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Where to See Northern Lights in the USA

There’s nothing like the enigmatic aurora borealis. You turn your head up to the night sky, and there it is, the mesmerizing dance of colors glistening somewhere between the Earth and space. Needless to say, it’s an ultimate bucket list destination, something that should be seen to be believed. And the U.S. has plenty of places where you can witness this spectacular natural phenomenon. While Alaska is a natural pick for aurora borealis hunting, the contiguous U.S. can be as great. Because at the end of the day, it’s not only about where to see the northern lights in the USA but also about when and how. Use this article as a guide, we’ve covered the best places to spot aurora borealis in the U.S.

Alaska Northern lights near Fairbanks
Credit: Northern lights near Fairbanks by Tommy Tang via Unsplash.com

Alaska

When it comes to all things arctic, Alaska is the queen. A kaleidoscope of high mountains, pristine islands, and vast tundra terrain, it’s also the best place in the U.S. to see the northern lights. As the state’s territory is enormous, you’d want a precise location for your aurora borealis hunting. Fairbanks is the unofficial capital of northern lights spotting in the US. Located in the Interior region of the state, it has the ideal conditions for chasing the phenomenon. You’ve got the perfect latitude, excellent dark skies, and magnificent natural landscapes. Also, the city runs a very handy Aurora Tracker showing the chances of spotting the lights. 

The northern lights season here takes place from August 21 to April 21. Try to spot them yourself or opt for the many local tours guiding you to the best places for northern light witnessing. For even more remote aurora borealis destinations in Alaska, check out Utqiagvik, Coldfoot, and Wiseman. 

Idaho Northern lights in Idaho
Credit: Northern lights in Idaho by Chong Wei via Unsplash.com

Idaho

Yes, the Northwest also gets its share of the northern lights’ magic. When it comes to spotting aurora borealis in Idaho, it’s not as effortless as Alaska, but still extremely rewarding and unforgettably scenic. You’ve got to go to the northern part of the state and work with the scientific data. Quite a quest, isn’t it? The index to observe is Kp; it shows the geomagnetic activity. The rule is simple, the more the index, the more the chance of seeing the northern lights. The aurora forecast of the University of Alaska is a great source for updates and your main helper for seeing the northern lights in Idaho. 

As for the best destinations, you’re looking for the spots that have the darkest skies and the highest Kp index. Far-northern Priest Lake is where you’ve got the biggest chance of seeing (and photographing) the aurora. Chatcolet Lake in Heyburn State Park is another great pick. For a spectacle of northern lights over mountains, head to Schweitzer. 

Maine Northern lights in Maine
Credit: Northern lights in Maine by Mike Lewinski via Unsplash.com

Maine

It’s not only the moose and Acadia National Park in Maine. A state of gorgeous, untouched nature, it is also a go-to destination for northern lights watching. Although here it will be mostly dependent on luck and ideal weather conditions, the fact that aurora travels to Maine too can make the adventurer’s hearts beat faster in excitement. The best place for northern lights watching in Maine is the Canada-adjacent Aroostook County, a land of endless rural landscapes and the darkest of the skies. While hunting for the lights here requires more preparation and constant checking of the aurora forecast, it’s definitely a draw. Imagine what adventure it will be if you’ll have the fortune of spotting a moose and the aurora in one day. Is it worth coming to Maine for that? Absolutely. 

Minnesota Northern lights in Minnesota
Credit: Northern lights in Minnesota by Vincent Ledvina via Unsplash.com

Minnesota

When it comes to seeing the northern lights in the US, Minnesota’s Cook County takes the central place. Defined by endless forests, countless lakes, and gorgeous wilderness, it’s an outdoors lover’s paradise. Its geographic location also happens to be among the destinations aurora borealis graces with presence. So grab a camera, do the homework researching the Kp index, and embark on the northern lights hunt in Cook County. It pays off to go to the lakes for the most spectacular watching opportunity.

The best places for that would be Birch Lake near the Canada border, Oberg Lake, and the dark sky portions of Lake Superior. You can also try your luck on a definitive road trip from Grand Marais to Sea Gull Lake. Just make sure that you are duly prepared for the journey, stock up the food and clothes, and get ready to be stunned by the gorgeous Minnesotan nature. 

