Watching the northern lights dance across the sky on a cold, clear winter night is an unforgettable experience. Sometimes these dancing curtains will transform into a kaleidoscope of hues, as shades of pinks and reds, and sometimes even purples or blues transform the dark sky into a moving piece of multi-colored art. In the northern hemisphere, the northern lights are known as aurora borealis, while in the southern hemisphere the phenomenon is known as aurora australis.
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Solar maximum is the period of highest solar activity during the approximately 11-year solar cycle, and scientists believe it will likely peak sometime in 2024. Since the aurora is driven by solar activity, created when charged particles from the sun interact with Earth’s atmosphere, solar maximum is a fantastic time to go aurora watching.
You’ll need a dark, clear night sky to see the aurora, and be prepared to stay up late, since the late night and wee morning hours (often between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.) offer prime viewing opportunities. Here’s where to see the northern lights in the coming year.
Located in Alaska’s interior, Fairbanks is a prime place to view the northern lights, but be sure to bundle up because the temperature can drop to -60 degrees Fahrenheit and even colder. During the day, enjoy experiences like dog sledding, reindeer tours, ice fishing, snowmobiling (called snowmachining in Alaska), and many other activities.
Fairbanks also offers unique accommodations where you can gaze up and appreciate the night sky—and hopefully spot the aurora. Borealis Basecamp has new aurora “cubes” as well as igloo-style accommodations for great viewing where you can look up at a window and watch the sky transform. Aurora Pointe is another Fairbanks-area spot for aurora viewing, located about 15 minutes from town on 280 acres of private land. Or head 60 miles out of town to Chena Hot Springs Resort, where you can enjoy the northern lights while soaking in a natural hot spring.
Sheldon Chalet, Denali National Park, Alaska
Located at nearly 6,000 feet in elevation in Denali National Park, Sheldon Chalet offers a unique high-end luxury aurora watching experience. It is located on a private rock outcropping on the Ruth Glacier, and includes spectacular views of the Denali Range. A stay here is perfect for the adventurous traveler. This chalet is accessed via helicopter, and boasts a variety of guided activities such as glacier trekking, crevasse exploration, ice climbing, and snowshoeing.
The Yukon, Canada
Located in the Aurora Oval, the Yukon is a great place to go aurora hunting. Enjoy a variety of activities like fat bike rides, dog sledding, and snowshoeing, and spend plenty of time looking for the aurora in the night sky. Consider a guided experience with a company like Epic North Tour Experiences that will show you around and provide the best chance of seeing the aurora if it’s visible. Or opt for an aurora glass chalet at Northern Lights Resort and Spa to hopefully see the aurora dance across the sky while laying in your cozy bed.
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Best known for its polar bears, Churchill is also a great place for aurora viewing under the Aurora Oval. Most visitors who wish to see polar bears come in October and November, which is also a time you might be able to see the northern lights if conditions cooperate. But if seeing the aurora is your top draw, consider a February or March visit, which is the most popular season to see the skies dance. Enjoy watching the skies from an Aurora Dome bubble for a unique experience. Companies like Frontiers North Adventures offer tours that incorporate a variety of experiences with northern lights viewing, such as snowshoeing, dog sledding, and more, as well as special photography-focused tours.
Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Canada’s Royal Astronomical Society has designated Jasper National Park as a Dark Sky Preserve, making it perfect for night sky gazing and aurora viewing if conditions are right. By day, enjoy the area’s gorgeous scenery and numerous outdoor activities, and by night look up and enjoy the show. The Jasper Dark Sky Festival (2024 dates TBA) is an annual celebration of Jasper’s incredible dark skies, with a variety of programs that bring astronauts and scientists to town. Enjoy The Jasper Planetarium’s shows and telescope tours, and consider Jasper Photo Tours’ Night Photography Tour to snap images of stars, constellations, and hopefully the northern lights.
In Alta, Norway, stay in a GLØD Aurora Canvas Dome to watch the aurora dance from your cozy bed. Opt for a northern lights tour, and then retreat to your cozy dome with a wood-burning stove, electric blanket, and other cozy features to keep it nice and toasty. Or opt for a night at Sorrisniva’s Igloo Hotel, which is crafted each year from ice and snow. During the day, enjoy fat biking, snowshoeing, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, and other activities.
Hurtigruten’s Coastal Ships, Norway
Hurtigruten has sailed along Norway’s coast for more than 130 years, and the company is so confident guests on certain voyages will see the aurora that they offer a Northern Lights Promise on specific trips during certain times of year. This promise means that if you sail specific routes during the auroral season and the northern lights are not within sight of your ship, the company will offer you another chance at seeing them by providing another journey free of charge (be sure to read the details). One of Hurtigruten’s offerings is the North Cape Express, which sails along Norway’s coast in the newly renovated MS Trollfjord. Hurtigruten also offers a number of excursions to keep guests engaged, like dog sledding, a king crab experience, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and more.
Ships in the Far North
Another possibility for viewing the northern lights is to hop on an expedition ship traveling in the far north. While these ships generally do not transit in the Arctic during the winter, many sail in fall when the nights are beginning to get dark, allowing the potential to view the northern lights. Look for August, September, and October sailings for the best chance at spotting the lights. For an ultra luxe experience, Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours offers voyages in the region well into September 2024. Adventure Canada also offers a number of sailing options where guests can explore places like Greenland and northern parts of Canada well into the fall, with a chance of spotting the northern lights.
In northern Finland, try unique activities like floating in an icy lake (wearing a special dry suit on a guided excursion) to gaze up at the aurora in Rovaniemi. Enjoy a tour searching for northern lights with reindeer in Inari-Saariselkä, or search via electric snowmobiles in Levi. A number of places also offer options to sleep under the northern lights with unique accommodations like Magical Pond and Apukka Resort. A number of companies, like Wilderness Travels and Exodus Adventure Travels, offer multi-day excursions that combine a variety of activities with northern lights viewing.
Iceland is a wonderland of outdoor recreation, and a perfect place to watch the northern lights. The viewing season in Iceland is September to April. Check current aurora conditions on Iceland’s Aurora Forecast website. Enjoy activities like guided tours of ice caves, guided glacier walks, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing, or spend some time soaking in incredible lagoons. Stay in one of the newly built Aurora Igloo’s transparent bubble domes for a 360-degree view of the aurora. Local tour operators like Midgard Adventure offer multi-day excursions to look for the northern lights while enjoying activities like jeep tours, glacier walking, and enjoying popular highlights of the south coast.