The incredible aurora borealis - known to most as the northern lights - is one of our world's most wondrous natural mysteries. Though people usually travel to Iceland, Norway, and Sweden to see them, you can also get a taste of them in North America.
Here are some of the most interesting spots.
South of the Arctic Circle, and centrally located in massive Alaska, Fairbanks is a perfect destination for a winter trip to Alaska. It’s also a good city, on a clear night, for spotting the northern lights. (Just check out the photo above).
As most visitors to Alaska prefer the warmer, brighter, sunny summer months, you won’t face crowds while looking for peace and quiet to overhear the crackling of the aurora borealis.
Sleep: Pike Waterfront Lodge. A cozy hotel with lots of Alaskan design elements, you’ll be away from the hustle and bustle of ‘downtown’ Fairbanks but still close enough to amenities should you need them.
Eat: Wolf Run Restaurant. You may be surprised to find delicious Middle Eastern food this far north, but the owners of Wolf Run Restaurant seamlessly blend a menu of American food with overseas elements. Located in a log cabin, you also won’t forget that you’re still in Alaska no matter how far away the dish you’re enjoying was originally from.
Explore: Chena Hot Springs. One of Fairbanks’ most popular attractions, Chena Hot Springs is the one place you’re guaranteed to see local Alaskans and visitors mixing. After a night of admiring the northern lights, a day recovering and warming up in the hot springs is exactly what you need.
The capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, 7,700 people live in Iqaluit year round. During the winter, a willingness to endure the cold is rewarded with regular opportunities to see the northern lights.
Surrounded by a rural area, it’s easy to find pristine dark skies around Iqaluit, and then it’s just a matter of patience and luck as to whether you’ll see a celestial show.
Sleep: The Frobisher Inn. With surprisingly luxurious accommodation and amenities, you may not want to bundle up and leave The Frobisher Inn - even for the northern lights.
Eat: The Gallery. You don’t even need to leave The Frobisher Inn for delicious food. The onsite kitchen and eatery is one of Iqaluit’s most popular restaurants.
Explore: Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum. The only museum in the Nunavut territory, this contemporary museum houses art and artifacts from local artisans, including from the Inuit people who've called the area home over the millennia.
Banff is beautiful by day: it is beautiful by night. With stunning mountain scenery, hiking trails, and a gondola that can whisk you up the mountains, travelers enjoy reconnecting with nature in Banff, and it’s one of Alberta’s top destinations.
By night in the winter months, you can also spot the northern lights in Banff. Located on the edge of Banff National Park, the lack of development means it’s not hard to get outside the city and find dark skies to look for the aurora borealis on a clear night.
Sleep: Fairmont Banff Springs. Indulge in the classic chateau hotel style common in this part of Canada by booking your stay at the luxurious Fairmont Banff Springs. During the daylight hours, you can alternate between spa treatments, bowling at their onsite alley, or admiring the mountain views out your window.
Eat: The Bison Restaurant & Terrace. Though the terrace is admittedly chilly during the months you might visit Banff to see the northern lights, the seasonal menu of Canadian fare at The Bison Restaurant more than makes up for it. Each new menu features local and regional ingredients sourced in Canada and used to make Canadian dishes.
Explore: The Banff Gondola. On the ride up -- and once you arrive at the complex atop the mountain -- be prepared for breathtaking views in every direction.
Isle Royale, Michigan
Isle Royale, just south of the border between Canada and the US, is part of Michigan and is a gem of natural beauty.
Accessible only by boat or plane, Isle Royale is one of the least-visited national parks in the US; and the lack of tourism and development makes it an ideal spot to view the northern lights within the contiguous U.S.
Sleep: Rock Harbor Lodge. Accommodation options are limited on Isle Royale but the Rock Harbor Lodge more than compensates. Choose from a room in the lakeside lodge or cabins for rent, depending on the level of privacy you prefer.
Eat: Lighthouse Restaurant. Part of Rock Harbor Lodge, this family-oriented restaurant has American staples and portions that will fuel you up for a cold night outdoors.
Explore: Isle Royale National Park. By day, Isle Royale offers beautiful natural surroundings worth exploring on your own. Note that Isle Royale is open from April 16 to October 31 each year, so you’ll need to plan an early spring or late autumn trip if you hope to see the northern lights.
See more writing from Valerie Stimac on her website.