The Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights) is without a doubt Mother Nature’s greatest show. Charged particles from the sun come roaring towards Earth along with solar winds. While the Earth’s atmosphere blocks most of these gaseous particles, some sneak in. Those excited nitrogen and oxygen particles are drawn to the magnetic North Pole, and when they’re strong enough to see by the naked eye, they can put on a dazzling cosmic display of crazy shapes and colors dancing across the night sky.
If chasing the Northern Lights isn’t on your bucket list, grab a pen and add it right now. In life, there are plenty of overrated experiences (we’re looking at you, New Year’s Eve), but seeing the Aurora Borealis in person absolutely, unequivocally does not disappoint.
Northern Lights: When and Where to View
We set out in February to try our luck at catching a glimpse of them. To maximize our chances of seeing the Lights, we ventured above the Arctic Circle during the winter months, when the polar nights are long and dark. We set our sights on Tromsø, Norway, which happens to be the largest city above the Arctic Circle and one of the best places in the world to catch the Aurora Borealis. About an hour and half outside of Tromsø lies Malangen Resort. This remote, luxury resort is the perfect home-base for anyone looking to chase the lights with style and comfort. One of the resort’s experiences includes a visit to its wilderness outpost, Camp Nikka, a prime Aurora Borealis viewing spot. At Camp Nikka, visitors have an impressive 85% chance of seeing the lights during the winter season. Not too shabby!
At 10:30 p.m., we headed out with a small group and a guide to Camp Nikka. The lantern-lit site consisted of a few small cabins and a traditional lavvu (sort of like an open-air cabin) with a roaring fire and hot cocoa to keep us warm. We didn’t have to wait long until a green-hued streak appeared in the night sky. Shortly after that, the show really started and the green lights beamed more vibrantly, flickering about the sky in all directions.
For the two hours that we were there, the sky never dulled. At one point, the lights danced in a single, long horizontal streak of greens, purples and pinks, as if it were a gigantic piano being played by Mozart. The silence of the winter night was only intermittently broken by the oohhs, ahhhs, and stunned gasps of amazement let out by our group of gazers.
With such a deep, dark night surrounding us, the sky was on fire. We could find all the constellations we learned about as a child and the stars were the most enchanting backdrop for the vivid Aurora Borealis light show. Finally, as if a dimmer were turned up, the lights dulled and the sky seemed to quiet. The show had ended and we were fortunate enough to have enjoyed every last second of it.
We left Camp Nikka more amazed than we could have imagined. The Aurora Borealis is truly one of those bucket list experiences that will leave you forever changed.
Northern Lights: More Opportunities for Wonder
Interested in catching the Northern Lights yourself, but don’t see a trip to Norway in your future? You can view them a lot closer to home, but it’s helpful to know a few things before you make the trek.
In North America, it’s possible to catch the lights in Canada, parts of Alaska, northern Minnesota, and even the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Choose somewhere rural as light pollution lessens your visibility. If you must be city based, Anchorage boasts viewing possibilities (and some hotels even offer Northern Lights wake up calls). Meanwhile, Fairbanks is even considered an Aurora Borealis hot spot (light pollution is at a minimum thanks to its diminutive population of just over 30,000 people). The closer you are to the North Pole, the better your chances of seeing the Lights.
The best time to see the Lights is during the winter months, when the days are shortest. In some areas, the Lights can be seen as late as August through early April, but winter is certainly peak period. Once it gets dark, your best chance of seeing the lights is from approximately 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. You’ll need the weather to cooperate; if it’s cloudy, you likely won’t see anything. Otherwise, when conditions are just right, prepare to be completely awestruck!
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