Where to See Northern Lights in North America This Winter

Where to See Northern Lights in North America This Winter

One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, top many bucket lists. 

The night sky in and of itself is fascinating, but there’s truly nothing quite like the magic of the Northern Lights. Best described as solar flares that illuminate when they meet Earth’s atmosphere, the Northern Lights are a truly rare phenomenon. 

Not only is seeing the aurora rare in terms of timing — numerous factors such as clear skies, darkness, and auroral activity have to align just right — but there are also very few places on Earth that it’s even possible. 

Iceland and Norway are world-famous aurora chasing destinations, there are several other, lesser-known places as well. Let’s take a closer look at where to see Northern Lights in North America, shall we?

Quick Tips on Aurora Spotting

  • You want the darkest sky possible, so plan to stay up well past your bedtime. While the aurora can technically appear at any time, the best chances are between midnight and 4:00 AM.

  • Get as far away from city lights as possible. State and national parks are some of the best bets.

  • Look for an area with a wide-open horizon, where trees and other objects do not obstruct the view.

  • Consider getting a headlamp or flashlight with a red light feature, which is less invasive and won't mess with your vision in the dark.

  • Use an "aurora forecast" to plan for the best chances of catching the Northern Lights. The University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute makes one of the best, with a 27-day forecast.

Where to See Northern Lights in North America

Whether it's the soaring mountain peaks of Alaska or Canada or wide-open lakeshores in the Midwest, these are some of the best places to see the Northern Lights in North America.

1. Fairbanks, Alaska

We’re kicking off our list of where to see Northern Lights in North America with one of the undisputed best places in the entire world

Fairbanks is directly under the “Auroral Oval,” or “belt,” where aurora activity is most heavily concentrated. The interior city is far from the coast and enjoys little precipitation and humidity, making for lots of crystal-clear nights. 

Of course, Fairbanks also has a very long, very dark winter. That means “aurora season” is especially long, with more-than-average viewing opportunities throughout the year. No wonder Alaska tops so many bucket lists!

You don’t need to go anywhere specific to catch the aurora in Fairbanks; simply drive to an open vantage point or stay in one of the many hotels with Northern Lights experiences. The aptly-named Aurora Borealis Lodge comes to mind. 

Or for a truly unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience, take a ride on Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Winter Train. The route runs in the winter and spring between Fairbanks and Anchorage — an unforgettable 12-hour journey.

Fairbanks, Alaska, one of the top spots for where to see Northern Lights in North America

2. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Tucked waaaaay up in northern Minnesota practically on the Canada border, Voyageurs National Park is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in North America.

A big part of the reason may be because, according to expert aurora chasers, lakes are some of the best viewing areas — and Voyageurs is basically one giant series of interconnected lakes. 

This actually makes perfect sense; lakes tend to be large, wide-open areas. And you have the added visual benefit of the lights reflecting off the still water. 

Please note that while the park is open year-round, services are extremely limited in the winter. The only overnight accommodations require a ferry or boat trip, so during winter, you’ll want to stay in nearby International Falls for an overnight visit.

3. Lake Superior, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Michigan’s “U.P.,” or Upper Peninsula, is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in North America.

The U.P. has far-northern latitude on its side, as well as low light pollution.

Another factor the U.P. has going for it in terms of aurora viewing is lots — and lots — of wide-open lakeshore. Specifically, the shores of vast Lake Superior provide excellent, unobstructed views of the northern horizon. 

On clear, dark nights, find a spot anywhere along the south shore of Lake Superior and simply look north. Some specific areas where people often spot the lights include Marquette, Pictured Rocks, Big Bay, and Skanee.

Colorful Northern Lights over a lake in Michigan, one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in North America

4. Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

It’s rare for the Northern Lights to be visible this far south — and that’s exactly why we included Cherry Springs State Park on our list. 

Known as the darkest spot on the Eastern Seaboard, Cherry Springs is an astronomy lover’s dream; a true astronomy park. Take a seat on one of the many benches in the Nighttime Viewing Area, or camp overnight in the Astronomy Observation Field (advance permits required). 

