Seeing the Northern Lights (this month, Iceland and Canada) (Part 2 in a series)

This item appears on page 35 of the March 2016 issue.
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Jack and Elizabeth Kaufman of Lake Quivira, Kansas, wrote, “We would like ITN readers to share their experiences in chasing the northern lights (aurora borealis). Where did you go to see them? Did you travel on your own or take a tour? When did you go (month and year)? To glimpse this marvelous show of nature, how long was your wait? How long did they last?” Additionally, ITN asked what a person could do to increase the chances of seeing the northern lights, about the costs involved and about any gear or equipment that would come in handy.
Last month, we printed subscribers’ letters about seeing the northern lights in, mostly, Norway. In this issue we’re printing accounts of seeing the lights in, mostly, ICELAND and CANADA. Next month, in a rare exception to ITN’s policy of printing information about destinations only outside of the United States, we’ll present travelers’ accounts of seeing the northern lights in Alaska.

Seeing the northern lights was high on my bucket list, and I made two trips for that purpose.
• The first was the trip “Norway: A Voyage of the Northern Lights,” under the auspices of Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 888/514-1845, www.vantagetravel.com), sailing on a Hurtigruten-line ship from Bergen, NORWAY, to Kirkenes and back, 11 nights in all, in December 2010.
Seeing the lights is dependent on the weather, and my fellow group members and I saw the lights only twice, both on the northernmost leg of the trip. The ship’s crew would announce the presence of any solar activity, so, even if we had been asleep, we would quickly dress in our warmest gear and go out on deck for the viewing.
The first time, the lights lasted about 45 minutes and the second, a little longer. I was blown away by the unearthly shimmering belts of green and white.
• The second trip was to ICELAND in February 2014. A friend and I took advantage of one of Icelandair’s (in the US, 800/223-5500, www.icelandair.us) “Northern Lights” packages, which included a hotel in Reykjavik.
The package also included a boat trip to hunt the lights, and on the evening of Feb. 15 we set sail. For most of the evening I was sorely disappointed, with small, brief appearances (five minutes or so) that looked more like pale green clouds.
At about 11:30 p.m., just as the ship turned to return to port, a red glow developed. As a crowd gathered on deck, brilliant red streaks appeared, and then the sky exploded in red, green, white and purple pinwheels, belts and ribbons of color. Everywhere we looked, the sky seemed alive above us.
Nature’s show at its most spectacular continued for almost an hour. The most intense color then tapered off a bit, but the lights continued for most of the night. The commentator on the boat said it was the best he’d ever seen.
Two nights later, we saw another display, but it was only “average.”
Icelandair continues to run these packages, costing from $769 to $1,535 per person, double occupancy, including round-trip air*, airport/hotel transfers, three nights’ hotel, breakfasts and some sightseeing. My friend and I planned to go back in February 2016.
Laura Claunch, Glendale, AZ
*The included round-trip air is for departures from Boston, New York (JFK), Newark or Washington Dulles. Package flights from Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago or Denver cost an additional $17.

In early February of 2014, after doing some research about the northern lights on the Internet, my husband, Nelson, and I visited the website www.nordicvisitor.com. Nordic Visitor (based in Iceland; phone, toll free in the US, 800/490-1019) was a conduit for tour companies in Nordic countries and Greenland.
We chose the 8-day, 7-night “Winter & Northern Lights Photography Tour” of ICELAND [not offered in 2016 — Editor] operated by Gu∂mundur Jónasson Travel (Borgartuni 34, 105 Reykjavik, Iceland; phone +354 511 15 15, www.gjtravel.is). We excitedly bought the warmest clothes we could find, packed camera gear and boarded our Icelandair flight.
A representative of Nordic Visitor also provided, by phone, lots of helpful information on clothing, photography, etc., prior to the trip.
That organization has since changed its business practice. They were a referral service but now book tours, themselves. I called them in December 2015 and was emailed the link to their Travel Guide: https://iceland.nordicvisitor.com/travel-guide/practical-information.
A couple tips — if you’re planning to photograph the northern lights, be sure to read about and experiment with the various camera settings necessary for night photography, and pack a small flashlight so you can read the settings in the dark.

Swoosh of dayglow-green northern lights in Iceland. Photo: Nelson Burack

You will need a tripod, as pictures of the northern lights need to be taken with long exposures. Use the widest f-stop, and experiment with time, starting at 15 seconds.
Little did we know that the northern lights are not an everyday occurrence. My husband befriended the clerk at our hotel and excitedly asked to be awakened if the lights did appear. After settling down at about midnight, our phone rang and Nelson sprang into action. Within five minutes he had dressed, grabbed his camera and tripod and was out the door.
Although the show was not a spectacular one, it lasted about one hour in howling winds. The photos taken that night were good but not great.
The next morning, a bus took our group to the far reaches of our route on the west coast of Iceland. We enjoyed the scenery and small towns along the way. Each day, if the sun were going to be seen, it would rise at about 9:30 a.m. and set by 3:30 or 4 p.m.
During the rest of our week, we stayed at comfortable, inn-type hotels staffed by friendly innkeepers, ate simple but hearty food and listened to weather reports rating the probabilities of seeing the lights.
One night, with the wind blowing at almost 50 miles per hour, the northern lights appeared. They were green and hazy and undulated over a period of two hours. It was great!
On our last night, despite a clear sky and a high probability, they did not appear.
Reykjavik is a lovely, modern city, and we felt very comfortable there. The Icelandic people were very warm and friendly. It is a land of unknowns, with nature being fully in control.
Adrienne Burack, Melville, NY

