Where (and When) You Can See the Northern Lights in the US

When you think of the Northern Lights, you may think you have to fly to Finland, Norway or Iceland to see the celestial spectacle.

Although these places are prime viewing locations due to their proximity to the “Aurora Oval,” you don’t necessarily have to make an international trip to see the natural phenomenon.

Let’s take a look at where you can see the Northern Lights in the U.S. so you can leave the passport at home. From Maine to Alaska to Pennsylvania, hopefully there’s a place that piques your interest and you can start planning your visit this winter!

What are the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights, also called the Aurora Borealis, are a natural phenomenon that can only be seen in the Northern Hemisphere at certain times of the year. This colorful spectacle occurs when electrically charged particles from the sun collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

However, this solar activity is difficult to predict. So if you’re on the lookout with the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, you can find the best nights to watch the Northern Lights.

Because the Earth contains many different types of gases that occur at different altitudes, it produces many colors due to solar activity. For example, oxygen at high altitude produces a red color, while oxygen at low altitude produces a green color.

Places at higher latitudes that are part of the “Aurora Oval” have the strongest solar activity where these colors appear.

When is the best time to see Northern Lights in the USA?

Although seasonality varies across the United States, the Northern Lights can generally be seen in winter.

This can make it difficult to travel north, where most prime viewing locations are, but these long nights offer the best chance to see the dazzling display of color.

Summer is the worst time for observing because the nights are less dark and much shorter. To avoid the bitter winter cold, come in late fall or early spring before the nights get too short. Just be sure to check the weather forecast in these northern states.

10 U.S. states where you can see the Northern Lights.

Seeing the Northern Lights is on the wish list of many Americans. Here are 10 states where you can best observe this beautiful phenomenon. Maybe one of them is closest to where you live and will make your dream come true!

1. Michigan

Mackinaw City, home of the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, is an ideal place to view this natural phenomenon. But the northern lights are quite unpredictable.

Forecasts for the Northern Lights are usually only available a day or two in advance, making it difficult to plan a trip several weeks or months in advance. But the park has an entire section devoted to the Northern Lights, including tips for viewing the spectacular display.

2nd Minnesota

Another great place in the US to see northern lights is Cook County, Minnesota. Drive along the Gunflint Trail and find a place to stop.

The shores of Lake Superior provide a beautiful backdrop among the stunning colors. Voyageurs National Park on the Minnesota-Canada border is also a great vantage point.

Note that you can only access the national park by ferry or boat if you want to stay overnight within the park.

3. Wisconsin

There are several places in the Badger State where the auroras are particularly easy to observe. Like Michigan, Wisconsin has a beautiful background for the spectacular colors.

Three of the best places are the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Washington Island in Door County, and the shores of Lakes Michigan and Superior when they are frozen over.

View of the Northern Lights

4th Pennsylvania

Amateur and professional astronomers can visit another dark sky preserve at Cherry Springs State Park outside Coudersport, Pennsylvania.

Cherry Springs’ website has an entire section devoted to stargazing, where you can also learn more about private tours. You can also take a photography class and try to capture the Northern Lights.

Remember: While visiting Pennsylvania, we recommend the following 10 things you should definitely include in your itinerary!

5. North Dakota

Like Alaska and Montana, North Dakota is sparsely populated. The vast landscape of the plains and the lack of light pollution make this state another great place to see the northern lights in the US.

Although you can see the lights almost anywhere in the state, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a good place to start. Once the sun has set, head to a place where you can get a clear view of the north.

Mystical Horizons in the Turtle Mountains also offers clear skies where the colors of the aurora borealis can capture your heart.

North Dakota even has its own observatory from which you can watch a live stream. Martens Observatory has two cameras that capture auroras as they appear across the sky.

6th Maine

Because of Maine’s northern location, there are several places in this part of the U.S. where you can see the Northern Lights. These include the Dark Sky Sanctuary in Katahdin Woods & Camp; Waters National Monument, the International Dark Sky Park in the Appalachian Mountain Club forests in Maine, and Acadia National Park.

Although New England is densely populated, Maine has a smaller population. So you will find fewer people and darker skies to enjoy the breathtaking phenomenon.

View of the Northern Lights

7. New Hampshire

You can see northern lights in both Vermont and New Hampshire, but it is difficult because of light pollution in two very small states.

Locals recommend that visitors to the Mount Washington Valley take the Kancamagus Highway (Route 112). Then drive to the Bretton Woods area or find a site in the southern region around Tamworth and Sandwich for an optimal observing site.

Don’t forget: Make the most of your time in New Hampshire by staying at some of the best campgrounds in New Hampshire!

8th Montana

Montana is the most sparsely populated state after Alaska. This means less light pollution from cities and fewer crowds. Glacier National Park offers amazing outdoor adventures and beauty, as well as being a place to see the Northern Lights in the US.

Many other parts of Big Sky Country also offer great viewing opportunities, but Glacier has the scenic beauty, hiking trails and other activities to offer for a fun day in nature.

9. idaho

Although surprising, Idaho is another U.S. state where you can see northern lights. Priest Lake and the Idaho Panhandle National Forest are prime viewing locations.

Because of the clearer skies in this part of the country, it’s worth the long drive to the Panhandle to escape the light pollution in neighboring states. You can reserve a cabin in the forest, but ask a ranger which cabins offer the best views of the Northern Lights.

View of the Northern Lights

10th Alaska

Because of its proximity to the auroral oval and its dark skies, Alaska is one of the best places in the world to observe the northern lights.

Places in northern Alaska, such as Fairbanks, Utqiagvik and Coldfoot, are prime locations. You can even book a guided tour and get expert advice on where to best observe the phenomenon.

Is it worth it to see the Northern Lights?

Most of these states are far north. Pennsylvania is the furthest south on the list. So if you’re planning a winter visit, wrap up well.

Also, be sure to check out local facilities, as many places are closed in the winter. But once you have a plan, you will be grateful for all the preparations when you finally get to see this spectacular light show.

Do you know of any other special places in the U.S. to see the Northern Lights that you would add to the list?

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