FAIRBANKS, Alaska -- Some say it's when "the sky begins to dance," and dance it does, in streaks of greens, pinks, purples and whites in the phenomenon called the aurora, or the northern lights.

Summer is the peak travel season for Alaska, but more than 250,000 people visit the state from October to April. Viewing the northern lights is one of the top winter activities.

According to "aurora forecasters" at the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute, this year's lights are stronger over Alaska than in previous years. Forecasts are available online at www.gi.alaska.edu.

In Alaska, the lights occur anywhere from 40% of the nights in an average year to every night, depending on the location. But the best viewing is in Fairbanks and points north on cold, clear winter nights.

"I've certainly noticed that they are much more spectacular this year, even from my bedroom window in Anchorage," said Susie Kiger, sales manager for Alaska Railroad.

The rail company has a variety of commissionable aurora packages (www.alaskarailroad.com) that include a train trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks.

The basic rail and fly package (with a flight back to Anchorage) starts at $239 per person. From there, several options can be added, including a stay at several different hotels.

The packages "are always popular with the Japanese market, and we're seeing an increase in ridership from the lower 48, although we don't invest a lot of marketing dollars in [aurora packages]," Kiger said.

Matt Atkinson, marketing coordinator for Northern Alaska Tour Co., is a native of Fairbanks who also says the lights seem stronger this year.

Northern Alaska Tour Co. has a variety of tour packages (www.northernalaska.com), all commissionable. Some include a stay in Cold Foot, a town 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where viewing of the northern lights is particularly spectacular, he said.

Visitors stay in a camp used by truckers and workers for the construction of the Alaska pipeline.

The basic package is a two-night stay at Cold Foot Camp that sells for $479 per person, double, and includes accommodations, the van trip from Fairbanks to Cold Foot and a flight back to Fairbanks by a twin-engine chartered plane.

Several add-ons are available, including dog-mushing excursions and a trip to Wiseman, an old mining town.

For more information on packages and Alaska travel, contact the Alaska Travel Industry Association at (800) 862-5275.

To contact reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].

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