Flashes of green, purple, and yellow light up the night sky as you stare in awe, immune to the cold. Experiencing the majesty of the Northern Lights first hand is one of those things that should be on everyone’s bucket list, but don’t think that seeing the Aurora Borealis in person requires a flight to Europe. While the views in Norway, Sweden, and Iceland are no doubt unbelievable there are incredible spots to watch the Northern Lights in the U.S. From Alaska to Maine here are seven of the top U.S. locations to take in the Aurora Borealis.
Alaska is without a doubt the U.S. locale with the most options for Northern Lights viewing. And in Fairbanks, you have a shot at seeing the Aurora Borealis almost any time of year thanks to Fairbanks’ location within the Auroral Oval, the huge ring around the Earth’s Geomagnetic North Pole, above which the Northern Lights display. Whether you want to camp out under the lights or rest your head in a boutique hotel you’ll find plenty of options in Fairbanks as well as enough other activities from outdoor sports to shopping to eating to make a visit a weeklong vacation.
Acadia National Park, Maine
New England might not be top of mind when you think of places to see the Northern Lights but there are actually a few spots in Maine where views of the Aurora Borealis are truly breathtaking, if your timing is right. Heading to Acadia National Park is the easiest; there’s little light pollution and the town of Bar Harbor is only a few miles away meaning there are plenty of places to rest your head at night that don’t involve camping in freezing weather. All you need a clear night, moonless night, and it helps if there is a solar flare occurring.
Idaho Panhandle National Forest, Idaho
You’ll need to bundle up for one of the most extraordinary views of the Northern Lights in the U.S. The Idaho Panhandle National Forests contain three forests stretching out 3,220,000 acres across three states. In Idaho the forests border with Canada and it’s there you want to head to Priest Lake where two campsites on Bartoo and Kalispell Islands (accessible only by boat) are two of the most remote places to see the Northern Lights in the U.S. The campsites accommodate only 10 to 30 people so make your reservations well in advance.
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
If you’re thinking Pennsylvania is way too far south to see the Northern Lights, you’d be correct most of the time. However, roughly every 11 years, it’s possible to see the Northern Lights much further south as the magnetic poles of the sun switch places. Cherry Springs State Park is on the low end of visibility right now with the height around 2012 but give it a few years and the views will be spectacular.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has something for every type of Northern Light seeker. City dwellers should head to Marquette where nestled along Lake Superior the area’s largest city offers plenty to do during the day while at night lower night pollution and miles of public coastline make it an ideal place to see the lights. Slightly more remote, the Keweenaw Peninsula, also along Lake Superior, has plenty of activities including dog sledding, hiking, and camping for adrenaline seekers looking to combine a vacation with a chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
Cook County, Minnesota
On the other side of Lake Superior, Minnesota’s Cook County offers the chance to see the Northern Lights anytime of year thanks to the area’s northern location and dark skies. For the best viewing, though, plan a trip in the fall or winter, rent one of the many cabins along the lake, spend your days exploring the artsy, harbor town of Grand Marais or enjoy outdoor activities like snowshoeing and at night watch the skies and be patient.
Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado
Roughly two hours outside of Denver, Pawnee National Grassland’s vast wide open spaces and little light pollution make it a good place to see the Northern Lights, if you’re there at the right time. Similar to Cherry Hill State Park, Northern Light viewing peaks roughly every 11 years at Colorado’s Pawnee National Grassland. The last big years were 2013 and 2014 so you’ll want a wait a bit to plan a trip.