the northern lights visible in the alaska sky

Aurora Borealis Guide: The Best Places to See the Northern Lights in the USA and Beyond

After seeing the Northern Lights with my own two eyes in Alaska, I’m hooked. It’s one of the most majestic sights I’ve ever seen, and I genuinely believe everyone should try to see them in their lifetime. What makes them so remarkable is that they aren’t easy to find. You have to chase them specifically.

So, this guide is to help you find the best places to see the Northern Lights in the USA and internationally. I’m generally not providing specific cities because that’s a bit too granular for an overall Aurora Borealis guide. Instead, I’m highlighting countries or major cities, and if you plan to visit, you can do the deep dive into all that is required to get there!

Thanks for reading my article on the best places to see the Northern Lights. I hope it inspires you to go on your own Aurora chase!

A Guide to Seeing the Northern Lights in the USA and Internationally

First things first: My Experience Chasing the Aurora Borealis

My first time hunting the aurora was in February 2024 in Fairbanks, Alaska. I visited when the highs were in the negatives and the lows were -30F or worse. Yes, it was unbearably cold, but I didn’t let it stop me from seeking out stunning moments under the aurora.

While I’ve only spent four nights chasing, Fairbanks is the best place for northern lights in the USA. It was super easy flying in from Seattle (3.5 hours), and there’s no language or currency barrier. Plus, Fairbanks isn’t a large city, which makes getting outside of its light pollution super easy.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024

Now, onto the juicy parts.

Seeing the northern lights was simply outstanding. It is hands down the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had. When they were going at full power, all I could muster saying was “OH MY GOD” and “AHHHHHH” while raising my hands and staring up at the sky.

My first night was a decent showing; I’d give it a 5/10. My second night was clouded, and the third night was a 7/10 (see above), but it didn’t last very long. I missed it, with most of the activity happening before 10 p.m.

Then, on my fourth and final night, they erupted with the best display I’ve ever seen. (See below.) It was a full 10/10, in my opinion. The sky magic was unbelievable and utterly shook me to my core. Everywhere I looked—left, right, center, and above—for about 20 minutes, there was the aurora. The freezing temperatures evaporated during this time, and I was basically one with the universe—as corny as that sounds.

Then, for 90 minutes afterward, I was on cloud nine and couldn’t believe what I had seen! Once I’d showered and attempted to decompress, it was 4am.

You can’t expect to have an experience like that, but when you do see it, it’ll change you!

Where to see the Northern Lights in the USA?

As a general statement, the further north you go, the better your odds of seeing the northern lights. This is not an exhaustive list, as depending on circumstances and solar storms. Still, these locations will provide a better experience and increase your chances of seeing the stunning Aurora Borealis.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024

Fairbanks, Alaska

For Americans, this is the best place to see the northern lights in the USA. You’re under the Aurora Oval, which means you’re basically guaranteed a show, and it’s a far shorter flight if you’re on the West Coast. (They say you have a 90% chance of seeing them if you spend three nights in Fairbanks.)

While seeing the Northern Lights in Fairbanks (and other Alaska locations) is straightforward, you must battle the cold during winter. Besides the middle of Canada, almost all other locations are near water, creating a more temperate climate. Instead of shooting the aurora at -25F, you might have 25F temperatures.

I’ll tell you from personal experience that I’d much rather have 25F!

Where I saw them:

  • Aurora Pointe ($50 per night)
  • Wiseman and the Arctic Hive

See a live webcam of the Aurora from Fairbanks

The Arctic Circle is one of the best places to see the northern lights in the usa
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024 – aurora borealis northern lights

Boundary Waters, Minnesota

This remote wilderness area, with its clear skies far from city lights, provides an unparalleled backdrop for viewing the aurora borealis. Paddle through tranquil waters or camp along one of the many lakes and wait for the night sky to explode with vibrant colors.

The natural landscape of the Boundary Waters, with its reflection of the celestial display on the glass-like lakes, creates a truly magical Northern Lights experience.

