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Aurora Borealis: An Extensive Guide to Chasing the Northern Lights

The opening image of this blog. Features an image of the northern lights, with bright green streaks constrasting the purple night sky.

Our world is full of wonders, from bright oceans and mist-covered mountains to breath-taking human constructs from long years past. The Northern Lights are one of these wonders. Though less seen compared to more commonplace tourist spots, they are not any less impressive. In preparation for the world after Covid-19, this guide will review the more popular viewing spots for the Northern Lights, as well as any other needs and interesting knowledge involved. Perhaps you’ll find yourself making the trip much sooner than anticipated.

An Introduction to Aurora Borealis

An image of the northern lights in the mountains.

A good place to start would be an explanation of why the Northern Lights appear as they do. This spectacle is witnessed during the winter months, usually in more northern territories, such as Alaska and Iceland. However, the Northern Lights season can extend from early autumn to late spring in some areas. While most commonly a bright lime green, the lights can also come in viridian, scarlet, pink, violet, and cyan hues. A simple search of them on a common search engine will yield many delightful images to see.

The Northern Lights actually stem from a reaction between charged particles. The gas particles in Earth’s atmosphere clash with particles from the sun, creating the bright waves of color that we observe. These particles are blown over by a “solar wind”, and escape through Earth’s magnetic field, which is more susceptible at the poles. Depending on the altitude as well as the type of gas-particle involved in the reaction, the color of the light will differ.

Areas to Visit

So, we have a general idea of where to visit – the Northern territories of the world – but where exactly should you head for the best experience? Thankfully, many towns in the north have developed special hotels and tours for this exact purpose. If you aren’t quite a travel expert, heading to one of these towns may offer a more comfortable and satisfying trip.

Kakslauttanen, Finland

An image showing the arctic resort that Kakslauttanen boasts.

Kakslauttanen boasts some splendid views. It is definitely one of the more popular areas to visit during the season for viewing the Northern Lights. As shown above, its Arctic Resort features glass igloos, allowing guests to freely watch the night lights during their stay. This is convenient, seeing as the Northern Lights most commonly occur either late at night, or very early in the morning. These igloos provide a comfortably warm option for stargazing. With these igloos, you won’t have to brave the cold, and can simply rest in bed, gazing up at the night sky. Though this town is surrounded by nature, this resort can be easily and safely reached by airplane and most common vehicles. Thankfully, there are no tradeoffs in convenience even with the natural atmosphere of Kaksaluttanen.

The resort also provides entertainment with many other activities. These include saunas, husky rides, snowmobile rides, and other spectacles. A map of the resort can be found here, with labels indicating the location of different areas available to visitors. Even with a longer trip, you definitely will not get bored of all that this resort has to offer. Overall, this resort is a great way to get back in touch with nature. It offers many new experiences that are out of the ordinary and memorable. It is definitely a great option for chasing the Northern Lights. Kakslauttanen is quite a beautiful place. It showcases the raw beauty of the Earth, and in the winter, the snow-covered trees and lack of city presence make for quite the winter wonderland. When you find a spare moment, you may find it refreshing to simply take a stroll in the lovely surroundings.

Fairbanks, Alaska

An image showcases the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Switching over to the United States, Alaska is another territory that boasts a great view of the Northern Lights. Fairbanks is one of the more popular tourist areas, and there are many tours available to choose from. Each will allow you to get a taste of different activities, similar to Kakslauttanen’s Arctic Resort. One such tour is Chena Hot Springs Resort Tours. This tour features an interesting museum visit and a hot spring soak to complement your nighttime viewing.

Salmon Berry Tours offer many other choices, providing plans for both longer trips and day trips. These tours offer dog-sledging, hot spring soaks, and even snow-shoeing, if you are interested. A bit further from Fairbanks, you can find the Borealis Basecamp, boasting unique ‘igloos’. Like the glass igloos in Kakslauttanen, these igloos are specifically designed for viewing the Northern Lights. Lodges usually have a limited quantity available. Given the popularity of the Northern Lights, it will be important to keep the costs in mind if you are travelling on a budget.

Outside of pre-planned tours, Fairbanks is full of wonderful opportunities to get a once-in-a-lifetime Alaskan experience. For instance, the Northern Sky Lodge is a lovely place to stay and looks like a wooden cabin. In the winter, the lodge is surrounded by snow and is truly immersive in the local atmosphere. The lodge is close to some trails, which are available for a variety of purposes. Snowshoeing, dog-sleds, skiing, hiking: all of these activities and more are great ways to not only get exercise but also traverse the breathtaking nature of Alaska. You can choose to explore these options on your own, or find an expert to guide you. Other places to visit are Denali National Park, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, and the Fairbanks Ice Museum.

Reykjavik, Iceland

An image of the Northern Lights in Iceland.

Iceland is another great place to plan your Northern Lights viewing trip. Though it is a capital city, you can easily find a good view of the Northern Lights only a bit away from Reykjavik. Like Fairbanks, this European city also offers many pre-planned tours for the pleasure of tourists. A tour by GAdventures brings you to traverse a lava cave, a national park, as well as a glacier. Since this tour brings you to the countryside, you can enjoy your evening viewing the Northern Lights. The tour keeps you constantly on the move, allowing you to get a taste of quite a few different local areas. With unique lodging and an itinerary of many interesting activities, you’re sure to have a great time. This particular tour, as well as some others, involves a great deal of hiking, so it may not be for everyone. If hiking isn’t quite your thing, you may find a night-time cruise more well suited to your tastes. With the comfort of heated cabins and wireless internet, the trip is sure to be relaxing.

