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Old 08-06-2015, 10:39 AM
 
1,208 posts, read 1,133,655 times
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I have long wanted an opportunity to see the aurora, and it looks like my chance is coming up this year. I am looking roughly at Oct 4 through Oct 20 (avoiding the full moon) and plan to fly into Anchorage or Fairbanks and stay about a week.

Would you all who are familiar with the area answer a few questions & supply some advice?

1. The historical weather for Fairbanks in October is cloudy/partly cloudy (over 80%) and sometimes even fog. But I can't tell how many hours of the day, particularly the nighttime hours, to which these stats apply. Does the weather typically clear up more in the middle of the night when the aurora is most active?

2. The Alaska Rail Aurora Train from Anchorage to Fairbanks looks like a lot of fun. Do you have any experience with this trip?

3. Any recommendations about places to stay in Fairbanks? I'm looking at Chena Hot Springs for at least a few nights, since they seem to cater to aurora viewing. My needs are pretty basic: I'd like a clean and well-run place, but nothing fancy.

4. What things to see/do in Fairbanks do you recommend? I generally like museums, historical sites and wildlife the best, less interested in doing touristy things like sled dog or snowmobile riding unless it's necessary to get to the museums/wildlife.

5. If you wanted to drop some tourist dollars on souvenirs for the folks back home, what would you get and where would you shop for it?


Thank you all and maybe see you in Oct!
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Old 08-06-2015, 01:06 PM
 
Location: Deltana, AK
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The cloudy weather in Fairbanks in October is more from larger weather systems than convective activity. In other words, it's not much clearer at night and early morning than during the afternoons, though clear mornings / cloudy afternoons are common in the summer months. That said though, you'll be here long enough that getting some clear weather with active aurora is fairly likely.

Be aware that the train is on a very reduced schedule by October, maybe even once a week?

Chena Hot Springs is great for aurora viewing. Assuming you'll have a rental car, you might find less expensive accommodations in town, closer to places to eat and other activities. I've always liked Best Western Pioneer Park for a basic, no frills hotel, since it's located in a patch of woods near the Chena River and feels far out, but is actually in the middle of town. Too much light pollution for aurora viewing though, so you'll have to drive out to Cleary Summit, Hilltop along the Elliot Highway, or up Ester Dome to see the aurora. All of those are popular spots within a half hour or so.

The UAF Museum of the North, the large animal research station (to see Muskox), and Pioneer Park are all worth a look. Lots of good hiking / snowshoeing out Chena Hot Springs Road too.

Not really sure about souvenirs, though I know there's several shops downtown.

Be aware that we'll likely get our first lingering snow in the lowlands while you're here. Can make for less than ideal driving conditions. Make sure your rental car has decent tires.
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Old 08-06-2015, 02:23 PM
 
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I have not visited in October; I have visited four times, twice in March, once in Feb and once in January.

The Aurora Winter Train is a great experience; I've taken in twice northbound and once southbound. It runs from Anchorage to Fairbanks on Saturday and back to Anchorage on Sunday, and does not run during the week during the winter months. Their website will have the schedules posted. The trip takes about 12 hours.

Love to stay at the Aurora Borealis Lodge, 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks on Cleary Summit. I have seen wonderful auroral displays each time I have visited. It can be cloudy there too, but it can also be clear on the summit when it is cloudy in Fairbanks.

My visits have been during various moon phases; a bright moon will not block out a bright Aurora, and even a more faint Aurora will still be visible. There is more info about this on ABL's web site. I also found that watching the moon rise and set during various phases was one of the delights of skywatching, in addition to the Aurora and the stars.

Things to do: I love the Museum of the North on the U of A Fairbanks campus. There may be things going on around town at that time; check in at the Visitor Center downtown. I have found lovely items to buy for friends at a couple of downtown stores; one is called If Only, which had very nice items.

I've taken a couple of view flights with Northern Alaska Tour Company. They were great to work with; one flight was to Coldfoot and another was over Denali, both wonderful.

Really enjoy McCafferty's coffee shop downtown; on Saturday nights they have live music. Pike's Waterfront Lodge (near the airport) has a delicious brunch on Sundays; it's a good idea to reserve in advance. Big Ray's is a good spot to visit if you need any gear after you get there.

I've rented cars from the airport, but the airport companies do not put high-traction tires on their vehicles. This last trip I rented from a local company, Alaska Auto Rental; it really made a difference having the better tires on my car. Peter Chapman is the general manager, and he was great to work with.

I still haven't made it out to Chena Hot Springs, but I have enjoyed just bumming around Fairbanks and also going over the summit about eight miles north to Chatanika Lodge for a meal. The owners are great and the restaurant is filled with Alaska memorabilia; a very unique place.

