There is a lot of effort spent focusing on getting to a destination that provides you the the best changes to see the Northern Lights. In addition to time and research, the cost to travel and stay at these locations is not cheap. Therefore, it is critical to choose the most optimum time in a preferred location so your chances of seeing lights dancing in the sky is maximized.
Where are the best locations to see the Northern Lights?
The locations which offer the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis is within the oval-shaped regions located around the geomagnetic poles of the Earth. This location, commonly known as the aurora zone, is favored because it is where particles from the sun are accelerated along the magnetic field lines which causes the aurora to appear.
In the northern hemisphere, the aurora zone coincides roughly with the Arctic Circle making Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, & Finland), northern Russia, Alaska, northern Canada, Iceland, and Greenland prime location choices.
For my first light chasing trip, I wanted to ease into photographing in frigid temperatures. For this reason, I chose Tromsø in northern Norway. Tromsø is known for its accessibility, relatively mild climate due to the Gulf Stream, and reliable location being right under the aurora oval. So for me, it sounded like the perfect location to learn to photography the Northern Lights.
When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?
Within the aurora zone, the Northern Lights are active both day and night all year long. However, it needs to be dark for you to be able to see the auroras, with the strongest displays of light being between 20:00 and 02:00 in Europe and between 24:00 and 04:00 in North America. The months are a toss up, but typically from September until March tend to be the best months for chasing lights because of the hours of darkness available.
One misconception is that auroras will not appear unless it is super cold, but there is no causality between aurora activities and temperature. The correlation between cold temperatures and aurora activity is that skies tend to be clearer on colder nights compared to warmer nights, and us mere mortals on the ground can only see the lights with clear skies above us.
So pick your travel destination, choose your dates, and get chasing!