Alaska is a bucket list destination for many people – and for good reason. You can see towering mountains, witness wildlife, and experience phenomena like the aurora borealis first-hand.
Most travelers base their Alaska trip out of Anchorage, and the majority visit in the summertime when you can see the Midnight Sun. If you’d rather try to see the northern lights in Alaska and plan your trip in the winter, be sure to consider a few stargazing sessions too. This article will guide you to some of the best stargazing spots in Anchorage and the surrounding area.
(Bonus: Our founder Valerie wrote a great piece on how to visit Alaska in 10 days on her personal site. Check it out!)
The Best Spots for Stargazing in Anchorage
While Anchorage is definitely a good city for stargazing (as these things go, and trust us, we’ve covered a lot of cities!), you’ll still need to contend with the #1 problem with stargazing in a city: light pollution.
At these spots, you’ll have a pretty good chance of seeing the stars, but read on after this section to see places where the night sky is so full of stars you won’t believe it.
When it comes to stargazing spots in Anchorage, Kincaid Park is by far one of the best. This massive park, a section of undeveloped land punctuated by skiing and biking trails (depending on the season) is close enough to Anchorage to be convenient – but far enough to escape some of the light pollution. Park near the Chalet and walk out away from the buildings to really enjoy the night sky views. Note that Kincaid Park does close at 10 pm in the winter months.
9401 Raspberry Rd, Anchorage, AK 99502, muni.org
Hillside is not, as the name suggests, on an incline. Instead, it’s an area of Anchorage where Chester Creek runs through a series of parks, and thus there’s less light pollution here than in other parts of the city. If you stick to the trails that connect through the area, you can find a few open spots with good night sky views.
Anchorage, AK 99501
Photo credit: Paxson Woebler via Flickr
If you’re willing to stretch your legs en route to a great stargazing spot, Flattop is a good choice. While the trail can be muddy or slippery depending on the weather and whether there’s been recent snow or rain, a climb to the top of Flattop will get you above the light pollution and give you an amazing panoramic view of the region surrounding Anchorage.
Blueberry Loop Trail, Anchorage, AK 99516, dnr.alaska.gov
Out near the airport, you might contend with a little more light pollution at Point Woronzof than other places on this list. However, there are a few reasons it’s still a great stargazing spot. The landscape at Point Woronzof is sloped, so if you try to stargaze from the parking lot, you’ll actually be pretty well-shielded from light; you’ll also have a great view to the west and north with basically no light pollution. If you walk a bit out on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, you’ll get even more protection from light pollution –– just keep an eye out for moose!
9700 Point Woronzof Rd, Anchorage, AK 99502, muni.org
Stargazing Spots Within One Hour of Anchorage
Photo credit: kennakenai via Flickr
There aren’t many highways in Alaska, but they all lead to dark skies. Turn north or south out of Anchorage and suddenly the night sky will open up for you. Here are some of the top spots you can reach within an hour of Anchorage and see the stars (plus one favorite of the STG founder!)
Drive up into Arctic Valley with your four-wheel drive turned on, and you can definitely see the stars. You won’t want to go all the way back in the valley, as the Alpenglow ski area may have lights on (the slopes close at 5 pm each day but may stay on later for maintenance). Instead, pull off the road at one of the pullouts or parking areas and stargaze away!
Arctic Valley Rd, Eagle River, AK 99577
Eagle River Nature Center
The drive back to Eagle River Nature Center is definitely worth it in the daytime, but if you can make the trek at night, it’s well worth it too. Framed by the mountains of the Eagle River Valley, this is a great spot to stargaze in the shadow of the Nature Center itself (the parking lot is generally lit).
32750 Eagle River Rd, Eagle River, AK 99577, ernc.org
Photo credit: Paxson Woebler via Flickr
Beach Lake (Chugiak)
Did you know that Space Tourism Guide founder Valerie grew up in Alaska – and that this is her favorite stargazing (and aurora-spotting) place? Outside the lights of Anchorage and away from the fainter lights of Eagle River, the parking lot near Beach Lake and the Lodge is a prime spot for stargazing. In the winter, you may not want to drive all the way back to the lake; park at the Beach Lake Park near the Chalet lot instead.
Beach Lake Road, Eagle River, AK 99577
Seward Highway Along Turnagain Arm
If you head south out of Anchorage, you’ll also be well-rewarded with stargazing opportunities within an hour’s drive. At pretty much any pull-out along the Seward Highway heading south, you can find a parking spot and look out at the stars over Turnagain Arm. Be careful in re-entering the highway; it’s notoriously full of blind corners that can make entering and exiting the roadway dangerous.