Glad you are going to be able to go. Have a great time.
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Old 08-06-2015, 02:37 PM
 
1,208 posts, read 1,133,655 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by heathen View Post
The cloudy weather in Fairbanks in October is more from larger weather systems than convective activity. In other words, it's not much clearer at night and early morning than during the afternoons, though clear mornings / cloudy afternoons are common in the summer months. That said though, you'll be here long enough that getting some clear weather with active aurora is fairly likely.

Oh, bummer. I hope the weather cooperates!


Be aware that the train is on a very reduced schedule by October, maybe even once a week?

Yeah, I've checked their timetable & am planning around it.

Chena Hot Springs is great for aurora viewing. Assuming you'll have a rental car, you might find less expensive accommodations in town, closer to places to eat and other activities. I've always liked Best Western Pioneer Park for a basic, no frills hotel, since it's located in a patch of woods near the Chena River and feels far out, but is actually in the middle of town.

Thank you, I will look the Best Western up! I plan to spend a few nights in Fairbanks, so that will work out great.

The UAF Museum of the North, the large animal research station (to see Muskox), and Pioneer Park are all worth a look. Lots of good hiking / snowshoeing out Chena Hot Springs Road too.

Perfect! Not too sure about snowshoeing; we Californians tend not to have the required winter garments in our wardrobes.

Be aware that we'll likely get our first lingering snow in the lowlands while you're here. Can make for less than ideal driving conditions. Make sure your rental car has decent tires.

Thanks for the heads up! Will it be cold enough in Oct that I will have to have a block heater on the engine overnight?
Thanks so much for the tips, heathen! I'm really looking forward to this trip.
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Old 08-06-2015, 02:46 PM
 
1,208 posts, read 1,133,655 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cjs123 View Post

The Aurora Winter Train is a great experience; I've taken in twice northbound and once southbound. It runs from Anchorage to Fairbanks on Saturday and back to Anchorage on Sunday, and does not run during the week during the winter months. Their website will have the schedules posted. The trip takes about 12 hours.

Thanks for the reassurance. It sounded like a neat trip on the website.

Love to stay at the Aurora Borealis Lodge, 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks on Cleary Summit. I have seen wonderful auroral displays each time I have visited. It can be cloudy there too, but it can also be clear on the summit when it is cloudy in Fairbanks.

The Borealis Lodge is my backup in case the Hot Springs doesn't work out. Many favorable comments on the web.

Things to do: I love the Museum of the North on the U of A Fairbanks campus. There may be things going on around town at that time; check in at the Visitor Center downtown. I have found lovely items to buy for friends at a couple of downtown stores; one is called If Only, which had very nice items.

Really enjoy McCafferty's coffee shop downtown; on Saturday nights they have live music. Pike's Waterfront Lodge (near the airport) has a delicious brunch on Sundays; it's a good idea to reserve in advance.

Great tips! I will check them out. It is sounding like I need more than a week, darn it.

Big Ray's is a good spot to visit if you need any gear after you get there.

I have a Carhartt fleece lined parka and hiking boots, but no heavy mitts or scarves. Is it likely to be that cold? The weather sites indicate that it shouldn't be too bad, but there's always wind chill too

I've rented cars from the airport, but the airport companies do not put high-traction tires on their vehicles. This last trip I rented from a local company, Alaska Auto Rental; it really made a difference having the better tires on my car. Peter Chapman is the general manager, and he was great to work with.

Hah -- I already went on line & picked out Alaska Auto Rental from the location and reviews. Nice to get confirmation that it's a good company!

Glad you are going to be able to go. Have a great time.
Thank you so much cjs! It's going to be my first long trip away from home in quite a while, and I am really looking forward to it!
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Old 08-07-2015, 04:19 PM
 
Location: Naptowne, Alaska
15,598 posts, read 36,520,735 times
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We are at level 5 this morning. Good chance to see them right now!
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Old 08-08-2015, 09:34 AM
 
1,208 posts, read 1,133,655 times
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Originally Posted by Rance View Post
We are at level 5 this morning. Good chance to see them right now!
Aw shucks! I hope you are enjoying the show!
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Old 08-09-2015, 12:01 PM
 
Location: Not far from Fairbanks, AK
17,571 posts, read 31,298,114 times
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Originally Posted by semispherical View Post
Aw shucks! I hope you are enjoying the show!
There is too much daylight at the moment, but by mid September it should be OK.
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Old 09-30-2015, 07:20 PM
 
191 posts, read 226,938 times
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Where is the best aurora viewing location in the state?
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