Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis = Northern Lights

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Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis = Northern Lights

Do you keep a bucket list of places you want to see or things you want to be sure to do before actually kicking the bucket? Me too. Seeing the Northern Lights was one of my priorities when I lived and worked in Denali National Park, Alaska for a summer. I saw them from the McKinley Lodge parking lot right before I left to drive back to Connecticut, the last days of August over the Labor Day weekend. The next thing I did was put the Northern Lights back onto my Second Round Bucket List of great experiences to do again.  

In Alaska, Iceland, Northern Scandinavia and the Yukon, it is called the Aurora Borealis. In the south, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, and Antarctica, it is referred to as Aurora Australis. Those in Scotland refer to them as the “Merry Dancers.” Wherever you view the northern lights, Fairbanks, Alaska, located within the Auroral Oval, is considered one of the very best places in the world to see them. Astronomers have documented that the northern and southern lights are simultaneously occurring mirror images with the best sightings (depending upon who you ask) between September and March or August to mid-April.  

Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis = Northern Lights

What’s really cool is that you can plan a trip on your own, staying in local home rentals, cozy cabins, yurts, resorts, and hotels or choose to go on a snowmobile adventure or plan to sleep right under the lights (Salmon Berry Tours).

Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis = Northern Lights

For the less adventurous, Chena Hot Springs Resort offers 100+ degrees hot mineral baths and a most unusual Aurora Ice Museum open year round, along with packaged tours. Or you might consider nighttime Aurora Ice Fishing with the added service of hiring a  photographer to capture your very own, personalized Aurora portraits.

I learned the hard way to always call ahead to a local resident or business, such as a museum, astronomy lab, or newspaper to see if they are actually seeing the lights when you plan to pay a visit. The best visibility seems to be on dark nights in the fall, winter or early spring, depending upon the weather and other conditions. You can’t count on a nightly appearance at a certain time, but location is key.

 I read an article about Northern Lights being visible in Maine; however, when I called the local Science Museum, was told it was a misprint. The director lived in that town for more than 20 years and never saw the lights in his backyard. The Northern Lights can be unpredictable and cannot be counted on to appear at specific times and locations.  Sign up for free alerts on sightings info wherever you might be:

Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis = Northern Lights
Northern lights (aurora borealis) illuminate the sky over Reinfjorden in Reine, on Lofoten Islands, Arctic Circle. (Photo credit JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

There are aurora borealis guided tours, or you can simply book lodgings and venture out over the course of several nights when you’re trying to spot them. Consider staying at Borealis Basecamp in an igloo. Or visit Trosmo, Norway (October to March) or attend their annual Northern Lights Festival in January. For viewings from August through early May, consider a trip to Iceland or during the summer experience the Midnight Sun. I loved hiking and playing golf at midnight in Alaska during the summer; however many others found it hard to sleep in a place with constant light.  

Take a good look at your bucket list to see if this is one of those great trips you can make to shorten that list. Sleeping under the stars is great but sleeping under the Northern Lights is a spectacular, once (or twice or more) lifetime experience.


  • Sheryl Kayne

    Sheryl Kayne is a writer, editor, educator, and motivational speaker. She is the author of travel guidebooks. Immersion Travel USA: The Best & Most Meaningful Volunteering, Living & Learning Excursions was awarded The Society of American Travel Writers Foundation’s Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award for Best Travel Guidebook 2009 and Volunteer Vacations Across America was named on Amazon’s list of best new travel books 2010. Kayne travels extensively and works and volunteers where she visits. She was the writer-in-residence at the Everglades National Park, Homestead, Fla. and a writing fellow at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, N.M. She has appeared on NPR, CNN, CBN, ABC Weekend Evening News, Lifetime Television Network, and MTV, among others. Visit Sheryl at:

3 Responses

  1. Elaine Breakstone says:

    lively, informative and well written..bravo…keep the cards and letters coming …lainey breakstone

  2. Amazing content, Liked the article very much was worth reading it and would surely share this with my friends and family as well for their future reference. Thank you so much for sharing this information with us.

  3. Sheryl Kayne says:

    Thank you so much, Kanika. One of my primary goals when I worked and lived in Denali National Park was to see the Northern Lights. The Alaskan sky seems to totally envelope you so that the lights actually seem so close by, they are almost touchable; but you know that they are not. The very first time I saw them, I wasn’t even sure what I was looking at! Hope you can see them in your future — but be sure to call ahead to check on their visibility in the location you are able to reach! All the best, Sheryl

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