Friday, 9 December 2016

The Best Places to See the Northern Lights in the US

Imagine to be in a wide place, surrounded only by nature and an incredible silence.
No artificial lights around, just stars and natural darkness.
Imagine now the moment when the sun's and the earth's auras meet, dancing and singing together in a magic embrace of yellow, green, blue, red, purple and pink lights.
Enjoy Mother Nature while she begins her otherwordly show and lights up her magic fireworks.

You are likely experiencing an aurora borealis.

An aurora borealis, also referred to as a polar light or Northern Lights

Scientifically speaking, as the result of solar flares (explosions) and solar winds, highly-charged particles get into contact with the geomagnetic field and the earth's atmosphere, releasing energy and lightening up.
The closer to the poles you are, the more intense the phenomenon will be.

Emotionally speaking, an aurora, also known as polar light or Northern Lights, is an incredible magic show of nature you must experience once in a lifetime.

Where and When to See the Northern Lights in the USA

You don't need to go to the Arctic to enjoy the glory of the Northern Lights.
There are some places in the USA, located in the so-called Aurora Oval (a "ring" around the North Pole), which are north enough to offer the chance to appreciate this celestial display.
Sometimes, a polar light can also be enjoyed in the northermost states of the so-called "lower 48", the continental US states.

The period between September and April (and winter time in particular) is generally considered the best moment to see the Northern Lights, due to darkness and long nights.
The best time is from 10 pm to early morning. Careful though, as in winter you have to properly organize your trip since temperatures can get really cold.
However, there are many places where you can enjoy the show also in milder moments (early spring and autumn), avoiding so the cold winter months. Even if an aurora borealis is something generally unpredictbale, there are some forecast centers able to predict the likelihood of its occurrence (see
http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast).

To best appreciate the Northern Lights, you should choose a location far away from artificial lights; you also need clear horizons (no forests around, lake areas are perfect), and of course clear and dark skies, with little or no moonlight. Better check updated forecast as well.
Choose a well-equipped and organized area, so you can enjoy daytime life and activities too.
Be ready to wake up in the middle of the night and, last, but not least, take your time (and your days), since the aurora borealis is very variable.

1. ALASKA (for aurora forecasts in Alaska see: www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast)
It is the perfect place within the Aurora Oval where you can have the chance to enjoy an aurora borealis.
There are many possibilities to watch the Northern Lights in Alaska.
Denali National Park and Preserve, away from civilization and light pollution, for instance, is one of the best locations. Its favourable environment allows to enjoy the incredible dancing colors of auroras beginning from the end of August. However, it is not the ideal place during winter months, since it can get really very cold.

Northern Lights Alaska

Fairbanks, located within the Aurora Oval, is probably the best destination to experience this magic phenomenon, any time.
Well-organized and equipped to host aurora seekers, this place offers comfortable options and plenty of excursions to the best locations organized by tour companies. Hotels here generally offer wake up call service when the Northern Lights are out: so, be ready to be woken up in the middle of the night... It is definitely something worth.

Recommended places for visitors in this area are also Chena Lake Recreation Area and Cleary Summit.

Brook Range is a mountain range, 200 miles north of Fairbanks and 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The area offers amazing opportunities to stay in contact with nature. Of course, in winter it can be incredibly cold.

2. MAINE
Close to the Canadian border and sourrounded by nature, this state's skies are silent, dark and north enough to host the Northern Ligths' shows.

One of the best places to watch them is the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge area (Aroostook County). September is a good time to enjoy the park and to observe wildlife, and to have the chance to see the colorful encounter of Sun and Earth in the surroundings, even if the phenomenon is more frequent during winter months.

In the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness, within the White Mountain National Forest area (bordering also the New Hampshire), the wonderful landscape, the wildlife and the sky are the magic context to wait for a polar light.

Acadia National Park is located along the rocky coast of this state. Its position, its natural beauties, its dark and often clear skies make it a perfect destination for star-gazing and aurora seekers. The lovely city of Bar Harbor, a couple of miles from Acadia, is a popular tourist destination, with a good number of hotels. If you are planning a holiday in this area, this is a good place for you, being fully organized to welcome tourists throughout the year.

