The Arctic Circle isn’t the only destination where you can admire the northern lights. In fact, the dark skies of northern Minnesota are perfect for catching a glimpse of this magical sight year-round. From Cook County on Lake Superior to Kittson County in the northwestern corner of the state, the vacation rentals in Minnesota allow you to watch the aurora borealis from your patio or front porch. This is due to the rural areas being free from the light pollution of bigger cities. Book a few nights in one of these small towns, and keep your eye on the northern horizon’s lights during a clear night.

1. Grand Marais

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Grand Marais, on the north shore of Lake Superior, is one of the best places to view the northern lights in the continental United States. For the best chance of a sighting, plan your vacation for late fall or wintertime, and then check the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center online for the daily aurora forecast as well as the general Grand Marais weather forecast for clear nights and early mornings for the best viewing conditions. During your days, take a ramble through Grand Marais Art Colony, the oldest art colony in Minnesota, and watch artisans practicing traditional crafts at the North House Folk School. Grand Marais also offers all the beauty of a small harbor village including a picturesque lighthouse.

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2. Lutsen

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For a year-round chance of seeing the northern lights plus plenty of other vacation activities, head to Lutsen. Plan your vacation for July or August to enjoy watching the Perseid meteor shower in the dark sky while you wait for the northern lights, or opt for October when a drop in humidity makes the lights appear even brighter. Fall also brings a colorful leaf show to the mountains in the nearby Superior National Forest, perfect for wandering drives through the countryside, or bring your canoe along and enjoy the show while paddling the waters at Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. If you choose a winter trip, Lutsen offers wonderful downhill and cross country skiing, and many trails for snowshoeing through the wintry forest.

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3. Hallock

Kittson County Skies (co.kittson.mn.us)

Hallock, in Kittson County in northwestern Minnesota, offers vacationers the perfect opportunity to get away from it all plus plenty of opportunities to catch a glimpse of the northern lights away from the light pollution of the cities. For best viewing stay up past 9 p.m. and keep watch to the north in an area where trees don’t block the horizon. Patience is a must, so have hot cocoa ready and blankets to keep warm. Cozy vacation rentals outside of town are your best bet for easy viewing of the northern lights right from your porch, deck, or patio. Fill your days with your favorite outdoor activities, such as bird watching or fishing. The Pine to Prairie Birding Trail passes through Kittson County, and Bronson State Park is a great place to canoe, snowmobile, or simply watch for wildlife, including moose. Only a 30 minute drive from the Canadian border, Hallock also offers the opportunity for day trips into Canada.

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4. Beaver Bay

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Book a vacation rental in Beaver Bay for beautiful views of Lake Superior during the day, and spectacular opportunities to view the northern lights at night, especially from September to May. Enjoy breakfast with a lakeside view at the Northern Lights Cafe, and sample fresh seafood plus Swedish specialties for dinner at the Northern Lights Roadhouse. Stop in at the Beaver Bay Trailhead to pick up a trail map, and then take the short walk to view Beaver Falls or a longer hike to explore more of the Beaver River. If you love all things nautical, round out your vacation with a drive south into Duluth via Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic drive to visit the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center and the S.S. William A. Irvin Ore Boat Museum. While you’re in the city, be sure to take a look at Enger Tower and Duluth’s fascinating aerial-lift bridge over the Duluth Ship Canal.

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5. Princeton

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
Source: Flickr/USFWSmidwest

Located about 50 miles north of the Twin Cities on the Rum River, Princeton is far enough from the bright lights of Minneapolis to offer the right conditions for viewing the aurora borealis. Bundle up in warm clothes and pack a thermos of your favorite hot beverage, and then, head to the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge for prime northern lights viewing opportunities. November is a good month for sightings without the severe cold of deep winter, and it also let’s you take advantage of the area’s dark skies to witness the spectacular Leonid meteor shower. Alternatively time your trip for one of Princeton’s many festivals, such as Chili Fest in September or the Winter Gala in December. During the day stop in at the historic Great Northern Railway Depot, and pick up a brochure for the self-guided Historic Home Walking Tour to see some of the historic beauty of the town. Then shop your way through downtown, browsing the unique selection of shops, including Casey’s General Store and Be Envied Boutique, or take a turn on the town’s indoor ice arena or outdoor skating rink.

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