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8 Places in the U.S. Where You Can Actually See the Northern Lights

Aurora borealis, no passport required!

Picture the Northern Lights, a shimmering fantasia of lights playing across the night’s sky. Now picture where this phenomenon is taking place. You’re probably imagining a Nordic landscape complete with fjords and reindeer. Or the sprawling expanse of the Arctic’s farthest reaches. But you don’t have to journey into the tundra or even practice your Norwegian in order to go see the aurora borealis. There are plenty of places within the United States where you can witness one of nature’s most awe-inspiring phenomenon.

01_USNorthernLights__TheodoreRooseveltNationalPark_1 Theodore Roosevelt National Park_Northern Lights
PHOTO: North Dakota Tourism
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Theodore Roosevelt National Park

WHERE: North Dakota

When writing about his time in North Dakota, Teddy Roosevelt once wrote, “In the soft springtime the stars were glorious in our eyes each night before we fell asleep.” While times have changed, North Dakota’s status as a destination to view the night sky has not. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, with its minimal light pollution, can be a wonderful place to camp out under the stars and—under the right conditions—the Northern Lights.

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Headlands International Dark Sky Park

WHERE: Michigan

In 2011, the Headlands had the rarefied distinction of being named one of the earliest Dark Sky Parks in the world. With its 550 acres of untouched woodlands, sources of light pollution are effectively kept at bay. And while when and where the Northern Lights appear is difficult to predict, a clear evening at this park is sure to grant you a celestial view you won’t soon forget.

PHOTO: Hailin Chen/Shutterstock
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WHERE: Alaska

If you’re looking for one of the best places to see the Northern Lights sans passport, strike out from the lower 48 and head to Fairbanks, Alaska. While there are a number of ways to take in this fantastic light show, perhaps the coziest would have to be being snuggled inside a fiberglass igloo while gazing out of a window—something Borealis Basecamp makes possible.

04_USNorthernLights__RickerPond_4 Ricker Pond Night View
PHOTO: Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing
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Ricker Pond

WHERE: Vermont

The Northern Lights have been known to visit Ricker Pond now and again. This park is just under an hour’s drive from Montpelier. Once you’re there, you’ll find yourself in a quiet spot surrounded by lush trees. In addition to campsites for tents, there are a handful of cabins and cottages available to rent. It’s the perfect place to hunker down for the evening as you may have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights shimmer in the night sky.

PHOTO: BlueBarronPhoto/Shutterstock
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Voyageurs National Park

WHERE: Minnesota

With vast swaths of wilderness putting plenty of distance between you and any city centers, Voyageurs National Park makes for a good potential base of operations if you’re hoping to spot the Northern Lights. Best case scenario, you’ll be treated to a stunning light show. Worst case scenario, you’ll still have an incredible view of the stars.

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PHOTO: Craig Goodwin
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Priest Lake

WHERE: Idaho

There are quite a few examples of remote places in Idaho that make for the kind of clear skies perfect for stargazing. If you’re looking for a particularly photogenic locale for your aurora borealis experience, head to Priest Lake. When the Northern Lights appear over this spot, the lights reflect off the water for a visual so breathtaking it can only be described as divine.

PHOTO: davidmarxphoto/Shutterstock
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Glacier National Park

WHERE: Montana

The dark, clear sky over Glacier National Park makes for the perfect canvas for the Northern Lights to paint with its dazzling array of colors. The shores of the 10-mile long Lake Macdonald make for an ideal, wide-open space to watch the show unfold.

08_USNorthernLights__SweetBriarLake_8 Northern lights display at Sweet Briar Lake
PHOTO: Jeff Savadel
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Sweet Briar Lake

WHERE: North Dakota

The Northern Lights have been known to occasionally appear over Sweet Briar Lake, about half an hour west of the city of Bismarck. This is the perfect spot if what you’re looking to do is camp out under a crisp night sky and maximize your chance to see this phenomenon live and in person.

scanavan March 21, 2021

Hotel Husafell

scanavan March 21, 2021

In Iceland we stayed at a hotel in Husefe in the interior near the smaller glacier. The staff will call your room when the northern lights appear so you don't miss them. Wonderful remote place

RJones1357 March 17, 2021

I was so looking forward to reading this article, only to be totally disappointed.

The short version is that everything other than the actual list of places was a waste.  

I'm in the planning stages of a trip to see the Northern Lights.  I might go to Iceland, or there's a place deep in Canada that has possibilities.  I don't know, but I do know this:  A KEY factor in the decision will be the probability of actually seeing them, which I realize is guaranteed nowhere. 

But there are knowable statistics and the likeliest weeks of the year for it. 

This article gave none of that, and using the phrase "have been known to appear" suggests that the odds at such a place are slightly better than actually seeing Nessie during a side trip to Scotland.  

Thanks for the list. If that's all you're going to do, in the future you can save the useless verbage.