Northern Lights in Minnesota
When it comes to the northern lights, Minnesota, as one of the northernmost states, automatically qualifies as a top destination to witness them. But where is the best place to view them? And when?
What Are The Northern Lights?
Aurora Borealis, more commonly referred to as the northern lights, are the result of solar winds interacting with oxygen and nitrogen elements that only enter the Earth’s atmosphere in the Arctic Circle and Antarctica. While the flickering, waving lights may look incredibly close to us as they dance across the sky, they never get closer than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, in the thermosphere layer of our planet’s atmosphere.
The color of the lights depends on the element and the altitude of the interaction: Blue and violet lights typically occur in interactions between 50-60 miles away, while green—the most commonly seen color—occurs between 60-150 miles away. Red colors often occur at over 150 miles above the Earth’s surface.
When Are The Northern Lights Most Visible?
Contrary to popular belief, the northern lights are present year-round. However, seeing them clearly requires vast open spaces and a dark, clear night sky with an absence of light pollution. With less daylight in winter, the best time to see the northern lights is between November and February.
Before you venture out into the night, here are some theories and obstacles to consider:
- Full moons tend to be too bright and may obscure the view. Days right before and after a full moon are typically not recommended, either.
- Some people believe that the fall and spring equinoxes bring about more solar activity, making the northern lights more visible than usual.
- This past 2019-2020 winter offered fewer northern light shows due to minimal solar activity. Starting this winter, solar activity will continue to increase until it peaks in 2024-2025. A consistent visibility predictor is weather. Overcast skies greatly diminish the chances of seeing the lights.
- Avid explorers believe that checking space weather is key to tracking the solar winds. Some of the most commonly used resources to predict aurora activity levels are the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, Aurora Forecast app (available for iOS) and spaceweather.com.
Where Can I See The Northern Lights?
Of course, the Arctic Circle (which includes Iceland, Sweden, Alaska and Canada) is the prime spot for viewing the northern lights. However, in the lower 48 states, northern Minnesota is known as one of the best places to see them—the farther north you go, the more pronounced the northern lights will be.
Top places to view the Northern Lights in Minnesota
A region home to a multitude of vast open spaces and skies that are undisturbed by light pollution.
- Cook County (Lake Superior and the Gunflint Trail)
- Voyageurs National Park
- Lake of the Woods
Closer to the Cities
If you’re hoping to catch the northern lights without driving up north, try:
- Park Rapids
- St. Cloud
The farther you get away from the light pollution of the Twin Cities, the later at night and the clearer the sky, the better your chances. And while it may be intuitive, remember to look north!
Do you have a favorite spot to view the northern lights or have a great photo to share? Send us your tips and photos!