Catching the crack of dawn way up north in Alaska
Bordered by the Yukon territory on one side and water on three sides, Alaskan terrain is a mix of wilderness, ice, mountains, tundra and meandering blue waterways. Beyond its unique topography, Alaska's position at the top of the North American continent means its daylight hours vary significantly from the states that make up the Lower 48.
Summertime means really, really long days – in some northern parts of the state, the sun doesn't set for months at a time. Most populated areas do see a sunset, though, and if you're there to visit, watching the sun go down on this stark, dramatic landscape makes for a pretty memorable evening.
In the late fall, the sun sets early – really early. In Mid-November, the sunset begins as early as 3:45 p.m. The sun continues to set earlier and earlier as the calendar approaches the winter solstice on December 21st, the shortest day of the year. During the winter, some parts of Alaska only see about four or five hours of daylight. After the solstice, the daylight hours increase, and by mid-February, the sun doesn't go down until almost 6:00 p.m.
Past the vernal equinox at March 21st, and by the end of April, the sun sets around 10:00 p.m. Summer sees the longest days, when the sun sets after 11:00 p.m. It's easy to see why eye masks and blackout curtains are popular.
Weather and seasonal considerations
Alaskan spring and summer are mild and fairly temperate, and are by far the best time for enjoying the vibrant nightlife surrounding the summer solstice festival in the "Land of the Midnight Sun."
The wintertime, however, with its long dark nights offers the chance to see some magnificent sunsets as well as the stunning celestial phenomenon known as the Northern Lights. You're most likely to see the the lights between September and April, when the air is crisp and cold. Begin watching for them about an hour and a half after sunset – their peak time to appear is between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m.
Generally speaking, the less light pollution in an area, the more dazzling the sunset. Alaska's sparse population and small cities mean that the skies are mostly free of significant light pollution, so whether you're in a small town or a city like Anchorage or Juneau, you'll likely have a clear view of the skies.
Some popular spots in Anchorage include The Crow's Nest and Beluga Point Park. Seven Glaciers Restaurant in Girdwood is also known for its spectacular western-facing view. The Northern Lights are tough to predict, and they're visible throughout most of the state, but the city of Fairbanks is an especially good viewing spot, located in the "aurora oval," where the lights have highest visibility. Fairbanks is easily accessible from Anchorage.
For a more solitary and remote experience, you can stay at the Iniakuk Lake Wilderness Lodge. Located 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, the lodge offers huge picture windows where you can watch the sunset and keep an eye out for the Northern Lights.