Fall travel guide

Explore beaches, back roads, vineyards, and more during the West's golden season

The West's best fall travel experiences

It's the absolute best time to be outdoors, when some of our unique landscapes come brilliantly alive

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Aurora borealis season heats up
Photo by Cary Anderson / Getty Images; written by Peter Fish

Aurora borealis season heats up

The aurora borealis (the northern lights) is the most mind-altering spectacle on our planet. It’s also nature’s biggest tease. It happens at the poles and is visible only in the clear night sky.

Which is why I landed in Fairbanks a few years back, with 19-hour nights and lows of -19°. An aurora website predicted a busy week, electron-wise, and the weather called for cloudless night skies. (Fairbanks gets clear winter skies, making it a world center of aurora tourism.)

I went to Chena Hot Springs (from $189; chenahotsprings.com), a resort with a lookout where you can see the lights if they’re visible anywhere in the northern sky. No dice. I moved to a different lodge. Nada. Nearly a week passed. I developed a grudge against the sun, the magnetic field, the entire cosmos, as if it were a maître d’ denying me entrance to a snooty restaurant: So sorry, monsieur, but Chez Aurora is not available until 2024.

The next fall, I went back to Alaska, to the rainy southeast panhandle. Latitude and weather made the aurora seem an impossibility. But as I walked back to my hotel one night, it was as if somebody flipped a light switch marked “aurora.” The sky began to shimmer with waves of green light: Imagine that night had been turned to music—that’s what it was like.

I gaped at it for an hour, going inside only when the rhythm ceased. Now, if anybody asks, I say of course you should fly half a continent north to see it. Otherwise, you haven’t lived the life you deserve.

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