Where to see the Northern Lights

Watching the Northern Lights

Seeing the Northern Lights is a bucket list item for many. Also known as the Aurora Borealis, this rare occurrence shows off with glowing ribbons of color dancing through the night sky. While this amazing natural phenomenon is something we all desire to experience, making it a reality can be challenging. This holy grail of skywatching is elusive and only occurs at certain times of the year, during the right conditions, and in specific locations. With all this in mind, here are the five best places to see the Northern Lights.

1. Alaska

Where to see the northern lights in Alaska

When considering where to see the Northern Lights, Alaska ranks number one, due to its near-perfect geographical location directly under the Aurora Oval. The Aurora Oval, or the Aurora Zone is an area close to the Earth’s magnetic poles offering a higher probability of seeing the Aurora Borealis. Auroral Zones have high visibility and almost zero light pollution which lays the best foundation for catching this magnificent natural phenomenon. The aurora activity is concentrated in these zones and in the northern sectors of Alaska. On clear nights the Northern Lights are seen four out of five nights during the aurora season in this area, August through April. This is stellar statistical probability!

If you’re heading to Alaska to catch the show, head to “the bush,” or the outskirts of town to lose ambient light produced by cities. The best places are the interior or arctic regions of Alaska. Fairbanks, Alaska offers one of the best viewing spots in the state due to its interior location, hours of darkness and auroral activity. You will also find many tours, activities, and accommodations geared toward viewing the Northern Lights here. For more remote experiences, head to Coldfoot, Wisemand, or Prudhoe Bay.

Ready to head to Alaska but don’t want to go alone? Join Wildland Trekking’s southbound or northbound snowshoe touring trips to make the most of your time in the state! This six-day, inn-based snowshoe hiking tour is sure to spark a light in your heart too.

2. Iceland

Colorful aurora borealis over Iceland in winter

This Nordic country boasts a choice location near the Arctic Circle offering visitors high chances to see the dazzling light show of the Aurora Borealis. From September to April Iceland’s top-tier natural sites double as a viewing ground for the pulsing of purples, greens, and pinks. Head to Thingvellir National Park, Asbyrgi Canyon, or Kirkjufell Mountain to double down on natural beauty during the day and at night. 

Reykjavik, the country’s capital, also provides numerous tours, accommodations and activities geared towards visitors hoping to catch the Northern Lights. The city boasts Öskjuhlið Hill, a densely forested hill in the city offering dark views of the light show while staying close to home. Öskjuhlið Hill is home to the famous landmark Perlan, which holds a museum, the only planetarium in the country, and the world’s first indoor ice cave and glacier exploration. Head to the observation deck for unparalleled panoramic views of Reykjavik and beyond. 

As a general rule of thumb visitors have the highest chance of seeing the northern lights on long, dark, and clear nights. It’s optimal to check conditions and plan your trip accordingly. Visitors can check the conditions and aurora forecasts in Iceland to be best prepared.

Wildland offers an incredible tailored towards glacier exploring and northern light viewing. Explore glaciers, ice caves, and geothermal areas, as well as the best areas to experience the Northern Lights! This trip of a lifetime is not one to be missed. 

3. Finland

Northern lights display over snowy farm scene in Finland

Also located in the Nordic Circle is Finland, a spectacular choice for Aurora viewing. From August to April visitors can view the mind-warping natural phenomena 200 times per year! Finland offers numerous beautiful purpose-built spaces designed for Aurora Borealis watching such as wilderness hotels, arctic treehouses, and luxurious glass villas. Enjoy the solitude and pristine nature from your enclosed sanctuary as the lights dance above you.

For the highest chances of seeing the lights here head to Lapland, the large expanse of land in northern Finland, located in the Arctic Circle. In Lapland, there will rarely be ambient light and visitors will find tours, accommodation, and activities for Northern Lights viewing. 

The statistical probability of catching the northern lights in the following areas within Finland are:

  • Kilpisjarvi: 75% of nights
  • Lapland: 50% of nights
  • Central Finland: 25% of nights
  • South Coast: once a month

Finland offers no shortage of novel experience stacking. Try the “Seeking Northern Lights With Reindeer” tour for a sleigh ride at Jaakola Reindeer Farm, or consider staying in a glass igloo in Lapland!

Always remember to check the conditions before your trip. To find your best probability of when and where to see the Northern Lights in different parts of the country, sign up for aurora alerts.

4. Sweden

Visitors to the Arctic observe the Northern Lights

From September to March Sweden offers optimal conditions for Northern Lights viewing. It’s possible to catch the dazzling light show from all areas of the country during this time, even the southernmost tip! Head above the Arctic Circle to Sweden’s Lapland, and away from light pollution and the cloudy coastline for the best chances. 

Kiruna is Sweden’s northernmost city and provides visitors with the highest quantity of tours, and packages designed around seeing the Aurora Borealis. Here travelers can catch the lights by snowshoe, snowmobile, skis, or even dog sled! 

Abisko is home to the Aurora Sky Station in Abikso National Park. Here visitors can take a chairlift to the observation tower and Northern Light exhibition cafe and souvenir shop. 100 miles west of Kiruna, Abisko is the most popular Northern Light experience in Sweden, so plan ahead!

If you’re after an avant-garde experience check out the world-famous ice hotel located in Jukkasjarvi. Stay overnight in elegant art suites with beds made of ice, and uniquely designed rooms by commissioned artists from across the globe!

Arctic Circle Winter Traverse

5. Michigan

Northern Lights in Detroit Michigan

Minnesota isn’t located in the Arctic Circle, but when considering where to see the Northern Lights in the Lower 48, it offers your best odds. Cook County, in the east, is one of the least populated counties in the state, and with less light pollution, is one of the best areas to view the Northern Lights. Lake Superior and the Gunflint trail also offer spectacular viewing opportunities, but the highlight reels come from the state’s International Dark Sky Park. 

Voyageurs National Park in the northernmost part of MN, boasts an International Dark Sky Park certification. It has been recognized for the incredible quality of dark skies, meaning it is the perfect place to catch a glimpse of the Northern lights. This remote park presents flawless night sky viewing with expansive views of unpolluted skies. 

For another unforgettable Aurora Borealis experience try visiting Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Located about two hours east of Voyageurs, this is another dark sky haven. As the name suggests, most of this park is accessible by canoe only, so grab your paddle and hop in! You might even be able to see the Northern Lights reflected in the boundary waters themselves!

Aim to visit in late fall and winter as they provide early sunsets, long nights, and better opportunities to catch the spectacular light show. Follow space weather conditions including the solar stream and flares of the sun at spaceweather.com. For recommended driving routes to help navigate Minnesota during Northern Light travels, check here.   

Remember to head as far north as possible, dress warmly, and give yourself as much time as possible when searching for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Happy Northern Lights hunting!

About Shelby Lynn

Shelby Lynn Wildland blog contributor

Shelby is a whimsical writer, and wanderer. Her curiosity constantly introduces her to new and inspiring escapades. Her passion for rock climbing fields adventures near and far. And rarely is she without a small library in tow. She currently resides in Salt Lake City but will forever call the Pacific Northwest home.

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