Northern lights season may be coming to a close in Iceland and Alaska, but in the contiguous United States, the fun is only getting started. The midnight sun obscures the lights in Arctic regions from late spring through early fall. Meanwhile, in the northern-border states, nights still get dark enough to spot the phenomenon throughout the year. They’re particularly active around the spring and fall equinoxes (which annually fall March 19–21 and September 22–23, respectively). Even better: The coming years will bring more sightings that are increasingly vivid—take March 2023’s powerful display that crept as far south as New York and Ohio.
The reason: the sun’s new solar cycle. Storms on the sun create Earth’s aurora displays. During those storms, the sun shoots charged particles soaring through the cosmos. These electrons and ions collide with Earth’s atmosphere to spark vibrant green and violet swirls. The sun travels through roughly 11-year cycles of activity, similar to Earth’s annual transition through the seasons. The phase when activity peaks is called solar maximum, while stretches of low storm activity—and minimal aurora sightings—are called solar minimum. (Read our northern-lights guide for more background on the phenomenon.)
In December 2019, we reached solar minimum. Now, we’re tiptoeing toward solar maximum, anticipated for 2025, per NASA, and aurora activity is already on the upswing. This means increased northern lights occurrences and a boost in intensity—the two ingredients needed for catching auroras in U.S. northern-border states, from Maine to Washington.
One of the best ways to up your odds of spotting those green ribbons: Choose an aurora-friendly hotel in the northern U.S. with minimal light pollution and wide, largely unobstructed views to the north. The latter is essential. Unlike Alaska, where auroras sashay overhead, northern lights in the lower 48 states appear farther away and are most visible near the horizon. With a strategically selected retreat, you can scan the skies throughout the night (often from bed, a private patio, or a secure waterfront area), a critical perk given that auroras can appear at any moment.
How to time your trip
It’s tough to accurately predict weather on the sun, a star some 93 million miles away. But scientists monitor sunspots—dark splotches on the sun’s surface that indicate high magnetic activity—to predict solar activity. A spike in active sunspots means a spike in aurora activity. Solar minimum in 2019 saw fewer than 10 sunspots per month, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But the organization predicts as many as 115 sunspots for solar maximum in 2025—though that number could be much higher, given that January 2023’s sunspot count soared to an unexpected 143.
To plan the timing of your adventure, monitor northern lights tools like Space Weather Live, which provides 27-day solar activity predictions from NOAA, although accuracy increases closer to the date. Join such Facebook groups as Great Lakes Aurora Hunters for updates and tips regarding the lower 48 states.
Ready to aurora hunt? Here are seven contiguous U.S. northern lights destinations to consider, with the best hotels for safely scouting those lights all night.
Why: Dark skies abound in Millinocket, Maine, a small town deep in the North Maine Woods. This far-north locale is the gateway to peak-filled Baxter State Park, where Appalachian Trail trekkers end their months-long journeys at the route’s northern terminus, Mount Katahdin. The town’s northern-border position makes it perfect for aurora hunting—take this surreal display from July 4 weekend in 2022.
Where to stay: The New England Outdoor Center (NEOC) sits along the lake’s southern shores and offers wide views of Katahdin peak—and sometimes the northern lights above it. Its 21 abodes, all hidden in the forest, range from cozy six-person log cabins to stylish 10-person wood lodges. They offer lakeshore access with views to the north, a picturesque setting for a potential lights display. Daytime activities here run the gamut: whitewater rafting, snowmobiling, yoga, moose safaris, and hiking, depending on the season. Travelers can continue aurora hunting well after their visit via NEOC’s live streaming StarCam.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Why: Wide open prairies. North-facing perches with sprawling badlands views. North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a prime spot for aurora hunting in the contiguous USA. The park is more than 30 miles from the nearest large city, Dickinson. Stargazers here enjoy minimal light pollution that makes not just auroras but also constellations and the Milky Way easier to spot. Plus, the park’s many daytime attractions—hiking, birding, and scenic drives—keep the fun going around the clock.
Where to stay: The farmhouse-style Spirit of the Badlands is about as scenic as lodging around the national park gets. The retreat has two rentable spaces: the four-bed lower level of the main log cabin, or a private two-bed upper-level suite that’s separate from the main lodge, with its own driveway and deck. The property looks out across otherworldly sedimentary rocks to the horizon. Watch for the lights from the hotel’s decks, or head to one of the 24-hour national park viewpoints, such as Boicourt Overlook, reachable via an accessible 0.2-mile trail that’s less than an hour away by car.
Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan
Why: Located at the top of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Keweenaw Peninsula checks one aurora-hunting box with its far-north latitude. Its position on Lake Superior’s southern shore checks another: hundreds of miles of open views toward the north horizon. Visitors can take part in seasonal daytime activities like ice skating, snowmobiling, windsurfing, kayaking, and an impressive mountain-biking trail system.
