Nature’s Holiday Lights

Here’s where to get the most amazing waterfront seats for the Northern Lights, Mother Nature’s megawatt display.

Nature's Holiday Lights - Alaska
Photo: Alaska Stock Images/National Geographic Stock

In the middle of the night, the sky radiates green, blue, red, and purple. Lucky viewers watch the show over water, witnessing the afterglow of the aurora borealis reflected at sea. Before heading out to see the lights, check an online forecast. Every day, the University of Alaska Fairbanks predicts the chances of the Northern Lights appearing around the world; visit gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast.

WHERE TO SEE THE LIGHTS
The farther north you go, the better your odds of seeing the lights, so if you’re determined to catch them, head to such places as Canada, Alaska, and Scandinavia. Special tours connect you with experts who will help you view and understand the show. Glimpsing them from the Lower 48 is less likely, but it’s still possible. Like searching for a rainbow, there’s no guarantee, so plan a few other adventures to enjoy while you’re there―snowmobiling, anyone?

UNITED STATES
We’ve found places that have a history of seeing the aurora, and hotels that are open year-round. Come chase the lights here, and have some winter fun snowmobiling and cross-country skiing while you’re at it.

ALASKA
It’s easy to find displays over the Beaufort Sea. But farther south, and much simpler to reach, Anchorage or the Kenai Peninsula are also prime spots. The cozy Historic Anchorage Hotel provides wake-up calls if the aurora comes out. Rates from $109; historicanchoragehotel.com.

MAINE
Over the years, sky watchers have had luck near Acadia National Park. Because Maine has little light pollution, its dark skies make it easier to see the lights than in other areas, says Peter Lord, director of the Island Astronomy Institute. That said, “It’s nothing we can deliver or predict.” Still, winter visitors find Acadia’s carriage roads ideal for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. For easy access to Acadia and Bar Harbor’s many restaurants, try Quimby House Inn, a block from the ocean. Winter rates from $65; quimbyhouse.com.

MICHIGAN
Several times most winters, visitors can catch a dazzling display over Lake Superior from the Upper Peninsula. Prime spot: the Keweenaw Peninsula. Try the Dapple-Gray Bed & Breakfast, which offers four private suites with a deck or balcony overlooking Lake Superior. From $150; dapple-gray.com.

MINNESOTA
Most years, Grand Marais sees the lights, and it offers an excellent vantage point over Lake Superior, about 110 miles northeast of Duluth. Neighbors have an informal phone tree to alert each other when the aurora is visible, and Julie Anderson of Anderson’s North Shore Resort gladly wakes her guests to experience them, too. Even without the lights, she says, some come for winter sports or to read by a fire in a lakefront cabin. From $100 per night; andersonscabins.com.

 

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