This isn’t an easy place to get to, as it’s almost four hours north of Minneapolis. Still, you’ll find some fantastic views and memories up here.

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in the USA. With its northern latitude and minimal light pollution, the “U.P.” offers visitors a spectacular stage for aurora viewing, especially during the clearer and colder months.

From the rugged shores of Lake Superior to the secluded forests of Isle Royale National Park, the diverse landscapes of the Upper Peninsula provide scenic backdrops against which the auroras dance. The Northern Lights in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are a sight to behold.

Northern Washington

The hard part about viewing the Aurora in Washinton – especially western Washington – is all the cloud cover we get. This makes seeing the northern lights almost impossible. So, one usually has to cross the cascades for clear skies. While that’s not hard, it’s also a slight barrier to seeing them.

In 2023, I could see the slightest glow on the horizon with my parents. It definitely wasn’t anything like I got in Fairbanks, but it was still cool to see!

If I were to recommend a few places, it would be the Artist Point area near Baker, Mazama, or Leavenworth. The main focus is to get outside of the city’s light pollution.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Northern Lights from Lake Wenatchee

Northern Maine

The funny thing about maps and Earth is that they can get distorted. Many people might think that northern Maine is super far north. In reality, it’s further south than northern Washington. Yes, I know. It’s super weird.

Baxter State Park looks like a nice place to see them with low light pollution.

Northern North Dakota

In the expansive skies of Northern North Dakota, far from the glare of city lights, lies an unexpected haven for viewing the Northern Lights. The region offers an unfiltered encounter with nature’s elusive spectacle, particularly during the long nights from late autumn to early spring.

Beyond the celestial allure, this journey introduces travelers to the quiet beauty of the prairie and the warmth of local hospitality. For those seeking a serene backdrop to witness the aurora borealis, Northern North Dakota presents an intimate, transformative experience, casting the familiar in an entirely new light.

Where can I see the Northern Lights Internationally?

Outside of Alaska, the rest of the world is a far better place to see the Aurora Borealis simply because most of the USA is at a lower latitude and requires a powerful storm to see it in the Lower 48.


The first time I ever saw the Northern Lights was in Iceland. I wasn’t expecting it because it was early September, but there they were! It was a gorgeous sight and one I’ll never forget.

Because I was with friends, I could only view them from my campground instead of driving to a photogenic location. So, if you ever go far north, keep an eye on the aurora borealis, as you never know when it’ll show up!

With so many photogenic locations, it’s easily at the top of the list of best places to see the Northern Lights.

Iceland Northern Lights MilkyWay
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – best place to see aurora borealis


Greenland offers a unique and profound experience when viewing the Northern Lights. The auroras shine with exceptional clarity in this vast, icy landscape against the dark, unpolluted skies. The stark, frozen terrain serves as a dramatic backdrop, enhancing the natural spectacle of the lights.

In Greenland, one can witness the Northern Lights in a serene, almost otherworldly setting, particularly from small, remote towns where the natural beauty and cultural heritage add depth to the experience. The reflections off the icebergs and glaciers provide a mesmerizing twist, making the light show even more spectacular.

It’s a destination where the majesty of nature is on full display, offering a quiet, reflective approach to experiencing the auroras.


Norway is renowned for its dramatic fjords and mountainous terrain, which provide a stunning setting for the Northern Lights. The phenomenon appears remarkably in Arctic Circle regions such as Tromsø and the Lofoten Islands.

The contrast of the vibrant auroras against the snow-covered landscapes offers viewers a spectacular and serene visual experience enriched by Norway’s unique northern culture and hospitality. I think this is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, especially for photography.

Live webcam of the aurora Borealis in northern Norway.


Finland, especially its Lapland region, is celebrated for its clear dark skies and frequent Northern Lights occurrences. The Finnish approach to experiencing this natural marvel is distinctive, with options such as glass igloos and luxury chalets offering a comfortable yet immersive viewing experience.

