The northern lights are one of the most spectacular shows that Mother Nature has to offer, and seeing this phenomenon live is an item on many a bucket list so I rounded up the best places to see northern lights.
The best time to see northern lights is normally from September through March because the longer nights in the northern hemisphere increase the probability of the lights being visible.
Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if you can predict the probability of the northern lights appearing, as well as where they’re likely to hold a show?
Luckily, the Space Weather Prediction Center does exactly that.
The SWPC website has a page with a forecast of both the northern and southern lights. It can be helpful to know what time on a given day are the northern lights most likely to show up.
Manage your expectations, though; even if you do all these things right, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll see the northern lights.
Mother Nature can be funny that way.
13 Best Places To See Northern Lights In The US
If you’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights, but don’t want to venture out of the US, here are the best cities to go visit.
Be warned, you will be cold.
In general, Alaska offers excellent conditions for viewing the northern lights. With its geographic location, dark skies, and mostly clear weather, it’s no wonder that it has the highest number of northern lights of any US state.
The city of Fairbanks, in particular, is one of the most popular places to see northern lights.
Around 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle at 65° north latitude, Fairbanks is found within the auroral oval.
Local northern lights tours can take you to one of several viewing areas, such as Murphy Dome, Chena Lakes, Creamer’s Field, and Cleary Summit.
If you’re a tad more adventurous, consider driving yourself or renting a vehicle and chasing the lights independently.
There is no shortage of accommodations in Fairbanks, and some of them even allow you to wait and watch for the aurora right in your room come nightfall, such as in one of the domes in Borealis Basecamp.
If you’re not yet tired from staying up all night to wait for the northern lights, you can go dog sledding, soaking in the hot springs, and ice fishing in the daytime.
Yes, another Alaska destination, but as I’ve mentioned, the state of Alaska is the best state in the US to see the northern lights.
Aside from Fairbanks, the Denali National Park is another great place in Alaska to watch the northern lights. It features acres and acres of pristine land without city lights and thus, no light pollution.
It has been a favorite destination of outdoorsy types for hiking and camping because of the wide-open spaces, mountain views, and rich wildlife.
If you’re not the outdoorsy type, though, you can always stay in one of the many lodgings in the area.
3. Spokane, Washington
From here on, the places I’m going to mention have lower chances of viewing the northern lights than Alaska, but the chances are still pretty good when conditions are right.
Eastern Washington offers a rural area with low to zero light pollution, and Spokane is one of the best places to start chasing auroras.
If you don’t get to see the northern lights, there are other activities to do in Spokane.
Outdoor activities range from hiking, cycling, and climbing, to kayaking, fishing, and swimming.
Winter provides the opportunity for snowshoeing, skiing, and snowboarding.
Lakes are some of the best places to see northern lights, and Priest Lake, Idaho is one of them.
This lake, known as the Crown Jewel of Idaho, is located within the northern portion of the Idaho panhandle, 30 miles south of the Canadian border.
Clear skies and no city lights provide the perfect conditions for the northern lights. Add the still, crystal clear waters of the lake reflecting the light show in the sky, and you have one unforgettable spectacle.
If you prefer a mountain view, you can also consider Idaho Panhandle National Forests.
Notable national and state parks where you can try viewing the aurora include the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve and Heyburn State Park.
The pristine landscape and skies of this national park provide a lovely backdrop for the northern lights, with several viewing sites for it.
A few miles from the west entrance of the Glacier National Park in Montana is Lake McDonald, a glacier-carved lake.
Staying at the southern end of the lake gives you a stunning view due north over the lake and a better vantage point for the aurora.
Drive along MT-49, also known as the Looking Glass Road, for excellent lookouts along the road that are perfect spots to view the northern lights. This road runs north from East Glacier Park off US Highway 2 to Kiowa, where it merges with Highway 89.
A trip on this road during the day will give you spectacular views of the park, as well as the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Once you’ve rounded Looking Glass Hill, Montana’s Big Sky opens up and reveals a view of the northern lights like no other.
Another spot in this national park that boasts of great views is the Northern Lights Saloon & Café.
