8 Unexpected Places to See the Northern Lights

The spectacular Northern Lights are a popular bucket list item -- and rightfully so. But there is one downside to scouting them out: seeing the natural light show often means journeying to distant, often isolated, locales. The further north you go, the higher your chances of witnessing the Aurora Borealis get, but there are plenty of alternatives to the typical destinations like Iceland, Greenland, Finland, and Norway. From the U.S. and Canada to the U.K., here are eight alternative places where you can catch a glimpse of the magnificent Northern Lights.

1. Inishowen, Ireland

Image courtesy of Greg Clarke via Flickr

Image courtesy of Greg Clarke via Flickr

As anybody who has toured the country will tell you, Ireland is a beautiful place with stunning landscapes and vibrant cities. One thing you may not know, however, is that it also puts on quite a Northern Lights show. Although it's not generally associated with the Aurora Borealis, Ireland is one of the more unusual places where you can see lights, given its location. The best place to find them is on the northerly tip of Donegal, in Inishowen. Here, plenty of viewing points put the lights on display above the ocean. Spring is perhaps the best time to capture a glimpse of the natural phenomenon -- convenient since that means milder weather for the rest of your Ireland trip.   

2. Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

Visits to Pennsylvania don't only mean getting schooled in U.S. history and refueling in historic Philadelphia pubs. The state also -- surprisingly -- offers the chance to witness the Aurora Borealis in all its glory. An official Dark Sky Park (the term given to areas that restrict artificial light pollution), Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania is famous for stargazing. The visibility here is often so clear that the Milky Way can cast shadows on the ground. And although the constellations are the regular attraction, the Northern Lights have also been known to make an appearance when the timing is right.

3. Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan

Established in the late 1950s, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Michigan contains approximately 550 acres of beautiful woodlands and a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan. The area also happens to be another ideal spot for viewing the stars. While sightings of the Northern Lights can be unpredictable, visiting the park during the spring and fall will offer the best chance of catching the dancing light show. It has been known to appear above the iconic Mackinac Bridge as well as throughout the park.  

4. Galloway Forest Park, Scotland

While most people will tell you your best shot of catching the Northern Lights in Scotland is up north in the Highlands, the area of Galloway offers regular sightings, thanks to the presence of Galloway Forest Park. The first national park in the U.K. to be granted official Dark Sky Park status, the 300-square-mile forest is located further south than both Edinburgh and Glasgow, yet offers some of the region's most ideal conditions (no light pollution) for viewing the Aurora Borealis.

5. Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta

Not only is Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta the largest national park in Canada, it's also the second-largest national park in the world, the largest Dark Sky Park in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. To top it all off, the national park also boasts regular appearances of the Northern Lights. In addition to spotting swarms of free-roaming bison that call Wood Buffalo National Park home, observers will also have the chance to witness thriving populations of night hawks, bats, and owls as they patiently await the arrival of the Aurora Borealis. 

6. Jasper National Park, Alberta

Another vast Dark Sky Preserve, Jasper National Park is located in the Canadian Rockies around 621 miles south of Wood Buffalo National Park. Filled with mountains, glaciers, lakes, and forests, there's plenty to keep visitors occupied. Those coming for the Northern Lights should plan their trip between spring and fall when night skies are more likely to be clear of snow and rain clouds. 

7. Panhandle National Forests, Idaho

Located in northern Idaho, the Panhandle National Forests are a set of three national forests banded together in 2000. Home to plenty of wildlife and stunning scenery, the area is popular for hiking, hunting, and water-based activities. When the days come to a close and the night sky darkens, the hidden beauty of the region appears. The crisp, clear skies provide ideal conditions for viewing the Northern Lights, which appear frequently. Viewers regularly base themselves on the edge of Priest Lake, where the water mirrors the Aurora Borealis, doubling the light show with a dazzling effect.  

8. Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge, Maine

Located on the U.S.-Canadian border about 155 miles north of Bangor, Maine, the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge is another spot to peep the Northern Lights. Established in 1998, the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge incorporates a large part of the former Loring Air Force Base and is typically associated with the multitude of animal species that live among its woods and wetlands. However, in the winter, it's the skies that are the main attraction, as they offer one of the best chances to see the Northern Lights on the East Coast. Sightings are also possible in the spring and fall, when the magnetic activity is strong. Rural enough not to suffer from light pollution, the park has gained popularity as an area for seeing the light show.

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