Where to stay: Fitzgerald’s Hotel & Restaurant, known by Keweenaw locals as the Fitz, is a go-to for inventive cocktails and notable dining (think smoked short ribs, umami fries, and poutine). The Fitz also happens to sit on the southern shore of Lake Superior, with beachside bites by day and potential northern lights sightings from its six suites in the evening. The modern and spacious accommodations, each about 500 square feet, include king beds, apartment-style living areas, and small lake-view balconies ideal for watching for the aurora’s swirls.
Seeley-Swan Valley, Montana
Why: Western Montana’s Seeley-Swan Valley is a patchwork of mirror-still lakes and emerald-leafed larches, with jet-black night skies that come to life during active aurora nights. This March 2022 show is one example. Travelers visit this wild pocket of Montana, located outside Missoula, for activities ranging from dog sledding to horseback riding, or a day on the Seeley-Swan Scenic Drive. Those lucky and patient enough to scout for northern lights can watch them, and distant peaks, reflect off the shimmering water.
Where to stay: The Lodges on Seeley Lake overlooks its namesake with a north-facing view toward the Swan Mountains. The property’s 19 wood-panel cabins and lodge rooms ensure that the forest is the main attraction thanks to oversize windows and outdoor patios. All accommodations come with access to a north-facing beach and dock for watching the light show. Several cabins, including the Lounger, offer north-facing water views—perfect for aurora sighting in your pjs. The lodge runs seasonal activities like kayaking in the summer or Nordic skiing in the winter.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Why: Auroras are a staple activity for northern Minnesota travelers; local lights hunters estimate you can see them up to 200 times per year. Voyageurs National Park, just minutes from the Canadian border, is a top spot to catch them. Water covers nearly 40 percent of the park, with four major lakes featuring uninterrupted north-looking views. Even better: Voyageurs is part of the cross-border Heart of the Continent Dark Sky Initiative. The goal? Protect darkness across the entire region. That means inky skies for picture-perfect light shows.
Where to stay: The 12-acre Sandy Point Lodge, with its 12 cabins and 5 hotel-style main-lodge rooms, pairs Voyageurs’ signature night skies with views over Kabetogama Lake. Snag one of six north-facing lakeside cabins, with rustic, log-walled digs, full kitchens, and private patios. Or head to Sandy Point Lodge’s private beach or boat dock, with the haunting echo of loon howls as each evening’s soundtrack. Don’t miss Sandy Point’s range of year-round adventures—winter snowmobiling and ice fishing or summertime island-hopping via kayak or canoe.
Priest Lake, Idaho
Why: Priest Lake, located in the northernmost stretch of Idaho’s panhandle, covers 23,000 acres beneath the Selkirk Mountains. Cedar and fir forests flank its 72 shoreline miles, and sandy beaches on its southern end offer some of the state’s best aurora lookouts. Come for the action-packed daytime opportunities—snowshoeing, skiing, kayaking, fishing, and boat rentals—and stay for the star-speckled, and potentially aurora-painted, nightscapes.
Where to stay: The beach at Hill’s Resort has one of the state’s top aurora vantage points, with open vistas toward the horizon and still waters to reflect the stars and lights. (Check out this aurora sighting from local photographer Craig Goodwin.) The 53-room property—with cedar-paneled cabins, chalets, and condos along the lake and in the forest—keeps guests busy with snowshoeing, skiing, kayaking, golfing, fishing, boat rentals, and jet-skiing. For stargazing and northern lights hunting, hang out by the resort’s docks or sandy beach.
Methow Valley, Washington
Why: Northern lights travel in an aurora oval over the geomagnetic North Pole, which swells with the strength of the storm. Washington lies on the fringes of the oval, but that doesn’t mean a sighting here is impossible. You need a powerful storm—around a Kp5 minimum—not to mention good weather and a viewpoint above the treetops and mountains that’s far from city lights. With strong solar maximum storms expected to increase, look no further than Methow Valley, located in north-central Washington in the foothills of the North Cascades. Here, the Methow Dark Sky Coalition spearheads an effort to curb light pollution and preserve dark skies—which helped this local blogger spot the auroras multiple times in early 2023.
Where to stay: Sun Mountain Lodge, a 112-room hotel, sits on a 3,000-foot-tall mountain overlooking Methow Valley. The 8,000-acre resort is designed with locally hand-built furnishings and in-room fireplaces that lend a modern alpine aesthetic. Outside, it features largely unobstructed northern views—hence its ranking on Seattle Met’s list of top nearby aurora-hunting getaways. In addition to enjoying the nightscapes, guests can dine on farm-to-table meals with produce sourced mostly within the Methow Valley, sample wines from a 3,500-bottle wine cellar, and explore the on-site trail system for both winter skiing and warm-weather hikes.