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4 Places to See the Northern Lights in the U.S.

Here’s where to go and tips to increase your chances of seeing the northern lights

spinner image northern lights over fairbanks alaska
Alaska is one of the destinations in the United States where you may be able to see the northern lights.
Sherman Hogue/Explore Fairbanks

If seeing the northern lights is on your wish list, 2024 may be the year to check it off that list.

Liz MacDonald, a space scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, says 2024 will be a prime viewing year to see the natural phenomenon. The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, occur when solar winds with electrically charged particles enter the Earth’s magnetic field. The particles collide with atmospheric gases to create blue, green, red and violet curtains of light in the sky. “The sun is entering its most active time, called solar maximum, which means the northern lights will be more strong and frequent than usual,” MacDonald says. “This will be the first solar maximum where people’s cellphones can capture the lights easily, which means great opportunities to share these photos … and help others get accurate, real-time alerts of visibility.”

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Keep in mind that clear and dark skies are the magic ingredients needed for the celestial event to reveal itself. In the United States, head to the far north for the best possible viewing chances from September 2024 through April 2025.

“Activity is expected to steadily increase until fall 2024, when the lights will be at their brightest,” says Mark Miesch, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder. 

Although there is no guarantee you will see the northern lights, you can get information on visibility conditions before you go. For example, Aurorasaurus, founded by MacDonald, offers enthusiasts accurate, real-time alerts of visibility. NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction System Aurora tracker provides 30- to 90-minute forecasts.

To increase your chances of seeing the northern lights in the U.S., consider a trip to the following locations.

spinner image northern lights over a lighthouse in michigan
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula can be a prime viewing spot to see the lights.
@nawrockstar via Instagram

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

The far north is your best chance for spectacular views of the northern lights in Michigan. Upper Peninsula locations, especially near Lake Superior, offer some of the best views. One option is to stay in the town of Marquette and drive to one of the many Lake Superior pullouts to sky-watch from the beach or even your car. Or visit Keweenaw Dark Sky Park in Copper Harbor for the ultimate inky-dark vantage point for watching the show above Lake Superior.

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Stay: Visitors can stay inside the park tucked into a cozy log cabin at historic Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, where you can enjoy hosted sky-watching events and northern lights photography workshops.

spinner image northern lights over maine
Travelers may see the northern lights in northern Maine. ​
Visit Maine

Northern Maine

Maine’s natural beauty provides a scenic backdrop for northern lights enthusiasts. As with other destinations, the farther north you go, the better your chances for viewing the dancing lights. Head to the northern coastline of Cobscook Bay State Park, bordering Canada, where you can sky-watch from your campsite. Or try the remote wilderness of Aroostook County, whose dark skies offer great potential for aurora borealis viewing. Make Caribou, the most northeastern city in the U.S., your base.

Stay: Caribou’s Old Iron Inn Bed and Breakfast offers old-fashioned charm near Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge.

spinner image the northern lights over alaska
Fairbanks, Alaska, hosts an "Aurora Season" with tours and events for visitors looking to see the lights.
Daniel A. Leifheit/Getty

Fairbanks, Alaska

“The best place in the U.S. to plan a trip to see the northern lights is always Alaska — because they are reliably spectacular that far north — especially Fairbanks,” MacDonald says. Fairbanks is located under the so-called Auroral Oval. “The months of March and September also tend to be favorable for the lights because of the way the tilt of the Earth lines up with the Earth’s protective magnetic field,” MacDonald says.

There’s even an “Aurora Season” in Fairbanks, from Aug. 21 to April 21, with a range of special tours and events designed especially for visitors chasing the lights. Pick up a Fairbanks aurora map and guide at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center to plan your adventures. Plenty of operators offer northern lights tours via snowcat, evening ice fishing adventures or even flights above the Arctic Circle. There are special heated viewing lodges that provide snacks and photography tips too. 

Stay: Try the Chena Hot Springs Resort, where you can scan the sky while soaking in the mineral hot springs pool. Or consider the Aurora Seekers package at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, which includes access to their Aurora Conservatory.

spinner image the northern lights over a lake in minnesota
The aurora borealis (northern lights) shimmers over the horizon in Minnesota.
CINDY HAMMERS

Minnesota

Peer north while standing on the south shore of an inland lake in Minnesota, and if the conditions are right, you’ll be rewarded with a unique view of the aurora borealis, shimmering green over the horizon. The state, which boasts more than 11,800 lakes, offers lots of scenic options for seeing the lights. Head north to the International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In fall, paddle one of Minnesota’s lakes deep into the forest and set up camp for a chance to see the elusive borealis.

Alternatively, try Voyageurs National Park, which is an International Dark Sky Park. Take a ranger-guided Starwatch Cruise for stargazing and northern lights viewing. In winter, check the visitor center calendar for ranger-led evening dark sky snowshoe tours and events.

Stay: Rent a houseboat, bring your own boat or reserve a campsite in advance to sleep under the stars. 

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