How to Chase the Northern Lights

Emerald Lake in Canada on the same road trip where I saw the northern lights!

In September of 2017 I finally got to see the northern lights (aka aurora borealis). It was a dream come true and something everyone should experience in life!

Unfortunately, I didn't get any great pictures, but it doesn't matter because I enjoyed the moment with my own eyes instead of looking through a camera lens.

It was no accident that I got to see the sky light up well after dark. I planned my trip to Alaska at a time when I was more likely to behold the aurorae. 

I have some tips for those of you seeking the best chance to have this experience.

For example, did you know that the prime time to see the northern lights is not during winter? Read on to increase your chances of crossing this spectacular phenomenon off your bucket list


If you want to see really bright, colorful aurorae, your chances are greater if you travel north at the peak of the next sunspot cycle.

The sunspot cycle is the recurring increase and decrease of solar activity due to the movement of the sun's magnetic field. When this cycle comes to a peak there are many sunspots spewing large amounts of radiation toward the earth.

The various particles sent our way are deflected by the earth's magnetic field and directed to the northern and southern poles where these particles spiral downward colliding with each other and emitting photons. And that, my friends, is how the aurorae are made.

So, the more solar radiation there is, the more likely you will be able to see the northern (or southern) lights in your travels, and the brighter they will be when you do see them.

The next predicted peak in the cycle is scheduled for 2024 so you will have plenty of time to plan your trip!

And if 2024 doesn't work for you, the aurora in 2023 and 2025 will be almost as bright. 


It is a common misconception that winter is the best time to see the aurorae. It's true that in December, nights in the northern hemisphere are the longest they will be all year. 

But the darkest months are not when the northern lights are truly the brightest every year. Besides, winter is the most uncomfortable season to be outside staring at the night sky. 

The best time of any year for spotting the aurora borealis is close to the equinoxes, namely, vernal equinox which is or around March 20th and autumnal equinox on September 20th.

The aurorae typically brighter this time of year because of the earth's tilt toward the sun. When the earth's magnetic field is most closely aligned with the direction of the solar wind there is more electron activity. 

The weather is more pleasant during September too. And in the spring and early fall, nights near the Arctic are still long and dark enough for the northern lights. Of course, this is also true in the southern hemisphere. 


When I planned my trip to Alaska, I didn't realize that the climate in Skagway resembles Seattle. It seemed that half the time the sky was cloudy. 

So, on a day when the aurora forecast looked promising, we headed inland on a little road trip to Whitehorse, Canada. 

Sure enough, on the way back to Skagway, the northern lights appeared! It. Was. Gorgeous!

 I'm glad I got to see such a spectacle, but it might not have happened if not for my best friend and her car. 

I planned my vacation during a prime time for viewing the "dance in the sky," but still, I really lucked out. 

There are many things that increase your probability of seeing the northern lights but there is so sure fire way to make it happen. 

It's true that the farther north you travel, the higher your chances are of seeing rivers of green light floating in the starry sky. 

At 66 degrees north latitude there is a band  that crowns the earth in green, pink, and white light. The closer you are to this ring, the higher your probability is.  

 But not all northern locations have the ideal climate for chasing the lights. 

If you are going on a short trip to see the northern lights, plan your destination carefully and learn as much as you can about the climate and seasons of the region. 

Your chances on an Alaskan cruise are pretty slim since most cruises take you along the southeastern coast where somber skies are common. 

Here is a list of several towns that often have clear, starry skies:

  • Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Denali, Alaska
  • Whitehorse, Labrador, and Churchill Canada
  • Abisko, Sweden
  • Luosto, Finland 
  • Jokulsarlan, Iceland
  • Svalbard, Norway

I listed these locations because they are both accessible and close to the Arctic Circle. 

I would not recommend that you take a vacation just to see the northern lights. Take a trip to a place you are excited about, book some fantastic excursions, and have a great time no matter how it turns out. 

However, if you're feeling lucky, you can book a Super Jeep Northern Lights Tour in Iceland. 

Another popular destination is the  Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland where you can book a glass igloo for about $400 a night! 

And starting in the fall, you can also take an Aurora Hunting Tour in a horse carriage for approximately $145. 

We are planning a vacation to Banff National Park in September of 2024 with the hopes of seeing the northern lights. We will likely have to take a drive further north to actually see anything. 


You can download an aurora forecast app while you travel so you can know how strong the northern lights will be and when you should be outside. 

Don't get discouraged if the weather forecast looks grim right before you travel because that can change any time. 

If the aurora forecast looks promising but the night is overcast, go out anyway. You might see a spectacular glow through the clouds. 

Visibility  will also depend on the amount of light pollution in the area. If the forecast looks good, get as far away from city lights as you can. And aim for nights when the moon will be in a dim crescent phase or new moon phase.

In September of 2024 the moon will be brightest on the 18th. So, we will travel to Canada at the end of the month, close to the new moon.

Have you ever seen the northern lights? If not, where would you like to see them? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Hi! My name is Kait. Follow this link to learn more about me and my blog


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