The Best U.S. Cities to See the Northern Lights
The Best U.S. Cities to See the Northern Lights

Did you know you can see the northern lights in the United States? If you happen to be in the northern part of the country this winter, turn your eyes to the night skies in search of the aurora borealis. The peak of aurora season starts in November and runs through February, as the darkest nights of the year reveal a sky alight with dancing colors. Don’t forget to check the official aurora forecast before heading out in search of this stunning weather phenomenon. Grab your cameras —  these are the best U.S. cities for viewing the northern lights.

Fairbanks, Alaska

Purple and green Northern Lights in wave pattern over trees
Credit: Beth Ruggiero-York/ Shutterstock

America’s “Last Frontier” is the best place in the United States to see the northern lights. The lights dance above the entire state all winter long, but Fairbanks offers a better chance than most of Alaska’s cities. Situated less than 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks is is located within the Auroral Oval, meaning that your chances of catching a glimpse of the lights are really high. Because Fairbanks is such a great destination for the northern lights, there are multiple unique ways to view them, like heated igloos that offer a comfy respite from the cold and dedicated tours in search of the aurora. You can even request that your hotel provide an aurora wake-up call should they make an appearance.

Kalispell, Montana

Starry sky with green and purple Northern Lights over lake.
Credit: davidmarxphoto/ Shutterstock

As one of the northernmost states of America’s Lower 48, Montana has higher odds than most of seeing the northern lights. Located just outside Glacier National Park, which happens to be a designated International Dark Sky Park, Kalispell makes for a fun base to go on a hunt for aurora. Explore the national park by day, backcountry skiing or driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, or sip a beer at the SunRift Beer Company back in town while you wait for darkness to fall. While seeing the northern lights this far south is always a gamble, check the KP-index before heading out. If the index value reaches 7, you might just be in luck. This indicates the activity levels of Earth’s magnetic field, which is affected by solar storms, and ranges from 0 to 9. The higher the number, the higher the likelihood you’ll see the aurora borealis.

Grand Marais, Minnesota

Green Northern Lights reflected in lake.
Credit: Chris Juhn/ Alamy Stock Photo

Situated on the very northeastern tip of Minnesota, Grand Marais is a premier destination for northern lights hunting in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Cook County (where Grand Marais is located) has a map of suggested northern lights driving routes, including one that leaves right from the center of town and another that leads drivers an hour outside the city to Gunflint Lake. A fun way to get your heart racing as you chase this prismatic light show is by snowmobile. Several trails are developed throughout winter and lead to remote areas that are great for spotting the northern lights. Like Kalispell, you’ll need to look at the KP-index to try and predict if the aurora borealis is going to make an appearance. A KP-index of 4 is often enough to potentially see them in Grand Marais. Extra bonus points if you get the chance to see the lights reflected on Lake Superior's frozen surface.

Copper Harbor, Michigan

North Light waves in sky over landscape.
Credit: aaron Alamy Stock Photo

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a remote destination with perfect conditions for viewing the northern lights. But the Keweenaw Peninsula (confusingly a peninsula on a peninsula) is even better. The tiny lakeside town of Copper Harbor is perched right at the tip of this peninsula and offers sprawling views out across the lake. One of the reasons this is such a great place to spot the northern lights is because of the city’s orientation, looking out across Lake Superior towards the northern hemisphere. Copper Harbor also happens to be home to the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park, the first in the UP. Its location is quite far from any large cities that might give off light pollution and hundreds of miles of pristine lakeshore stretch in each direction. Even if the aurora doesn’t make an appearance, the Milky Way will certainly twinkle for you.

Dickinson, North Dakota

Green Northern Lights.
Credit: mnorthlight/ Shutterstock

Right on the edge of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Dickinson is a great place to base yourself for potential views of the glittering northern lights. As one of the least populated states in the country, North Dakota's lack of light pollution makes for an even higher likelihood of catching a glimpse. Inkster, North Dakota is home to the University of North Dakota which houses an observatory that monitors the winter skies above the Peace Garden State for signs of the aurora borealis. Should it start to show off, a text goes out to subscribers, alerting them of the impending auroras. That’s your cue to grab your camera and drive out into the national park for unbridled views.

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