The Northern Lights are one of the most beautiful and sought-after natural phenomena in the world. Many people think you have to go north until you hit glaciers to see the lights. But, as more and more travelers have discovered this year, the Northern Lights can be seen in many places in across North America.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), the sun goes through a cycle of about 11 years. In this cycle, there are about four years of a “solar maximum,” which creates the solar wind responsible for bright sightings of the Northern Lights.
Right now, we’re exiting the “solar minimum” part of the cycle, which means that sightings of the Northern Lights will get brighter and brighter over the next couple of years. And it means that the lights are more likely to be visible in some slightly lower-latitude locations like the northern parts of the United States.
With domestic tourism getting easier in the U.S. and Canada as more citizens get the vaccine, take advantage of seeing the sights at home and chase the Northern Lights.
Here are the top eight places in North America to see the Northern Lights in 2021.
1. Headlands International Dark Sky Park
The Headlands International Dark Sky Park is one of the best lower-latitude places to see the Northern Lights. Their guide to predicting the lights’ visibility is very helpful. But be advised that it is extremely difficult to predict exact days for Northern Lights sightings no matter where you are.
In addition to their information and guides on the Northern Lights, this park also has a wealth of information on solar happenings of all sorts. If you’re a stargazer, this is a great place for you. While you can’t camp in the park, you can bring blankets, hot drinks, and camping chairs and stay out ‘til the early hours of the morning! You can even rent out a guest house in the park if you’re wanting 24/7 access to the open sky.
2. Idaho Panhandle National Forests
The national forests in Idaho are a great place to start if you’re wanting to check out the Northern Lights. Heyburn State Park, the oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest, offers cabins as well as camping access. The lake area of this park is known to be a great lights-spotting location.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort in the southern part of Idaho will take you up their ski lift to see the lights from the mountain tops.
3. Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge
This wildlife refuge is known for its open spaces and dark skies. Although the park is only open from the half hour before sunrise to the half hour after sunset, the area around it is perfect for spotting the Northern Lights.
Likewise, the town of Millinocket and Lake Katahdin, both a couple hours south of Aroostook Refuge, are another two wonderful Maine locations to see the Lights.
Whitehorse, Canada and the surrounding land is a more northern place to spot the Lights. While the best time to see them in Canada is October to March when the nights are longer, you have a decent chance of spotting them any night of the year in this area.
There are even Northern Lights hotels that are dedicated to helping viewers get the most out of the Lights. The Northern Lights Resort and Spa twenty minutes outside of Whitehorse has special viewing decks and Aurora viewing packages.
Be advised that Canada is not currently allowing U.S. citizens into the country for the purpose of leisure. If you are not a Canadian citizen, you should plan your Northern Lights trip for later in the year.
Aurora Village near Yellowknife is the self-proclaimed best place in the world to see the Northern Lights. They offer tours from October through April to see the Lights at their best. There are several hotels and even dog-sledding tours all catering to giving their guests the best view possible of the Northern Lights.
With an average of 300 days of aurora activity, your chances of catching the Northern Lights in Churchill, Canada are high. On top of offering tours of the Northern Lights, Churchill is also famous for its polar bears! Visit the “accessible arctic,” as Churchill is known, and knock two bucket-list items off at once – polar bear sightings and Northern Lights sightings.
With its beautiful parks and high-end hotels, Saskatchewan is a great place to go if you’re chasing the Northern Lights. There’s a long list of things to do in Saskatchewan all year long – from dogsledding and skiing in the winter to bird and wildlife viewing in the spring, summer, and fall. Saskatchewan is known as the “land of the living skies” with good reason.
The high-season for viewing the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska is mid-September to late-April. This area is also famous for its extra-long sunrises and sunsets as well as the “midnight sun” phenomenon. From mid-May to late-July, Alaska experiences days on end where the sun is visible at midnight.
Explore Fairbanks’ natural solar phenomena and a long list of other activities ranging from wildlife viewing to fishing and river-rafting.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories