Getting in touch with nature has many benefits, but perhaps one of the best is the ability to see the northern lights while RVing across the nation.
The science behind the phenomenon is fascinating, and for many seeing these magnificent lights is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Fall and winter are the best seasons to witness the northern lights, but spring also offers some pretty good opportunities (i.e. don’t expect them in summer).
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
Just east of Seattle in northern Washington, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is one of the great locations in the lower 48 to glimpse the northern lights. Head to Artist Point by driving the Mt. Baker Scenic Byway for a chance at a choice view. Keep in my that after a heavy snowfall, Artist Point is not accessible, so it’s best to visit in late fall or early winter.
Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge, Maine
Located on the U.S.-Canadian border roughly 155 miles north of Bangor, Maine, Aroostook County is sparsely populated, meaning little to no light pollution to obstruct your aurora screening. Although the northern lights are more common near the Arctic, this county is far enough north for the aurora borealis to make an appearance. Consider camping in Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses more than 5,000 acres of wetlands, forest and grasslands that house such critters as moose and black bears. Crisp, clear winter nights are most common for aurora viewing in Aroostook. However, sightings are possible in the spring and fall, during the strongest times of magnetic storm activity.
Idaho Panhandle National Forest, Idaho
Idaho probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when thinking of the northern lights — and that’s kind of what makes each sighting over Priest Lake and the Idaho Panhandle National Forest such an incredible treat. During the winter, these locations, which are about 50 miles south of the Canadian border and 93 miles northeast of Spokane, Washington, offer dark, clear skies ideal for northern lights viewing. Better yet, the aurora often reflects off the lake, providing a special mirrored perspective of nature’s light show.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Did you really think this list wouldn’t include Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? Not only is it among our regular and favorite destinations, it is also one of the northernmost parts of the continental U.S. Aurora sightings are quite common in the region. For more details about RVing in the region, be sure to check out our Upper Peninsula 7-Day RV Adventure ebook.
Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin
Devil’s Lake State Park is a great travel destination year-round, but heading there in the winter is best for northern lights viewing. As an added bonus, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available within the park. Campgrounds are available on both the north and south shores of Devil’s Lake, but it’s recommended you stay on the south side in hopes of viewing the aurora borealis reflected on the water.
Cook County, Minnesota
Cook County — at the northeastern tip of Minnesota along the shores of Lake Superior, roughly 250 miles northeast of Minneapolis — offers plenty of outdoor spaces to watch the lights. This area is also home to Minnesota’s tallest mountain peaks and highest waterfall, High Falls, all of which offer a stunning backdrop for the multicolored sky. Oberg Mountain in the Superior National Forest is a favorite spot to view the aurora casting its glow over Lake Superior, Oberg Lake, and Moose Mountain. Because of Cook County’s northern location and dark skies, the aurora is often easy to see between late fall and early spring.
In Anchorage, the Northern Lights can typically be seen throughout the fall, winter, and spring seasons. Campers may want to visit in the fall, since many campgrounds are closed during the harsh winters. A recommended play to view the lights is from the Eagle River area, where camping is available at the Eagle River Campground.
There’s no shortage of northern lights tours in Fairbanks, Alaska. Fairbanks is the largest city in inland Alaska, and it’s remote, northern location makes it an ideal destination for stargazing and seeing the aurora. For RV and campgrounds nearby, consider the Chena River State Recreation Site, which is just outside of Fairbanks.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
With more than 6 million acres of untouched wilderness, Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, located about 240 miles north of Anchorage, is a favorite destination for campers and hikers because of its wide open spaces, beautiful mountain vistas and abundant wildlife. The park is also one of the best places in the U.S. to see the northern lights, due to the lack of light pollution. Fall is the best season to get the clearest view of the dancing auroras, and you may even see the lights as early as the second week in August.
Fairbanks, which is located about 124 miles northeast of the park, also sees some incredible light shows, thanks to its location in the auroral oval, an area around the North Pole where auroras frequently occur.