The silent, snowy forests and the peaceful ambiance of the Finnish countryside provide an idyllic backdrop for dazzling auroral displays.

See a live webcam of the northern lights in Lapland.



Sweden’s Northern Lights experiences are characterized by the country’s serene landscapes and innovative viewing accommodations, such as ice hotels and traditional Sami lavvu tents. The northern areas, particularly around Abisko, are famed for their clear skies, providing excellent conditions for viewing the auroras.

The Swedish approach combines comfort with adventure, set against the backdrop of pristine Nordic wilderness.

Live webcam of Lapland

the best places to see the northern lights in the usa is fairbanks alaska
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – best places to see the northern lights

Churchill, Manitoba (Canada)

Churchill, located in the subarctic region of Manitoba, Canada, offers a unique Northern Lights experience, combining wildlife encounters with celestial displays. Known as the polar bear capital, this remote location provides clear, dark skies ideal for viewing the auroras.

The experience here is both rugged and awe-inspiring. It offers a glimpse into the Arctic’s natural wonders, from the shimmering auroras to the majestic wildlife. It is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in North America.

See a live webcam of the northern lights in Churchill.

Banff, Alberta (Canada)

Banff National Park presents a distinguished setting for observing the Northern Lights, where the majestic Canadian Rockies provide a breathtaking backdrop. The clear, pollution-free skies above this alpine landscape offer optimal conditions for viewing the auroral displays.

Visitors can experience the enchanting spectacle amidst the tranquil beauty of snow-capped peaks and pine forests, reflecting a harmonious blend of natural grandeur and celestial phenomena.

See a live webcam of the northern lights here.

Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada)

Whitehorse, situated in Canada’s Yukon Territory, offers a prime vantage point for viewing the Northern Lights, thanks to its northern latitude and dark skies. This locale provides a serene environment where the lights can be observed in stark contrast against the night sky.

The city’s proximity to vast wilderness allows for quick escapes to less illuminated areas, enhancing the visual clarity and intensity of the auroral displays.

More of the best places to see the Northern Lights are Svalbard, Russia, the Northern UK, and Ireland.

When can you see the northern lights?

Technically, the northern lights are always visible to a varying degree. However, you can’t see them because of the sun. And because they’re predominately seen the further north you go, you need it to get dark up there, which only happens for half the year, give or take.

So, this brings us to winter.

The best times to see the northern lights in the USA and abroad are October through March. You can totally see them in September and April, but the days are a little longer here, and it might decrease your chances a smidge. (One spot told me in Fairbanks that their viewing season is until April 15-ish.)

If you plan to chase the aurora, doing so during the winter will prove incredibly fruitful if other conditions bear out.

stunning images of the aurora with snow and trees in the foreground.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – where can I see aurora borealis

What Are the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, is a natural light display predominantly seen in high-latitude regions around the Arctic, including parts of Norway, Canada, Alaska, Russia, Greenland, and Finland (i.e., the best places to see the Northern Lights). This stunning phenomenon occurs when charged particles from the sun enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen.

When these solar particles, carried by the solar wind, reach the Earth, they are funneled towards the poles by the Earth’s magnetic field. As they collide with the atmospheric gases, they excite these gas molecules, causing them to light up, which produces the beautiful and ethereal glow visible in the sky.

The colors of the aurora are determined by the type of gas molecules involved and the altitude at which the collisions occur: oxygen produces green and red lights, while nitrogen can result in blue or purple hues.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024

The best time to witness this breathtaking natural spectacle is during the winter months, in locations with dark and clear skies, away from the light pollution of cities. The Northern Lights are a dynamic and ever-changing display, with patterns that can appear as curtains, rays, spirals, or dynamic flickers covering the sky in an array of colors.

How to track the northern lights on your own

It’s amazing to be able to track the northern lights without relying on a tour. Full disclosure: I’m no aurora expert, but I know what to look for. These tips will help when you’re exploring the best places to see the northern lights.

