This National Park Is One of the Best Places in the U.S. to See the Northern Lights

Grab your camera, throw on an extra layer, and head north.

Namakan view from the shoreline in Voyageurs National Park
Photo: Erik Fremstad/Courtesy of Explore Minnesota

There is nothing quite like watching the northern lights dance across a clear night sky. The northern lights (a.k.a. aurora borealis) have drawn people north year after year in an effort to witness one of Earth's most spectacular natural phenomena. To catch the light show, you need to be up north in a place with skies so dark that the greens, purples, and reds of the aurora can pop. And it doesn't hurt if there's a body of water to reflect the sky's stunning show.

Enter, Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. The park is just about as far north as you can get in the lower 48 states and was recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association for its pitch-black skies. In addition, more than a third of the 218,000-acre park is covered in water, providing visitors with night-sky reflections that take the already-stellar view up a notch.

The treetops in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Dark Sky Sanctuary
Paul Vincent/Courtesy of Explore Minnesota

Photographer Travis Novitsky, a lifelong Minnesotan who frequently photographs the northern lights, told the Minnesota tourism office, "My favorite spot is on the south shore of any inland lake in northeast Minnesota. Being on the south shore means you get a great view of the lights looking north over the lake."

While aurora borealis is also visible in the summer, Minnesota's winter nights provide a longer period of darkness, which can increase your likelihood of seeing the lights. For your best chance of witnessing the northern lights, Voyageurs National Park suggests visiting on a clear winter night and finding a spot that offers an unobstructed view of the horizon. The visitor centers at Rainy Lake and Ash River are good places to see the lights, as are the Voyageurs Forest Overlook parking lot, Woodenfrog Beach, and almost any lakeside campsite or houseboat site.

A campsite in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Dark Sky Sanctuary
Paul Vincent/Courtesy of Explore Minnesota

In addition to the northern lights, the park is home to excellent stargazing and frequent meteor showers. It's not uncommon for the Milky Way to be on full display, especially in the summer months when the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the center of the galaxy. The Voyageurs Forest Overlook, Beaver Pond Overlook, and the Kettle Falls Dam area are popular stargazing locations inside the park.

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