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 $209; 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.

Photo by Cary Anderson / Getty Images; written by Peter Fish

Travel by train to discover Alaska’s best views of the aurora borealis

Cailey Rizzo for Travel + Leisure

The Aurora Winter Train in Alaska is departing on an overnight New Year’s Eve voyage to close out 2016 with the fantastic spectacle of the Northern Lights. 

Related: Best places to see the Northern Lights

On December 31, the train will leave Anchorage and spend one night in Fairbanks. The city is known for its vibrant aurora borealis displays and opportunities to fly above the Arctic Circle.

For those unable to make the New Year’s Eve date, trains will also leave Anchorage on December 27 and January 3.

Related: The Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks, AK

Prices start at $395 per person, double occupancy, according to the LA Times. The price includes one train ride from Anchorage to Fairbanks, one night in a hotel in Fairbanks and then a return flight to Anchorage.

Related: Alaska travel guide

There’s also a longer, three-night option available, starting at $989, that includes one night in Anchorage, two nights in Fairbanks, a one-way train ride, a one-way flight, and a “flight-seeing” tour north of the Arctic Circle.

 

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