Vermont Northern lights in Vermont
Credit: Northern lights in Vermont by Mats-Peter Forss via Unsplash.com

Vermont

Spotting the northern lights in Vermont is quite an elusive affair, but it’s possible, and that’s all that matters. The great advantage is that the aurora here can be seen not that far from the civilization. You won’t have to drive hundreds of miles into the wild for the chance of natural spectacle. The epicenter of yearly northern lights activity in Vermont is the Lake Champlain. Causeway Park and the Causeway Trail just off Burlington are great to try your luck with the aurora. You’ve got the dark skies and the wonderful water surroundings.

The best times to see the northern lights in Vermont would be from September to February but make sure to check out the forecasts before heading to the watching spots. After all, it’s always about the journey. Lake Champlain outdoor proposition is an awesome pairing for your northern light-watching endeavors. 

Michigan Northern lights in Michigan
Credit: Northern lights in Michigan by Aubree Herrick via Unsplash.com

Michigan

This upper Midwestern state is quite a playground when it comes to aurora borealis. Forget about the Lower Peninsula and Detroit, though. It’s the Upper one and Marquette that you’re looking for with the chance of spotting the gorgeous colorful phenomenon. The southern shores of Lake Superior are ideal for northern lights viewing. In terms of particular spots, it’s quite hard to circle out one in Upper Michigan as spotting the aurora would depend largely on the space activity and the lights. Generally, a safe choice for viewing would be the dark skies between Marquette and Copper Harbor. There are plenty of publically accessible Lake Superior beaches with no light pollution, and that’s what you need for the best chance of seeing the northern lights in Michigan. 

Of course, there’s always the Isle Royal National Park with no lights whatsoever, but it closes during winter, so plan a trip here in early autumn for aurora spotting. As for the Lower Peninsula, you can try your luck at Headlands International Dark Sky Park, aurora graces it with a visit once in a while. 

Montana Northern lights in Montana
Credit: Northern lights in Montana by Diana Robinson via Flickr.com

Montana

Big Sky Country is called that for a reason. The nature here is majestic, the mountains are high, and the outdoor opportunities are outstanding. The northern lights fit perfectly into this Montana mix. Glacier National Park is one of the best places in the state to spot the fantastic aurora borealis. The phenomenon would be especially marvelous seen at the shores of the park’s iconic bodies of water, such as Lake McDonald, Kintla Lake, and Bowman Lake. As the area of Glacier National Park is big and wild, always check the weather beforehand. You don’t want to go hunting for aurora borealis in the cloudy sky. Look for the combination of clear skies, high Kp index (keeping the hand on the pulse of aurora forecasts), and adequate temperature to stay outdoors for a long time (all great things take some time to unfold). Even if you don’t see the northern lights in Montana, this state is still an awesome idea for the outdoors, and you won’t be disappointed with the visit. 

Wisconsin Northern lights in Wisconsin
Credit: Northern lights in Wisconsin by Wikimedia Commons

Wisconsin

Northern lights are not strangers to Wisconsin landscapes. In fact, you have not one but several parts of the state where there’s a high chance of spotting the captivating show of light. Door County has an ultra-scenic shoreline piercing through Lake Michigan. The picturesque beaches under the dark skies are great for aurora hunting. To take it even more remote, there’s Washington Island. Another stunning land of great outdoors on the shores of a different lake awaits you at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in the northernmost part of Wisconsin. The pristine beaches of Red Cliff Reservation would also work great as a vantage point for the aurora borealis. As for the Kp index to look for in Wisconsin, you’re safe to go chasing if it’s higher than 5.

North Dakota Northern lights in North Dakota
Credit: Northern lights in North Dakota by Vincent Ledvina via Unsplash.com

North Dakota

Darkness is your best friend when on the chase for northern lights in North Dakota. The state is not the first one that comes to mind when thinking of aurora spotting, but the phenomenon occurs here, and if you know what to look for, you’ll be rewarded. While the northern lights were spotted as far as Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’ve got much better chances at catching the glimpse of nature’s colorful grandeur on the rural stretches next to the Canadian border. Grand Forks County is a good pick for an area close to civilization. In the northern part of the state, Lake Metigoshe State Park and Turtle Mountain State Forest would work great for northern lights watching. 

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