Have you seen aurora borealis (aka the northern lights)? The sensation of seeing Arctic skies crackle with smoky blues, greens and reds has long drawn off-season travelers way north. 2013 will be big, marking the end of a fiery 11-year-cycle, when sunspots are particularly feisty, making for a big show in the Fairbanks sky 240 nights a year. Go. From May to mid-August daylight is too strong to see much, but by late summer they start to appear, and Fairbanks is the place to be. On the ground, curious foodies can sample traditional Athabascan cuisine at Taste of Alaska (call to book in advance) at the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center, or take part in a unique pub-crawl, The Great Fairbanks Pub Paddle. Open all year, the 414-mile Dalton Highway plies north of Fairbanks into the Arctic, and air taxis reach the pristine 800-sq-mile Gates of the Arctic National Park, but the light show will be best back in Fairbanks.
A favorite place to stay is Ah, Rose Marie B&B, a homey Dutch-built cottage that takes its breakfasts seriously.