Explore Go Lists

10 Places to See the Northern Lights

To watch the aurora borealis feels downright otherworldly. Shimmering and swirling, somewhere between smoke and paint, this glowing colorful phenomenon, though natural, creates a surreal experience for any viewer.

Your chances of viewing the Northern Lights greatly increase the more north you travel—think: Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia. However, during a year when the aurora is particularly strong, you’ve actually got a shot at seeing this magical occurrence in the northernmost states of the lower 48. And though there are no guarantees, fall is the perfect time to try, with its dark skies and warm weather. Some scientists assert that the aurora ring is most active during the equinoxes (September 20 and March 20, approximately).

Because this phenomenon can be very hard to predict, use NOAA's Aurora 30-minute Forecast tool to deduce the highest likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights and help you plan your trip. Capture the colors! Snap some photos and then enter them into our 2015 Share the Experience Photo Contest by December 31st.

Here are some of the best places to see the Northern Lights (some more easily than others):

Search by State: Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota

Alaska

Denali National Park Preserve
Denali National Park and
Preserve (Manish Mamtani/
Share the Experience)
Denali National Park and Preserve

Six million acres (2,428,113 ha) of wild land, bisected only by one ribbon of road, Denali National Park and Preserve offers solitude, tranquility and wilderness in low-elevation taiga forest, high alpine tundra and snowy mountains. You’ll most likely want to head to Alaska in the fall, before the Alaskan winter darkness envelops the area; by mid-winter, Denali sees little more than five hours of sunlight. Denali Road Lottery winners may find their permit to drive the park road coincides with an aurora display. View Denali's Lights in Motion time lapse video for a glimpse of these dancing lights.


Chena River Lakes

Explore Chena River Lakes' over 2,100 acres (849 ha) and view the brilliance this night sky has to offer—including the aurora borealis from autumn to spring and the midnight sun in summer.


Anchorage Recreation Sites
Anchorage Recreation Sites
Anchorage Recreation Sites

The BLM's Anchorage Recreation Sites include the Iditarod National Historic Trail, the Unalakleet National Wild River Recreation Management Area and the Campbell Tract Recreation Management Area in Anchorage. With so much to do in the Anchorage area, witnessing the Northern Lights is just part of your experience here.




Idaho

Priest Lake
Priest Lake, Idaho Panhandle
National Forests (Craig Goodwin)
Priest Lake, Idaho Panhandle National Forests

Priest Lake is about 30 miles (48 km) south of the border with Canada (as the crow flies) and when conditions are right, its clear waters reflect the aurora's ribbons of light. Two group campsites—Bartoo Island and Kalispell Island (both accomodate from 10 to 30 people) are accessible only by boat, but open year-round for those who don't mind bundling up. The lake also offers dramatic scenery and plenty of outdoor recreation adventures in any season and the possibility of spotting moose and other wildlife.



Maine

Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge

Located near the border with the Province of New Brunswick in Canada, Aroostook is one of the most northeasterly viewing spots in the United States. Even though the refuge closes at sunset, the entire area is known for clear night skies unspoiled by light pollution. September is one of the best times to see the refuges' wildlife. Though the aurora borealis isn’t a common occurrence, the radiating nighttime event does sometimes grace the skies here at the right time of year.


Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness
Caribou
Caribou-Speckled Mountain
Wilderness

Managed by the White Mountain National Forest, this wilderness contains 12,000 acres (4,856 ha), encompassing both Caribou Mountain and Speckled Mountain. Rugged terrain, deep notches, open ledges, ridges, pine forests and mountain streams provide a most enchanting place in which to wonder at the night sky.




Michigan

Isle Royale National Park
Middle River
Isle Royale National Park
(Rolf Peterson/ISRO)

Isle Royale National Park is one of the few national parks to close during the winter (November 1 through April 16). Your best bet to see the aurora from this remote and rugged island in the northwest corner of Lake Superior is from late spring into late September (when regular ferry service ends). Even if you're in the area when the park is closed for the season, you can drop by the park's Houghton visitor center (open year-round) to ask about Northern Lights hotspots in the area. Check their outdoor activities or download the park newspaper or brochures to help you plan your northern adventure.


Minnesota

Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge
Middle River
Agassiz National Wildlife
Refuge

Northwest Minnesota is just north enough to occasionally play host to this show. With plenty of opportunities for solitude and contemplation in Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, a peaceful jaunt here will fill your best memory banks, whether you’re able to stay in the area to witness the aurora or not (the refuge is open during daylight hours). Wolves, moose, waterfowl, and 300 species of birds also make this refuge a wildlife wonderland.



Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest

There are few places where you can stargaze while floating in a canoe within a million-acre (404,685 ha) wilderness. One of those special places is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness within Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. You are in for an extra special treat if you happen to be there when the aurora borealis lights up the night sky. Once you’ve seen the Northern Lights, you will understand why indigenous peoples attributed the phenomenon to the work of powerful spirits of the sky.


Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
Sherburne National Wildlife
Refuge (Bryan Worth)

Although Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge is located just north of the Twin Cities, the refuge has very little light pollution allowing the northern lights to be visible during certain times of the year. Plan a visit to this special location and you're likely to witness much more than the aurora borealis—these dynamic upland habitats range from grasslands to oak savanna supporting diverse wildlife from sandhill cranes to Blanding's turtle.