Enjoy the Northern Lights in Maine, at the Acadia National Park


Also other New England states' skies, such as New Hampshire and Massachussets, can occasionally be painted by the aurora borealis.

3. MICHIGAN
Michigan is a sort of natural paradise on earth. Surrounded by forests and lakes, this state hosts many national parks and is the perfect place to visit throughout the year, well-known also for its fall color tours.

Michigan is also a must for aurora seekers. Close to Canada, its northermost areas provide many outstanding spots where you can admire this mystic show of Mother Nature. The best places are mainly in the Upper Peninsula area, bordering Lake Superior on the north: the Keweenaw Peninsula, along the coast, is secluded enough to hope to be in the right place at the right time and watch the colorful hug between sun and earth.

Michigan Upper Peninsula, one of the best places to enjoy the Northern Lights in Michigan

The surroundings of Marquette, a major port on Lake Superior, offer many isolated locations to enjoy the Northern Lights.

Isle Royale National Park, immersed in Lake Superior, offers an incredible landscape and great chances to see auroras. Closed from November to April, it is north enough to hopefully enjoy the light show during the night, avoiding the cold winter months. For any information you should contact the Houghton visitor center.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park is located along Lake Michigan and is one of the few parks of this kind in the US, where darkness ensures an incredible starred sky and hopefully also the unforgettable Northern Lights dance.

Ludington State Park's skies, between Lake Michigan and Amin Lake, have also recently displayed wonderful red and yellow Northern Lights.

4. MINNESOTA
Bordering on both Canada and Michigan, Minnesota offers wonderful natural landscapes and dark skies where you can get the chance to catch the dances of the Northern Lights.

Cook County is located at the northeastern tip of the region, along Lake Superior, and in the surroundings there are many isolated locations ideal for aurora-gazing.
In the wilderness of the mountain's peak, the light's show becomes, if possible, even more fascinating.
Enjoying the sky-gazing from a canoa in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the best (you have to schedule your stay and ask for permits. You can check here).

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge (east central Minnesota, close to the Twin Cities) represents a wonderful place where to explore the landscape and observe the wildlife and the colorful surprises of the clear skies.

Voyageurs National Park (on the Canadian border), immersed in a breathtaking and secluded natural context, offers a perfect location to experience all the gifts of nature.

Voyageurs National Park offers a perfect location to see the aurora borealis in Michigan


Duluth, a tourist major port city located on the westernmost point of the Great Lakes on the north shore of Lake Superior, offers many places in the surroundings where to watch the Northern Lights, such as the Boulder Lake area.

5. IDAHO
Idaho is an unexpected place where to go and admire auroras: really, you will be pleasantly surprised. Not far from the Canadian border, its northernmost pristine areas, such as Idaho Panhandle National Forest and Priest Lake, offer the perfect environment to the aurora seekers.

Cavana Priest Lake, Idaho

6. MONTANA
The Glacier National Park, located on the Canadian border, offers many daily activities in a wonderful natural context and in contact with wildlife throughout the year. At night, it magically becomes one of the best places in North America for admiring the Northern Lights show, mainly along its lakes.

Aurora borealis in Montana

7. COLORADO
Since the geomagnetic north pole is currently in Canada on the North American side, there is a real possibility to catch the aurora borealis' glimpse from Colorado.
Pawnee National Grassland has revealed to meet many conditions to make it possible: 35 miles east of Fort Collins, it is a huge area of pristine land with almost no light pollution.

8. PENNSYLVANIA
If you are looking for idyllic sky, Cherry Spring State Park is the perfect place for you: it has been recently named as an International "Dark Sky" Park by the International Dark Sky Association. In the last few years, Northern Lights at Cherry Spring State Park occurred also in summer and autumn.

Amazing starred sky in Pennsylvania

It is not easy to predict the Northern Lights and there are too many variables at stake.
To have the chance to see them, you should take your time and carefully plan your trip in the best period and place, according to forecasts and experience.
Sometimes it happens to be in the right place at the right moment, and you can be lucky enough to watch aurora displays from the balcony of your home in one of the lower 48 states.
Anyway, aurora borealis is something unimaginable. It's magic, it's a gift of the sun and the earth, a pure manifestation in nature of an otherwordly poetry.
And if you have the chance to witness it, you will take this imagine with you forever.

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