As a capital city, Reykjavik itself has much to offer in terms of entertainment. When planning your trip, you may be inclined to take note of some of its attractions. One such area is Kópavogur, also named Reykjavik’s ‘culture hill’. In this area, you can find attractions such as the Gerðarsafn-Kópavogur Art Museum, the Natural History Museum of Kópavogur, and the Salalaug pool. The latter includes a variety of pools, as well as steam baths and hot tubs. It’s the perfect place to relax after a tour. You may also find interest in the natural landscapes that Iceland has to offer. Heiðmörk Nature Reserve and Seltjarnarnes are not far from Reykjavik and offer great views for scenic hiking.

Narvik, Norway

The Northern lights in Narvik blended with the glow of city lights.

Narvik is a city near the mountains. Compared to the previous two options, Narvik offers a much more natural experience. Outside of wintertime, these mountains provide great opportunities for hiking. Surrounded by trees, lakes, and fresh air, the hike is sure to be a wonderful experience. You may also find their scenic train ride appealing. However, the area is not any less beautiful in the winter, and a plethora of interesting activities also open up. The Narvikfjellet Ski Resort is a highlight of the mountains. Within a couple of minutes, the ski lift brings tourists to an incredible height of 1006 meters above sea level. The ski trails below are varied and open to skiers of all levels.

These mountains offer fun entertainment options, but also are a great place to watch the Northern Lights. With its unique terrain, Narvik also has some interesting tour options. For instance, the ‘Lights at the Lodge’ cable car ride and short lodge stay allow you to view the landscape, as well as the beautiful night sky. The mountain is far away enough that you can observe the beautiful lights of the city below. The opportunity to stay at a lodge also offers a greater level of comfort when viewing the lights. For a more hands-on approach, there are several tours that offer “aurora hunting” by dog-sled, snowshoeing, scootering, or even skiing. These will take you into the heart of the wilderness in the mountains. While an unforgettable experience in itself, it will definitely require much more physical prowess compared to the more domestic options. Regardless of what approach you take to chasing the aurora, Narvik is a flexible area of both the city and nature that will offer you countless opportunities.

Traveling Tips

A view of the northern lights from the waterfront,

Watching the Northern Lights is not your usual tourist trip, so it’s important to be prepared. Firstly, since most areas that are best for viewing the lights are to the north, warm and comfortable clothes are definitely needed. Since you may have to stay a couple of days in order to see the lights, be sure to pack enough. These will be even more useful if you decide to occupy yourself with outdoor activities during the day. Or, if you decide to view the lights outdoors. The temperature at night can be biting, and it can be tiring to wait so long outside. Being bundled in comfortable clothes is just the thing to help.

Catching the Northern Lights is a matter of luck and timing, so don’t be upset if your first few days are fruitless. If you want to have a fulfilling trip, it is recommended that you visit an area that offers a variety of entertainment options. You should also make sure to check the weather in your area ahead of time. Though forecasts aren’t always correct, it is always good to have an idea of what will occur. If you can, try your best to book your trip on clear days. Also, remember that the lights only occur at the late hours of the night, so the daytime is entirely open for other fun activities. Try not to exhaust yourself too much though, so you can stay awake for the show. You may also want to consider visiting earlier or later in the aurora season. Auroras can show up as early as September and as late as April, so you can visit at these times to avoid more extreme temperatures.

Camera Advice

Since viewing the aurora is comparable to a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, you may feel compelled to bring along a camera to record the view, or simply take your phone out to snap a quick picture. If you have the time and plan to go aurora-hunting on more than one occasion, it would be advisable to stay camera-free for the first experience. Without the interference of technology, the experience simply becomes that much more amazing. Allow yourself to take a deep breath of the winter air and enjoy the natural beauty before you.

When you do whip out the camera, make sure that you have a tri-pod on hand as well as plenty of batteries. Additionally, a wide-angled camera lens will aid you in capturing that perfect scenic shot. On the other hand, smartphones aren’t a bad option for Northern Lights photography either. By adjusting some settings and allowing time for touch-ups, newer phones can take great images as well.

Aurora Borealis: A Sight You’ll Never Regret

A divider for the concluding section, featuring a view of the northern lights above a waterfall.

Our world is full of many wonders. Surreal sights of mountains, beaches, prairies, canyons, and others all bring a sense of awe to our fingertips. The Northern Lights are one of these inspiring phenomenons, and truly is in a league of its own. Though life may have been put on a standstill due to Covid-19, things are slowly picking back up again. If you ever have the opportunity, spending a vacation chasing the Aurora Borealis is something that you will never regret. You may even discover a hidden passion when exploring among the different entertainment options offered in the area.

The ethereal beauty of mother nature offers us a chance to relax and let go of any struggles or stresses life may bring. The dancing breaths of green, blue, red and purple in the sky, the exhilaration of the wind pushing past your face as you ski down a slope, even the ever-growing views of a passing train or gondola: all of that and more can be yours.

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