Why should you plan a Northern Lights trip in 2024?
If you’ve always wanted to see the aurora borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, 2024 might be your year.
According to Erika Growsee, a public affairs and meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center, auroras are expected to be particularly strong through 2025.
“We are entering a period of expected increased activity on the Sun. Some types of space weather, called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, can cause the aurora borealis, or northern lights, to reach further south and appear more spectacular,” she said in a statement. “This period of high activity through this year will likely continue into 2025, but the technology does not yet exist to accurately predict when a strong geomagnetic storm will occur.”
USA TODAY had the opportunity to witness this phenomenon firsthand during a trip to Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, organized by Expedia for journalists, and the faint green light in the sky did not disappoint.
But the aurora borealis can also be unpredictable and difficult to spot. Seeing this isn’t always about going to a cold, northern place and staring at the sky, so if you’re planning a trip to the Northern Lights, you’ll want to go somewhere that has other activities you’re equally excited to do. .
Tips for seeing the Northern Lights
◀ Get help from experts: Tracy Therrien, owner of Bucket List Tours in Yellowknife, hosted one of the shows attended by USA TODAY and said in an interview that it’s always best to go with a professional.
“When the aurora first comes out, it is mostly white to the naked eye, and for some people, the aurora is difficult to distinguish from a cloud, which is why we encourage you to go with aurora guides,” she said. . “They need to know at first that it may only be white, but as it gets stronger and stronger, then we see color with the naked eye, but we can always see color through a camera.”
◀ Avoid the full moon: Therrien also said it’s best to avoid a full moon when planning your trip because even that bright celestial light can wash out the aurora borealis, and stay on site for at least four or five days, not including travel, to maximize your enjoyment. Chance to see the lights.
◀ Stay for a while: “The longer the stay, the more opportunities there are, but the most important thing is to get a day or two of rest,” she said. “A five-night stay guarantees a greater chance of seeing it than just staying those two days.”
Expedia’s Northern Lights viewing guide also includes tips like going somewhere remote, away from the light pollution of cities, wearing appropriate winter clothing for long periods of time in sub-zero temperatures, and using a tripod to best capture your photos.
◀ Get the right gear: Various tour companies rent the equipment needed to withstand the cold temperatures. During a USA TODAY trip in late January, temperatures in Yellowknife reached below 30 degrees Fahrenheit — which locals described as “warm,” compared to the week before — but with a combination of insulated snow boots, snow pants, a jacket, gloves, and neck gaiters , and headwear enables the group to explore the outdoors for long periods of time comfortably.
Renting gear can be a way to help travel more economically — not having to pack bulky winter clothing will free up space in your luggage for souvenirs, Therrien said.
Why is Yellowknife a great place to see the Northern Lights?
There are plenty of places on Earth where the aurora borealis can be seen, but according to the Canadian Space Agency, Yellowknife is a particularly good place to watch.
“The city lies beneath the aurora oval, a huge oval centered at Earth’s north magnetic pole where the northern lights (aurora borealis) often occur,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement to USA TODAY. “Yellowknife has recently been experiencing more frequent and stronger auroraes because the Earth’s magnetic field is experiencing more frequent and stronger solar wind storms, which are storms that start at the sun. Like the Earth, the sun has seasons, and the sun is currently in a stormy season, with the peak expected later.” From this year.”
“We also don’t have mountains or oceans near Yellowknife, which gives us a stable climate system that provides plenty of clear nights,” added Joe Buffalo Child of Indigenous-owned company North Star Adventure. “In the Dene language, we say ‘yaké nagas,’ which means ‘the sky is moving “There is nothing else like it on Earth.”
Other things to do in Yellowknife
While it’s possible that you’ll be able to see the Northern Lights on a trip to Yellowknife, it’s always possible that the weather won’t cooperate. Overcast skies can obscure your view, so you should take advantage of other activities in the city.
USA TODAY had the opportunity to snowshoe, tubing, snowshoe and dog sledding during our two-day visit, and we were able to sample local restaurants as well.
Aurora Village, a popular Northern Lights viewing location just outside downtown Yellowknife, hosts activities and local speakers to help you better understand your surroundings.
Another operator recently opened an arctic plunge pool and sauna, Therrien said. Located on the frozen shore of Great Slave Lake, Jake Olson of Arctic Duchess Adventures offers a relaxing setting for travelers to relax in a warm sauna – with a clear view of the sky and often the aurora borealis – and the chance to do a safe polar plunge. Unlike other dives, Olson installed a pool directly off the lake to ensure no one got under the ice, and he installed lights at the bottom to provide a visual sense of safety.
Yellowknife is also the capital of the Northwest Territories, and there are daily tours of the Legislative Assembly. A wildlife museum has also recently opened in the city, and there is a glass factory in the city center where you can create a souvenir of your visit.
How to plan your trip
Expedia has a Northern Lights booking guide not only for Yellowknife but also for other global destinations, including those in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Alaska.
Some cruise lines also offer Northern Lights excursions, so it’s best to research and select the destination or option that best suits your travel needs.
Wherever you go, make sure you’re not doing it just for Instagram.
“Patience is key, and experimenting with your camera settings is the secret sauce to capturing the Northern Lights,” professional nature photographer Dave Sandford said in a statement. “However, don’t forget to enjoy the moment. No matter how many times I’m lucky to see them in person. I always make sure to put my camera down and lose myself in the extraordinary Northern Lights experience.”
Contributing: Josh Rivera, USA Today
Editor’s Note: The reporter for this story obtained access to this trip from Expedia. USA TODAY maintains editorial control over reviews.
Zach Wechter is a travel correspondent for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at email@example.com