It’s a tad less remote than the other outdoor spots in this park and offers good food and entertainment to further enjoy the view. It’s located in Polebridge, Montana, a community very near the Canadian border.
Check out some of the best things to do in Montana while you’re there.
The northern lights show up in Maine only around three times a year, and the best place to see them is the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge.
It’s far north enough (right on the US-Canada border) and almost completely free of light pollution to allow spectators a grand view of the aurora.
Depending on when you go, you might get to see some of the best fall colors in the US.
The refuge covers more than 2,000 hectares of forest and grasslands that feature wildlife such as black bears and moose, but it isn’t very far from civilization; there are lodges and bed and breakfasts around the area.
Still, if you prefer to be near nature, you can camp out on the grounds.
Michigan was one of the first states to embrace the dark sky preservation movement and established the Headlands International Dark Sky Park on the shores of Lake Michigan in 2011.
Since then, it’s been a favorite destination for both Michigan locals and visitors to try to see the northern lights.
The best places to see the northern lights in the park are McGulpin Point and Johnson Point.
While you’re here, visit nearby Mackinac Island and have some of their famous fudge.
Located along Lake Superior, Cook County is Minnesota’s easternmost county, known to be the best place in the state (and according to them, the lower 48) to try to see the northern lights.
It’s ideal for those who love the great outdoors but want at least some of the comforts of modern life (like running water), as the forest and lakes are pristine, but the small communities in the area have tourist-friendly accommodations.
The most recommended areas to try to view the northern lights include the Gunflint Trail (least crowded) as well as the Grand Portage and Grand Marais areas.
This county is more popular as a summer destination. In fact, we have included Baileys Harbor in our list of the best snorkeling sites in the country.
But Door County, which lies on a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, is also one of the best places to hope to see the aurora borealis.
While it’s not as far north as Alaska, its protected state parks and stretches of farmland mean that there’s less light pollution and the views of the northern lights on the bay are nothing short of spectacular.
Another dark sky park, Cherry Springs State Park the Pennsylvania Wilds is the darkest spot in the state and possibly in the entire East Coast.
The public viewing area is only open until a certain time at night, but you can stay the night at Overnight Astronomy Observation Field so that even if you don’t get to see the northern lights, you can still be in the best spot for stargazing and getting to see the Milky Way all night long.
The surrounding Susquehannock State Forest offers opportunities for hiking, picnicking, and other day activities.
Visit nearby Coudersport and tour the historic downtown area as well as the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum to learn about the area’s history.
Although the Mount Washington Observatory is a nonprofit org responsible for observing and maintaining a record of weather data, perform weather and climate research, people visit the place also to catch a glimpse of the northern lights.
Imagine being on the top of this observatory (pictured above) and going up-close with the northern lights. Mount Washington Observatory makes the whole experience extra special, especially since the area has zero light pollution and catches the aurora perfectly.
Located in the northern part of the state, Grand Forks occasionally experiences Northern Lights.
North Dakota is perfect for stargazing and checking out aurora borealis, too! You don’t even have to go far and deep for info about northern lights in the state. Just visit North Dakota Dual Aurora Camera (NoDDAC), a site that tracks aurora borealis movement in North Dakota.
Also, I am in-love with the NoDDAC site’s name! How cool is Aurorasaurus, right? Rawr!
The sky over Malletts Bay in Colchester, Vermont has been the venue for glowing light of pinks, oranges, reds, and greens for multiple times in recent years.
While rarely seen (unlike those in Alaska’s northern light sightings), Malletts Bay’s peninsula-like shape into Lake Champlain gives the Aurora Borealis a jaw-dropping backdrop.
Vermont sky can be crystal-clear, which makes it an ideal place to see these dancing lights.
You simply just have to be there in person at least on one of these spots.
Seeing the Northern Lights in the US
Now that you know the best places to see northern lights in the US, here are some final thoughts.
Be persistent, be patient, and don’t take your eyes off the sky. Also, don’t forget your warm food, warm drinks, and warm clothes; the northern lights are gorgeous, sure, but not worth freezing to death.