The Northern Lights – that celestial phenomenon that delights and confuses in equal measure – has been fueling imaginations for millennia. Seneca speaks of auroras as ‘holes in the sky’ while, in Medieval Europe, they were believed to be an omen from God.
Today, they’re big business with people traveling long distances to get a glimpse of what is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’ve even got a fairly good understanding of what causes them; charged particles from the sun strike atoms in the atmosphere, energizing them. When this energy dissipates, they release photons of light creating those ethereal swoops – one of the world’s most impressive natural wonders.
However, given that this is an inherently temporary occurrence, it’s important to know when to turn your eyes skywards. Indeed, the Northern Lights are notoriously difficult to predict, but following these timescales will give you the best chance. With the lights visible only when the sun sets, it makes sense to chase them from January to March, when nights are at their longest.
The winter season also brings plenty of snow to sled, snowmobile or ski through during the day. Some may prefer the slightly warmer spring or autumn months but be prepared to stay out later as days are longer. Remember to avoid the full moon when the extra light can wash out the aurora. Also, look to the weather forecast to find clear skies – conditions are best when it’s cool and dry. Now, you just need to decide where to go.
Sweden has been welcoming stargazers for decades meaning that its lights are some of the most accessible. They’re also realized in a beautiful wilderness setting. Try out some traditional snowshoeing as you make your way through dense pine forests and ranging wilderness landscapes to reach your evening camp. Warm your feet by the fire and your hands with a hot lingonberry juice as you wait for the show to begin. You’ll get a full introduction to Scandinavian culture with everything from smoked reindeer meat to husky sledding and ice fishing.
You can also stay in some of the world’s most unique accommodation, including the original ICEHOTEL, modernized Sámi tents and the innovative Treehotel, a collection of modern art installations strung among the canopy of an evergreen forest.
The Yukon in northwest Canada is sparsely populated and known for its outdoor pursuits. Chase the lights on a snowmobile to a backdrop of Canada’s five tallest mountains and the world’s largest subarctic ice fields. For those looking for more comfortable viewing, there are cosy log cabins, purpose-built for viewing or, for the more adventurous, guided dogsled trips out to secret spots. In the day, perhaps go on a canoe expedition down the mighty Yukon River, set on both sides by majestic coniferous giants and snow-capped peaks.
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