15 Best Places to See the Northern Lights on a Budget
The Northern Lights are among the world's most awe-inspiring sights. For centuries they've commanded reverence from various cultures, each with its own interpretation on the lights' origins. Today we know they're caused by solar winds interacting with charged particles in the Earth's magnetic field. The results are glowing streaks of light moving across the sky in vibrant hues of green, yellow, purple, and red. Although several of the most famous aurora-viewing destinations, such as Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, are expensive countries to visit, other locales offer prime vantage points to travelers on limited budgets. There's no guarantee the lights will glow on any given night, but picking the right location increases the odds of getting your money's worth.
Hana Livingston contributed to this story.
About 120 miles southwest of Fairbanks, Denali National Park offers 2.5 million hectares of untouched wilderness. Here the chances of seeing the shimmering auroras are heightened due to the absence of light pollution. In contrast to many other locales, the Northern Lights are most visible here during the autumn months, with sightings often starting as early as August. A $10 fee for individuals and $20 for vehicles allows seven days' access to the park, where a select few campsites are open year-round and charge $22 for standard car camping. A bed costs $32 a night and a two-person room $80 at the Denali Mountain Morning Hostel, but like many lodging options in the area, it's open only from May to September.
Minnesota's far northeast Cook County, just on the other side of the U.S.-Canada border, is almost entirely wilderness and ideal for aurora viewing from late fall to early spring. Oberg Mountain in the Superior National Forest is a popular spot to see the Northern Lights shimmer, with panoramic views of Oberg Lake, Lake Superior, and many of the region's tallest peaks. Hotels dot Highway 61, the county's main thoroughfare, with standard rates from $60 to $100 a night.
Glacier National Park in Montana is another of North America's best spots for viewing the Northern Lights, which appear most often in the early morning hours before sunrise from June to August. Lake McDonald and Goat Haunt provide dark skies and open views to the north for viewing the light displays. Diverse lodging options are found near the east and west entrances, while Glacier Park Inc. operates several properties within the park and offers discounted winter rates starting at $79 a night.