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July 1, 2017
BEST PLACES TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights is one of the most amazing acts of nature that you're likely to experience in your lifetime, but where are the best places to see the Northern Lights?
To witness the beauty of swirling greens and pinks caused by the sun's charged particles striking atoms in our planet's atmosphere requires a bit of luck but mostly just a bit of effort. Firstly, the Northern Lights can only be seen in the north (it's in the name) of the earth, and generally the further north you go, the better. Secondly, seeing the Northern Lights is only possible during certain times of the year with the right conditions: just as a flashlight beam is better seen in the dark, so too is the light cast by solar particles colliding with our atmosphere. Light pollution can weaken an Aurora show, as can clouds and pollution. The final important piece of the puzzle is the strength of the solar wind. A simple search on the internet will provide you with the Kp strength (the closer to 9 it gets, the more intense the display above your head) for any given area within the reach of the Northern Lights.
So, with this information to hand let's look at the best places to see the Northern Lights. North! Go north! In North America it's difficult to view the lights from south of Edmonton, Canada (though it has been visible there), but from here up to the North Pole regions yield much better success rates at viewing the spectacle. The same applies in Europe; you should go as far north as possible into Lapland or northern Siberia. The great thing about most northern locations is that populations are low, meaning light pollution is minimal. Summers in the arctic are bright with little to no darkness, so the best time to view the lights is from late August to April. The lights could be dancing in the upper atmosphere in the summer, but you just wouldn't see them. Winters have little to no sunlight, but that doesn't mean you're guaranteed to see the Aurora Borealis. Be prepared to travel to areas where the Kp level is higher and give yourself at least a few days in an area, with a week being optimal. Though you can see the show at any time of darkness, they tend to be most active after 9pm until 2 or 3am. If you don't intend to stay awake and hunt for the lights then you're not giving yourself a fair chance and are probably best just settling for a youtube video of the natural wonder.
You're already in the middle of one of the world's most incredible natural areas, far north in Alaska's wilderness, so why not drive to Denali National Park, take a seat next to your tent or on the balcony of your lodge and keep an eye out for the Northern Lights phenomenon? There's no light pollution in the far out camp sites of Denali National Park, but Alaska can be bitterly cold any time of year so make sure you're prepared. At the end of August you still have the opportunity for good weather and this is when the Aurora becomes visible at night. Anywhere in the north of Alaska makes for great viewing potential, but get out of Anchorage and Fairbanks to escape light pollution.
Lapland: The Best Place to See the Northern Lights?
One of the easiest places to see the lights is northern BC and Yukon, and with the highway stretching all the way up into Alaska this makes for a great road-trip or even bike tour. Winter appears early here so unless you like the cold you should consider traveling here before October. Churchill in Manitoba is another great place to view the Aurora Borealis, especially if you want to see polar bears at the same time.
This volcanic island has some of the planet's best landscapes which also happen to see their fair share of Northern Lights shows. Spend a week here from September to April and with a bit of effort you'd be unlucky not to see the green dance above. Great spots include, Jokulsarlon, Godafoss, and pretty much anywhere on the island when the conditions are right.
Svalbard island can't really be beaten due to its far northerly location, but safely viewing the lights can be problematic unless on tour due to a high polar bear density. Instead, you may wish to focus your attention on the areas surrounding Tromso in Norway's Lapland which also sits within an hour or so from the border with Sweden and Finland. Having a car increases your chances of seeing the Lights, but make sure you check online for the Aurora forecast.
Aurora Borealis in British Colombia, Canada
The micro-climate around Abisko lake creates regular clear patches of sky, so this is a great place to start off your hunt. A cheap flight into Kiruna in winter is ideal as you can then take a rental car from the airport to anywhere in its radius, including Finland and Norway. You'll be treated to snow clinging onto fir trees all around and hopefully a Northern Lights display at night. If you're feeling extravagant then why not book yourself an igloo dome at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort and a husky sled ride?
Officially belonging to Denmark, anywhere on this massive island of ice can yield great viewing. Be warned though, it's expensive and cold in viewing season!
Kilpisjarvi is a great base for hunting for the Lights as you can easily enter Norway and Sweden from here, increasing your range. Finland tends to be cheaper than these other countries and offers the same activities such as husky sledding. Other great areas include Luosto and Lake Inari where you can find great lodges and resorts as well as great scenery.
Murmansk and northern Siberia are not the easiest places to reach or survive in but offer great Northern Lights viewing. If you are lured by the romantic notion of seeing the Aurora in Siberia do yourself a favor and go on a tour - this landscape and climate is harsh.
The Northern Lights over Jokulsarlon Lagoon, Iceland