  1. SpaceWeatherLive will be your best friend. They also have an app.
  2. Inside here, take a look at the BZ chart. You want it in the negatives.
  3. Then, look at the disturbance storm index. A negative number is better.
  4. You can disregard the KP index if you’re near the Arctic Circle. Being so far north, you don’t need a big storm. In most cases, the KP index is only geared towards seeing it in lower latitude areas like the lower 48.
  5. Take a look at the webcams in various areas. They give you a boots-on-the-ground view without having to go anywhere.
  6. Look at the Aurora Oval map to see where it roughly is.
  7. The aurora borealis moves east to west, so you must give it time to come out. This is why after midnight is generally a good time to see it, though it can be out at 8pm or at 4am.

These are not guarantees that you will see it, nor are they precise. What they do give are some good points of reference to maximize your chance of seeing it!

Photographing the Northern Lights

Photographing the Northern Lights will blow your mind. The camera can pick up the colors and lights way better than your eyes can, especially when it’s low light. Many people feel cheated when they see them in person because what they’ve seen in a photo is more vibrant.

Here are my tips for taking photos:

  • Use a tripod
  • Aim for long exposures of 2-4 seconds
  • Use a wide-angle lens (16-35mm, 20mm, or 14mm, for example)
  • Use Manual Focus; double and triple check you’re focused
  • Have multiple batteries
  • Keep your camera outside until you are entirely done shooting
  • Think about foreground composition
  • Keep your head on a swivel to see all parts of the sky
  • Get out of urban light pollution
  • Find a clear sky
watching the colors dance in the sky over alaska
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024

Staying Warm While Experiencing the Northern Lights

The Arctic + Winter = It’ll be cold out! It will be chilly regardless of where you are trying to find the northern lights. Now, how chilly it is will be determined where you are.

If you’re in Fairbanks, Alaska, expect conditions to be sub-zero all the way down to -40F. Yes, you read that right -40F (which is also the same temperature as -40C). But if you’re near an ocean, your conditions will be less cold, though still below freezing. It won’t be below zero in most cases.

This makes Iceland, Greenland, and Norway some of the best places to see Northern Lights because you aren’t enduring frigid temperatures.

My recommendations for staying warm during the northern lights

  • Wear 4-6 layers, including a base layer, fleece, down jacket, and outer layer. I also wore leggings, sweatpants, snowboarding pants, a beanie, and a facemask.
  • Hand and Toe Warmers are clutch. These will help you endure the cold in the best places to see the Northern Lights
  • Winter insulated boots. Waterproof hiking boots will not do it. And two pairs of socks are nice too.
  • Have a hot drink nearby or a place you can go in and out of to warm up

FAQ: Best places to see the Northern Lights

Are the Northern Lights and Aurora Borealis the same thing?

Yes, they are. One is a scientific term, while the ‘northern lights’ are colloquial for what people say casually when they see the stunning, colorful lights in the night sky.

Either one you use is correct, and people will know what you mean!

the northern lights viewed from fairbanks alaska
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – best places to see the Northern Lights

Can I see the Northern Lights during a Full Moon?

Yes, you can! On my first night in Fairbanks, we had a full moon and still saw the aurora. The full moon definitely makes it brighter overall, but it doesn’t diminish the views too much. From a photography viewpoint, it helps illuminate the foreground and helps with focusing.

If you’re in the lower 48, a full moon will hinder your views more than being further north, so keep that in mind.

How do clouds affect the Northern Lights?

They do. In general, clouds are not great for viewing the northern lights. But they do not mean you cannot see them at all. It just means you have a lower chance of seeing them, especially if they are dense clouds vs wispy ones.

Final Thoughts on the Where to See The Northern Lights in the USA

After being blown away by the sights in Alaska, seeing the Northern Lights is truly a bucket-list experience you shouldn’t miss. Yes, it takes a lot of planning to find the optimal places, but once you get there and start to see the sky magic, there are a few sights that will top them.

I hope this guide and photos inspired you to take the leap in 2024 and beyond and see some life-changing views as you seek out the best places to see the Northern Lights.

Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside