Ultimate Guide to the Best Northern Lights Travel Destinations

The aurora borealis – the northern lights – are one of nature’s most mysterious, beautiful, and unpredictable phenomena. One minute you can be driving down a northern road and see nothing, and the next minute you’re surrounded by pulsing, everchanging, glowing lights in the northern sky.

The lights are caused by the interaction of the solar wind – a stream of charged particles escaping the sun – with our planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere. When these collisions are sufficiently strong, the result is a solar storm, and when they’re really strong, the aurora borealis put on a show.

The northern lights are not an in-city thing. To see them at their best you’ll need to be in a dark area free from light pollution … but how can you do that when the northern lights are unpredictable by definition?

The answer is that while the aurora borealis are unpredictable, they’re not completely unpredictable.

There are many northern-lights predictor sites, including Soft Serve News and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s space-weather site.

These sites often reference KP levels, a nine-point scale that rates the strength of the show. For most places, you need a KP of four or higher to make viewing the lights worth your while.

Of course, it helps to be in places like these …

Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks has the advantage of being in a relatively flat part of the state, with no mountains to get in the way of your northern-lights viewing.

However, it has the disadvantage of being, as the Bostonians say, “wicked cold” in the winter.

How do you get around that? Go in September or October, when the lights still put on a show but the temps are more hospitable. (More hospitable, but not downright warm. It can be -10 on Halloween with a foot of snow on the ground.)

Travel Alaska has the details, but a pro tip: For some of the best viewing, head south towards North Pole and look for an open area. And be prepared to stay up late.

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Cook County, Minnesota

Cook County encompasses the region of Minnesota known as “the Arrowhead,” as well as the Boundary Waters and the popular Lutsen ski area. It also claims to be the best place in the “Lower 48” (the United States minus Alaska and Hawaii) to see the northern lights.

Cook County even has a site devoted to the northern lights where it maps out some of the best places to view the show, including Lutsen (skiing under the northern lights – imagine that) and the Gunflint Trail.

If you’re new to the northern lights, or planning a trip to the Twin Cities, the site will tell you everything you need to know to be a light-hunter.

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Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan

There’s nothing like seeing the northern lights over water, and for many, that means Lake Superior.

Any place on the lake’s south shore can provide a breathtaking view of the lights, but the shoreline between Ontonagon and the rugged Porcupine Mountains offers prime viewing.

Once you see the lights, pull off of M-64, walk to the water, and prepare to be dazzled.

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Acadia National Park, Maine

Why should the Midwest have the northern lights to themselves? One of the northernmost spots in the Lower 48 is also a great place to watch the celestial light show.

And how convenient: Acadia even has a high and wide-open spot for you to see the lights. Cadillac Mountain offers a commanding view of almost the entire park, and with the peak viewing season running from August to October, there’s little chance of the mountain being inaccessible.

An added benefit is that once the show is over the Bar Harbor area is a pretty nice place to hang.

One does not live by the northern lights alone, it’s nice to get a snack after.

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Yukon, Canada

The tricky part of lights-watching in the Yukon is finding a place that’s close enough to civilization yet dark enough to see the lights in their glory.

The answer is to stay in Whitehorse or Haines Junction and find a stretch of open road between the two, and do your viewing there.

The Yukon is fairly wild and cracking cold, so this is not a mid-January activity. But in early October, when there’s sufficient daylight for easy travel, catching the aurora borealis is an experience anyone can enjoy.

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Tromsø, Norway

Travel Norway claims that northern Norway, “with its multiple islands, deep fjords and steep mountains, is among the world’s most beautiful and interesting places to see the northern lights,” and we’ll go with that.

Tromsø for certain is a great base of operations for your northern-lights adventures. In fact, you could burn the midnight oil enjoying the city’s night life, and then cap off your evening with a guided tour to see the lights.

You can actually experience a northern lights “safari” in the Tromsø area, and then greet the dawn with a traditional Sami meal in a traditional native lavvu.

Want to know more? Download the Norway Lights app and get a three-day lights forecast (which admittedly doesn’t do you much good if you’re in South Carolina or Oklahoma, but is pretty cool nonetheless).

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Svalbard, Norway

Svalbard is a remote archipelago in the Arctic Ocean halfway between Norway and the North Pole. Base yourself out of Longyearbyen (yes, that’s its actual name) and explore the region via boat, kayak, snowmobile, or dog sled.

Guides are recommended because the area teems with polar bears, but get this: On Svalbard you can see the northern lights during the day. Of course, that’s because it’s dark from mid-November to the end of January, but look on the bright side. On Svalbard, you can see the northern lights and get a good night’s sleep.

Kiruna, Sweden

Once the calendar turns to September the northern lights start appearing in Sweden’s far north.

Swedish Lapland makes up about a quarter of the country. It’s a wild place meant for exploring, though it’s also home to the iconic Icehotel and  Treehotel as well as the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Laponia and Gammelstad.

Kiruna is your base for exploring the region and viewing the northern lights, but don’t pass on the outstanding skiing or the ice-driving school on Lake Uddjaur in Arjeplog.

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Iceland is a popular destination for travelers who want to see the northern lights – and a popular destination period.

Anytime from September to April is a good time to see the northern lights, though you’ll have to venture out of Reykjavik to see them.

Several of the country’s national parks and nature sites are great viewing areas, including Thingvellir National ParkAsbyrgi Canyon, Kirkjufell Mountain, and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, which abuts the Vatnajokull Glacier.

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Lapland, Finland

The northern lights are on a lot in northern Finland – almost every other night, according to Visit Finland.

Finland makes it easy to do your light-watching; in fact, the country has purpose-built inns and cottages where visitors can watch the light show from their bed.

It doesn’t get cozier than that!

A northern-lights-hunting trip can be the experience of a lifetime. It pays to help protect it with travel insurance and assistance services from Generali Global Assistance. We’re there for all your late-night cold-weather adventures.

See the light(s) – get a quote today.

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