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Alaska: See the Midnight Sun or the Northern Lights?

Alaska has been on my list of my top five dream destinations for years, and my plan is to finally explore the Last Frontier in 2010. The question I can’t seem to settle on, though, is when in 2010? Known for both its sun- and ship-drenched summers and its star-bright winters, Alaska has proven a challenge to my decision-making skills.

Highlights of a summer trip would be long days spent hiking green hills, kayaking the Inside Passage, sipping a local Summer Ale, and spotting wildlife in Denali National Park (where visitor services drop off dramatically after mid-September).

Winter would mean catching the Northern Lights at their peak (possibly even at an 11-year peak), attending the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, taking a ride with sled dogs, watching the Running of the Reindeer, and warming up at Chena Hot Springs. It also means donning nearly all the cold-weather clothing pictured on the cutest weather warning I’ve ever seen.

Every time I think I’ve made up my mind, I see or read something that makes me flip-flop. (Ooh, flip-flops. I guess I can leave those at home, even if I go in summer?)

What would you do: bask in the midnight sun or bundle up for the Northern Lights?

Photo courtesy of IgoUgo member 12CGTV


My name: Michelle Doucette

How I earn my keep: I'm an editor at

Favorite way to get around: Some of my favorite trips involved renting cars in foreign countries and driving through the countryside, stopping on whims. You get a feel for the culture away from the big cities and meet interesting people on the road, including, I must admit, an embarrassingly high number of local policemen. I suppose it would be prudent to learn all of the traffic laws ahead of time.

Best meal I've had while traveling: Since a succession of gelato cones probably doesn't count as a meal, my favorite must have been a fresh crabmeat lunch prepared by a St. John sailboat captain while we took a break from snorkeling in the Caribbean. Sharing baklava as the sun came up over Paros, Greece, (while, once again, not technically a meal) was also memorable.

Travel ambitions: Since climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I've figured out that I'd like to keep trekking while traveling. I've got my eyes on epic hikes in Nepal, Bhutan, and Peru.



The Northern Lights are spectactular. There are a lot of things to do in the winter. The ice carving would be fabulous to see as well. I would suggest going through some archive editions of Alaska magazine. The magazine has great photography and interesting articles. Travel in winter can be a bit daunting – the darkness is most of the day long, sometimes it feels like the sun is just peaking over the horizon and dipping quickly below it. You could time your visit to watch the start of the Iditarod race. Heading to Homer, a lot of eagles winter over, so you would be able to see a high concentration of them along the spit. It really is a great sight to behold.

Travel in the summer is when the majority of people go. There are opportunities for sport fishing (they actually do catch and release for halibut at the beginning of the day, then you will start keeping the 40 pound fish, as the charter day progresses). I would suggest a halibut charter and, depending when you go, maybe a salmon outing as well. Just remember, any time you get on a boat – or go to a glacier, there will be weather to address — glaciers are ice, so you could get very cold. Most of southeast is a rain forrest, so prepare for the rain. The gardens are fabulous and the hanging flower baskets are just mezmorizing (many people winter over their fucshia baskets and they really love the long growing days). If you are scheduling a couple of days here and there, try to avoid being in the small towns when the cruise ships come in (as the town populations can more than double with the passengers spilling down the gangplanks). Sometimes Anchorage feels like the tourists are held up by their ankles and shaken until all the money comes out of their pockets and then, they are sent back home :)

You cannot go wrong on either trip. A lot depends on what your preferences are. Personally, when going in the summer, the daylight made me feel invigorated and I did not feel the need for as much sleep as when I was there in the winter time.


Wow, Ellen, thanks so much for the advice! Your great input ALMOST makes it more difficult to decide, but I’m thankful to be reassured that I can’t go wrong either way! :) Heading over to Alaska Magazine’s website now…


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