we've just about got the trip nailed down. The trip is 5 nights overall with 5 nights available for viewing from a number of different locations.

We'er booked MSY-ATL-MSP-ANC on 3/19 (overnight in ANC). ANC-FAI on 3/20. We'll probably stay at Dale & Jo's the 20th & 21st (To be finalized tomorrow). We've booked the Northern Alaska Arctic Circle for 3/21-22. Viewing from Dale & Jo's on the 20th, Arctic Circle on the 21st. Fly back to ANC on the 22nd and view from out of the city (location TBD). Drive to Talkeetna (sightseeing)on the 23rd and RON for viewing. Drive back to ANC on the 24th. We catch the 12:45AM redeye - ANC-SLC-ATL-MSY on the 25th.

I guess this could be classed as an Aurora run I figure that there are 24 hours in the day, and then there's the night. We'll do our best to make use of every bit of time we have.

We should be able to do sightseeing in Fairbanks and Anchorage and on the drive to and from Talkeetna. If we miraculously have a clear day at Talkeetna, we'll probably throw in a flightseeing look at the mountain.

One more question. We're flying ANC-FAI and back during daylight hours. Which side of the plane do I put our friends on with the best chance of them seeing Denali? What difference does it make flying the 737 vs. Q400 for a chance to see the mountain?
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Old Jan 8, 14, 12:02 pm
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Hi. Sorry for wandering off. The best viewing from ANC it's seats A-C and seats D-F from FAI. Have a great trip!
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Old Jan 8, 14, 5:10 pm
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Thanks for the flight info.

If either of you will be in Fairbanks on 3/20 we'd love to have you and whoever you'd like to bring join us for drinks and / or dinner as our guests. Let me know a nice place and I'll make reservations.
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Old Jan 12, 14, 2:31 pm
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Thanks for the offer. I don't live in Alaska (yet), but I will be in Anchorage Feb 26-Mar 3 for the Iditarod. Too bad we will miss each other.

Talkeetna is a neat town. Very different in the winter. Eat at the Roadhouse there - portions are huge. Two or three can share a "full" breakfast. The ranger station is closed on weekends. Otherwise that would be a good stop in Talkeetna too. You might consider a visit to a sleddog kennel. There are quite a few between Anchorage and Talkeetna. Dallas Seavey, Vern Halter and Martin Buser come to mind right away, but there are plenty of others.
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Old Jan 12, 14, 4:11 pm
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We have all of our reservations and a couple of us (not me) have to get a few clothing items for outdoor comfort, particularly at night. We're really looking forward to it.
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Old Jan 12, 14, 7:20 pm
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You might want to pack hand and/or foot warmers if you can find them (or buy them once you get to Anchorage). They really do help.

Sounds like a great trip.
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Old Jan 13, 14, 3:31 am
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Thanks. We'll have them in the packages that we ship up about 10 days before we get there.
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