Caused by colliding elements in Earth’s upper atmosphere, the Aurora Borealis is a celestial splattering of light and color that will leave you speechless. Commonly referred to as the northern lights, these displays of light can only be seen from under the auroral zone, which stretches as far north in North America as you can go, and includes the upper-most states in the continental U.S. To see the northern lights yourself, you’ll need northern latitude, a clear sky, and limited light pollution. These seven locations can set you up for a night you’ll never forget.
AlaskaWith its northern latitude and remote landscapes, Alaska is one of the best places in North America for aurora borealis viewing, and the prime time to check out the show is between September and April. While there is potential to see the northern lights anywhere in Alaska, a few places have the best reputation for consistent sightings, including the charming city of Fairbanks. There are many ways to check out the northern lights in Fairbanks, including simply standing outside at night, but if you want to really add to your aurora borealis experience, options like arctic fly-over tours or guided overnight snowshoeing adventures can set you up for some fun.
GreenlandThanks to Greenland’s limited light pollution and often clear skies, the northern lights can be seen in full display from early autumn to late spring. The aurora borealis is best seen in Greenland from the southern tip of the massive island, especially in Greenland’s gateway community of Kangerlussuaq, where most people’s adventure in Greenland begins. Perhaps the most adventurous way to see the northern lights from Kangerlussuaq consists of traveling onto the massive ice sheet that blankets over 80% of Greenland, and provides the right combination of remoteness and ruggedness that really adds to a northern lights experience.
CanadaIdeal viewing conditions for the aurora borealis can be found throughout all of Canada’s territories and provinces, and one location that boasts the darkest skies and most vibrant colors is the Yukon Territory. With full display between August and April, after the summer season of the midnight sun is over, there are plenty of places to stay and enjoy the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, including an overnight yurt adventure or warm dip at the Takhini Hot Pools. There are of course many other places to see the northern lights in Canada, including some favorites at Muncho Lake Provincial Park in British Columbia and the city of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.
MaineThe state of Maine has a lot of great things going for it in terms of adventure, and abundant starry skies can be added to the list. The further north you go in Maine, the darker the night becomes, giving better chances towards glimpsing the aurora borealis. The northern lights don’t showcase themselves as often in Maine compared to other parts of the country, but some of the best opportunities can be found in places like the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge or the White Mountain National Forest. Another popular and possible option to catch the northern lights in Maine is in the town of Bar Harbor, and the adjacent Acadia National Park, which has been home to the Acadia Night Sky Festival since 2009.
MinnesotaAs with many of the aurora borealis states of the U.S., the farther north you travel in Minnesota, the more vibrant northern lights you can expect to see. Fortunately, if you are looking to add a little adventure to your northern lights viewing experience, northern Minnesota is the place to be. Between rugged and watercraft warranting places like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park, and adventure towns along the North Shore like Duluth and Grand Marais, there are endless combinations of things to do before the night brings the big show.
MichiganOne of the best places in Michigan to see the northern lights is on the Upper Peninsula, especially on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Not only is this adventure destination already stacked with some of the best camping, boating and hiking opportunities in the country, but thanks to the limited light pollution and remote location, the night sky really shines throughout the winter. There are plenty of places to choose from when pitching a tent or waiting for the northern lights on Michigan’s U.P., and some of the strongest recommendations would include the Whitefish Point Light Station, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City.
IdahoIt takes just the right combination of things to see the northern lights in Idaho or Washington, and there are certainly residents of both states that could go their whole life without seeing them. Not only are clear skies and low light pollution needed, but a large solar storm is also needed to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis in Idaho. Get the right combination of elements though, and head as far north as you can to such popular viewing spots like the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, and besides already excellent natural surroundings, the night sky could easily light up in your favor.