45 minutes south of Anchorage is the ski town of Girdwood. While you won’t be able to stargaze near the Alyeska ski resort that dominates the north slopes of the valley, you can head further back in the valley to escape the light. You can also opt to stay out closer to the Seward Highway and pull over for a stargazing session.
Stargazing Spots Within Two Hours of Anchorage
Photo credit: Paxson Woebler via Flickr
If you are willing to drive a few hours outside of Anchorage for stargazing, be prepared to experience some of the darkest skies you’ll see in the U.S. For each of the spots listed below, there are countless others – including rest stops and turn-outs along the highway – where you can stop and see the dark sky too.
Eagle & Symphony Lakes
It’s not a trip to Alaska if you don’t get out and hike, right? For space enthusiasts who also want to experience the Last Frontier, the Eagle and Symphony Lakes trails are the perfect opportunity. It’s a 4.8-mile hike to Eagle Lake and six miles to Symphony Lake… after driving just 30 minutes from Anchorage (expect the hike to take anywhere between 2-4 hours). As you might expect from being willing to hike several miles into the wilderness, the light pollution is negligible, and the dark sky is pristine.
234 Wolf Dr, Eagle River, AK 99577, alaska.org
There are some amazing drives in Alaska; Eklutna Lake is one of the best (new) drives you could plan, especially for stargazing! The Eklutna Lake Road used to be open to hiking and cycling only, but was recently paved and now winds along the shore of the lake right to the far end. As you’d expect from an area with so little development, the skies are unbelievably dark and the stars will seem infinite.
Eklutna Lake Rd, Chugiak, AK, 99567, alaska.org
If, instead of stopping at Girdwood as mention above, you carry on south toward Seward along the Seward Highway, you’ll arrive at the Summit Lake Lodge. 90 minutes south of Anchorage, Summit Lake Lodge, on the shores of its namesake body of water, is far enough from any major city or town to promise fantastic dark skies.
51826 Seward Hwy, Moose Pass, AK 99631, summitlakelodge.com
Hatcher Pass is an impressive drive in the summertime; in the winter, it’s a downright adventure! The 15-mile drive up into Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine will take you up and away from the light pollution of Palmer and Wasilla. You’ll also get to see the mountains and mine buildings as perfect foreground for any astrophotographs you want to shoot.
23264 Gold Cord Rd, Palmer, AK 99645, dnr.alaska.gov
Photo credit: Mike Kevan Dee via Flickr
Sheep Mountain Lodge
Beyond Hatcher Pass, you can go even further away from major cities for even more impressive stargazing opportunities. Sheep Mountain Lodge is just over two hours’ drive from Anchorage, close to Matanuska Glacier (a great daytime activity!). You can book a room at the lodge for the night, then head out away from the lights to see all the night sky has to offer.
17701 W Glenn Highway, Sutton, AK 99674, sheepmountain.com
Talkeetna is a small town en route to Denali National Park. While visitors are far more likely to stop in Talkeetna in the summer, it’s also a great stargazing spot (and good for aurora hunting too!). Base yourself from town and strike out away from the city lights to get a good view of the night sky.
Talkeetna, Alaska 99676, talkeetnachamber.org
How Good is the Stargazing in Anchorage?
Photo credit: John Flannery via Flickr
Within Anchorage, as in most major cities, stargazing quality is directly impeded by the amount of light pollution. This is especially the case in the winter months when snow on the ground reflects light and amplifies light pollution even more.
Don’t be discouraged: it doesn’t require much work or time to get outside of Anchorage to places where the night sky is dark and awe-inspiring. You can drive to some great stargazing spots in as little as 30-60 minutes.
Best Times of Year to Go Stargazing in Anchorage
Located on the 61st parallel north, Anchorage experiences dramatic swings in daylight over the course of the year between the summer and winter solstices. The best times for stargazing in Alaska are when the skies get truly dark: September through March is ideal.
Between September and March, it is very likely you will experience snow and winter conditions while exploring Anchorage and the surrounding region. Be prepared with layers, a winter-equipped vehicle, and emergency gear in case you find yourself having an “Alaskan adventure” in a ditch. (It happens to the best of us!)
Can You See the Milky Way in Anchorage?
Photo credit: Sean Tevebaugh via Flickr
In Anchorage, you’ll be hard-pressed to see the Milky Way… but you might get lucky on a clear night from a few of the locations in the city. Once you get outside of Anchorage, it’s definitely possible to see the Milky Way.
The Milky Way is most visible in the summer months through the northern hemisphere – but that’s the time of year where Alaska experiences the Midnight Sun! Shoulder seasons (late August to early October and March to April) are the time when you can best experience the Milky Way (and possibly the aurora too!). Check out this incredible VR video from Alaska in late March for the Milky Way and aurora borealis combo.
Have a great time stargazing in Alaska!
Featured photo by Paxson Woebler via Flickr