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Check the Northern Lights off your bucket list

Fairbanks, Alaska is just a short flight away

Aurora over a yurt at Chena Hot Springs Resort. Photo credit: Chena Hot Springs Resort

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Now that you are living in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska is a surprisingly easy destination to get to. One of the big-bucket list items is a trip to see the Northern Lights, and a great location to experience this natural phenomenon is in Fairbanks, Alaska.

It is an easy, nonstop flight from Seattle aboard Alaska Airlines, and if you shop their sales you can usually grab a great rate. Catch a Friday evening flight in and a Sunday evening flight out to maximize your time. The Fairbanks airport is small and easy to navigate, so you will quickly get on the road to enjoy your adventure.

Stay at a local hotel near the airport, then head out early the next day to the Chena Hot Springs Resort (, about 60 miles outside of Fairbanks. You will drive on the highway known as "The Chena Hot Springs Road," because it dead ends at the resort.

This is truly an authentic Alaskan experience. As you get outside of the city, you are quickly enveloped by the Alaskan wilderness, and wildlife sightings are common. The rural scenery even includes homes with outhouses in back.

Make sure to take a break before starting this road trip, as there is only one commercial stop along the way, and it may not be open. Leave with a full tank of gas and stop to get snacks or lunch for the road, as well. Another option is to book a package through the resort, which includes transportation from the airport; or you can book the tour separately at $125 per person round trip.

The resort is very rustic, with a variety of options for lodging. If you want a truly Alaskan experience, you can stay in a dry cabin. Dry means no bathroom or running water, only outhouses, and you shower at the hot springs. The property also has budget-motel-room type accommodations with bathrooms, or you can stay at the Moose Lodge, which is a nicer option equivalent to a Holiday Inn room. No meals are included, but all lodging comes with passes for the hot springs.

There are two options for dining at the resort. The Chena Hot Springs Restaurant has a cozy feel with a large fireplace. The eatery is known for its Chena Fresh salad, its greenhouse-to-table fresh greens with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and herbs, all of which are grown on site in the resort's geothermal greenhouse. It is one of the few places you can have fresh, locally grown produce in the Alaskan winter. The dinner menu is heavy on Alaskan seafood and steaks. Breakfast and lunch are also served.

The more streamlined Aurora Café in the resort's activities center serves hot soup, Chena Fresh salads, sandwiches and specialty coffees.

Numerous winter activities provide exhilarating and relaxing experiences at the resort. The hub of the action is the Activity Center. Once you check into the resort, you will want to visit to confirm your pre-arranged reservations or book new activities.

Some of the resort's don't-miss activities include:

Dog sled ride: The Chena Kennel is home to almost 100 Alaskan-bred sled dogs who are high-energy and love to run. Dog mushing is that iconic Alaskan activity you must try. Dog-sled rides are in an authentic freight sled, which holds four adults on a one-and-a-half mile ride. You can also book a kennel tour to learn more about the dogs.

Aurora viewing tour: Hop in a military-style tracked snow vehicle for your ride to the top of Charlie Dome. Once you arrive, stay warm in a heated yurt as you wait for the Northern Lights. This is an incredible experience, but be prepared that it may not look as dramatic as some photos you have seen, some of which may have been altered with filters to enhance the lights.

The Aurora Ice Museum: This interesting ice building is open year-round, with onsite ice sculptors constantly maintaining and creating the ice sculptures inside. Cozy up to the ice bar and enjoy an apple martini in a hand-made ice glass. So cool.

Geothermal renewable energy tour: This is a fascinating look behind the scenes during tours of the resort's greenhouse and the geothermal renewable energy building. There, you can learn how the resort harnesses this unique energy source. The natural hot springs are open until midnight. Your admission includes towel service and access to the outdoor natural hot springs rock lake (age 18 and older), hot tub, interior saltwater pool and the hot tubs. Hot springs are noted for their healing properties, so you can experience what the early gold miners experienced to sooth their aching bodies. You can also book a variety of massage experiences to up your relaxation level, all while enjoying the unique warm-cold contrast of ice and steam.

You can easily stay at the Chena Hot Springs Resort for your visit, or head into Fairbanks for a day or two to enjoy all it has to offer.

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