What makes Cherry Springs one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in North America? It’s perched on top of a 2,500-foot-tall mountain with wide open, unobstructed views in any direction, and far from the closest cities.

5. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

North Dakota is one of the least populated states in the U.S. The lack of people or lights, plus a landscape comprised of wide-open prairie land and a sky that seems to stretch on as far as you can see, make it ideal for where to see Northern Lights in North America.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is over 30 miles from the nearest town, making it especially well-suited for spotting the aurora. 

Note that the park and even campgrounds are open year-round, but beware it gets extremely cold here and there are no lights in the park after dark!

6. Mount Katahdin, Maine

5,269-foot-tall Mount Katahdin is the highest mountain peak in Maine, making it an ideal spot to seek out when you’re wondering where to see Northern Lights in North America. 

Fun fact: Mount Katahdin is also the endpoint, or terminus, of the Appalachian Trail. 

Don’t worry, though, you don’t have to make the strenuous trek up the mountain at night to spot the aurora. In fact, some of the best viewing spots near the mountain (and truthfully, the entire state!) are also some of the most accessible. 

Head to the New England Outdoor Center (NEOC), located near the entrance of Baxter State Park, where you can go on guided tours, rent gear like snowmobiles, or even stay onsite. Any of the park’s lakes also serves as a great aurora viewing spot.

7. Glacier National Park, Montana

Wondering where to see Northern Lights in North America in the West? Head to Glacier in northern Montana.  

Much of the park closes in the winter due to heavy snowfall, but one of the best locations for spotting the aurora is open all year: Lake Mcdonald. 

The lake is just a few miles from the West Glacier entrance, accessible year-round. The pristine glacial lake is surrounded by mountains, but if you head to Apgar Village on the southern shore, you’ll get clear views to the north.

Bonus: Lake Mcdonald's boat docks offer visual interest to photos.

While winter and spring are the most optimal times to catch the lights this far south, our writer actually witnessed them in September!

8. Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Idaho

Idaho is perhaps one of the most underrated states in the country — and certainly not one that typically comes to mind when thinking of where to see Northern Lights in North America. 

Sandwiched between spectacular Montana and the dramatic Pacific Northwest, it’s easy to understand why Idaho is often overlooked. However, its northern location, expansive horizons, and lack of light pollution make it an excellent spot to try and catch the aurora. 

Head up to the Panhandle National Forest for the best chances. Sandpoint and Priest Lake are both great choices, but the best and most unique is Schweitzer Mountain Resort

The resort and views are stunning, but when there are high chances of seeing the lights in the summer, you can also ride the ski lift up the mountain!

9. Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

Part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, Alberta’s Elk Island National Park is situated directly under the aurora circle. And at 40 miles from Edmonton, it’s well protected from light pollution.

There are many excellent viewing areas in the park, but one of the best is Astotin Lake, with expansive horizon views. Take note, however, the lakeshore is notoriously cold and windy, even in the summer months. 

Speaking of summer, Elk Island is open daily all year round, and this is one place where it’s highly possible to see the Northern Lights any time of year. 

To make your aurora viewing experience even more memorable, consider staying at the Geo Domes at Elk Island Retreat. Situated right near the park’s west entrance, these domes allow you to watch the aurora while cozy and warm inside. Plus, who doesn’t love unique accommodations?!

Have you been lucky enough to see the aurora? Where did you see them? Was it one of these best places to see the Northern Lights in North America, or somewhere else? Connect with us on Instagram or Facebook and let us know!

And if you have seen the lights with your own eyes, consider commemorating the experience in a unique way! The Wander Club’s Travel Tokens and Token Holders are a wonderful way to do just that.

We have tokens for thousands of destinations and landmarks, plus completely custom tokens. You can have one made with “Northern Lights” and the date or place you saw them! 

Good luck with the aurora chasing, and stay safe!