It’s the most spectacular light show in the world, courtesy of Mother Earth, and there are few places from which to enjoy the very best views. Luckily, the United States offers several choice destinations from which to see the aurora borealis. To catch the stunning blue, green, violet, red and yellow hues dance across the night sky, you’ll have to travel to the northernmost parts of the country. The good news is, you won’t have to camp out in the dark to see the show. Travelers heading for the best vantage points of the Northern Lights in the United States will find a selection of vacation rentals to fit their needs, whether destination is within the Alaskan wilderness or the on shoreline of a northern lake. Here are five places in the United States where you can grab front row seats to view the Northern Lights.
1. Fairbanks, Alaska
The state of Alaska offers prime conditions for viewing the Northern Lights: cold weather, geographic location and dark skies, to name a few. With possibly the highest number of Northern Lights sightings than any other U.S. state, Alaska as a vantage point also offers some of the clearest and most dazzling views. Fairbanks is one of the most popular destinations to view the lights in Alaska. Not only is it the most reliable, being geographically located under the “aurora oval” where auroras are seen the most frequently, but local operators also offer tours around the area. While you’re in Fairbanks, you can lodge in a cozy cabin surrounded by nature, rent a home in the downtown area or bunker down in a luxury hotel suite. Whatever your accommodations preferences, the key is you’ll be right under the dancing northern lights by nightfall. If you’re looking into other destinations in Alaska to view the aurora borealis, other top choices include Denali National Park, Anchorage and the Chena Lakes area. Plan your trip between September and April for the best chances to view the Northern Lights at their peak.
2. Priest Lake, Idaho
Idaho might seem like a random location for seeing the aurora, but the state’s Panhandle National Forest and Priest Lake are two credited destinations for glimpsing the Northern Lights. For a stunning backdrop for Mother Nature’s light show, head for the national forest, which has beautiful mountains and water to add to the ambiance. Photographers looking to capture the perfect image, however, should head for Priest Lake, located about 30 miles south of the Canadian border. With a bit of luck, you’ll find perfect conditions where the lake reflects the dazzling colors of the Northern Lights. Here, you can immerse yourself in nature if you decide to stay in one of two group campsites nearby. Barton Island and Kalispell Island are open all year round and accessible by boat. Visitors will find an abundance of outdoor recreational activities for every season, and a range of dramatic scenery and wildlife. If you’re opting for Idaho Panhandle National Forest, consider lodging in one of the rustic cabins or lookout rentals offered in several different areas around the forest.
3. Aroostook County, Maine
The Northern Lights are visible a couple of times a year in Maine, usually during the winter months, but with sightings possible in the spring and fall. If you’re lucky, you might also get to see some epic star trails. In Maine, the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge area is highly recommended as a viewing spot for the lights. The refuge includes more than 2,100 hectares of wetlands, forest and grasslands home to wildlife such as black bears and moose. Aroostook is one of the most northeasterly viewing spots of the Northern Lights in the country, located close to the border with the Canadian Province of New Brunswick. While the refuge itself closes at sunset, Aroostook County offers a myriad of places to stay in the area. Reserve a spot in one of the county’s many campgrounds to experience the wilderness of Maine. Or book a room in a quaint bed and breakfast for a cozier experience. Even as you plan your trip around the Northern Lights, you’ll find Maine’s other charming qualities angling for the spotlight.
4. Beaver Bay, Minnesota
There’s more than one set location to see the Northern Lights in Minnesota. In addition, you’ll find some of the best nature sights from which to view the aurora. Kittson County, Beaver Bay and Sherborne National Wildlife Refuge have all been cited by aurora seekers and photographers as some of the best places to see the Northern Lights. But another tried and true destination is Cook County, located on the northeastern tip of the state along the shores of Lake Superior. The county, about 400 kilometers from Minneapolis, is home to some of the state’s tallest mountain peaks and highest waterfall. Head for the Superior National Forest to see the lights dance across Lake Superior, Oberg Lake and Moose Mountain. The area’s dark skies and northern location make it a prime spot for Northern Lights sightings. In Cook County, the lights are said to appear most frequently in the late fall and winter, between the hours of 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. As for places to stay, some unusual options include hostels, yurts and bunkhouses, in addition to a variety of more traditional offerings such as hotels, cabins and campgrounds.
5. Upper Peninsula, Michigan
You might be able to catch sight of the Northern Lights from the backyard of your Upper Peninsula vacation home. Locals claim that aurora sightings are common in the region, thanks to prime geographic location and relatively low light pollution. Upper Peninsula in Michigan is one of the northernmost parts in the country, with hundreds of miles of shoreline along Lake Superior. One of the best parts of awaiting the lights by the lake is the unobstructed view of the night sky. You’ll have a 180 degree view all the way to the horizon, without distracting trellises or hill at your latitude. The aurora’s reflection off the lake’s surface also adds awe factor to the entire spectacle. Keweenaw Peninsula is the state’s northernmost area, offering one of the state’s best chances for seeing the lights. Marquette, the major port on Lake Superior, is another option. Isle Royale National Park, a remote island in the northwest corner of Lake Superior, is also worth consideration for visitors in late spring to late September. The park is closed from November to mid-April. but the visitor center is open all year round to field visitor questions regarding Northern Light hotspots nearby.
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