I was lucky to observe the aurora borealis in ICELAND on a group tour with Overseas Adventure Travel (Cambridge, MA; 800/955-1925, www.oattravel.com) in September 2012.
We had been touring the Snæfells­ness peninsula all day and stayed that night at Hotel Stykkisholmur (Borgarbraut 8, Stykkisholmur; www.hringhotels.is/hotel-stykkisholmur). At 11:30 p.m. I was awakened by a phone call from our tour guide saying the northern lights were visible.
At first, all I saw was a small, wavy green shadow in the sky, but the longer I observed, the bigger the lights got. After three hours, the whole sky was filled with these lights — an awesome sight.
With my small Nikon camera, I was unable to get pictures of anything but a dark sky.
I felt very lucky to have been able to see this.
Carol Magraw, Seattle, WA

For a winter trip, my husband and I decided to see the northern lights, and we chose ICELAND because there’s a lot of northern lights activity there and the winter temperatures are much more temperate than in Scandinavia or Alaska.
We went on our own, Feb. 11-18, 2010 (Aug. ’10, pg. 50). We spent four nights at Hotel Rangá (Sudurlandsvegur, 851 Hella, Iceland; phone +354 487 5700, www.hotel ranga.is) in Hella, about 100 kilometers east of Reykjavik, and two nights in Reykjavik. Hotel Rangá is a perfect place to view the northern lights because it is isolated (but near some waterfalls and volcanoes), so there are no city lights to interfere with the viewing.
The staff at the hotel monitored northern lights activity and, at your request, would wake you up in the middle of the night when the lights were active.
It was possible to take a northern lights tour if you were staying in Reykjavik, but if the lights didn’t show up during the tour, from 9 p.m. to midnight, then you wouldn’t see them. Staying at Hotel Rangá provided more flexibility and therefore a greater chance to see the lights. Although the hotel was expensive, about $250 a night, there was no need to pay for a tour.
On our first night at the hotel, it was cloudy and we didn’t see a thing. On the second night, the skies cleared and we saw minor activity at 1 a.m. The next night, the activity began at 11:30 p.m. and was more intense.
On our last night it was a bit cloudy, but the activity was intense, compensating for some of the lights having been obscured. It was fascinating to look at the changing sky, and the hour or two that we stood outside went by like a flash.
Even if the temperature remains around 20 or 30 degrees, standing in the middle of the night in a field, unprotected from the wind, can get quite uncomfortable unless you are dressed for it. Take very warm clothes and layer them.
For more info, email me c/o ITN
Nili Olay, New York, NY

In August 1989, my college-aged son and I volunteered to assist in a gravity survey in ICELAND. The group leader hoped to use the data we collected to predict volcanic eruptions. We worked our way around the north, east and south coasts of the island, sleeping in tents at night.
The weather in Iceland seemed to run in 3-day cycles, first sunny, then cloudy, then rainy. One clear night in the south, we were awakened by excited exclamations from outside our tent. We rushed out to investigate.
In the northern sky, there was a dazzling display of northern lights. They were mostly white and appeared to dance down toward the horizon. Then they would abruptly stop their downward direction, regroup at higher levels and start the downward dance again. At irregular intervals the color would change, though it remained predominately white.
What causes the northern lights? As particles ejected by solar flares approach Earth, they are attracted by the Earth’s magnetic poles and interact with molecules of air in the upper atmosphere. The occurrence of solar flares is unpredictable, thus determining when the lights will appear is also largely unpredictable. The strengths of solar storms vary in 11-year cycles, the latest peak having occurred in 2013.
To see the northern lights, first you have to go to high northern latitudes. The center of Iceland is at about 64 degrees north latitude, and any latitude higher than that works. My wife once saw the lights in Bergen, Norway, which is a little lower, at about 60 degrees. Other high-latitude cities that come to mind are Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Fairbanks.
The area of activity is not a circle around the North Pole but is more like an ellipse, parts of which can dip farther south.
The weather should be clear, so Iceland may not be the perfect place, from this standpoint. And light pollution is to be avoided, so that may exclude large cities such as St. Petersburg. Even in remote places, you need to be away from the lights of cabins, etc. For the same reason, the northern lights are usually seen only at night.
The number of occurrences should be approximately the same year-round, but in summertime harsh weather can be avoided; moreover, the weather is clearer for viewing. Unless you prefer the winter ambiance of a snowy setting, August is good.
As for the probability of success, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration has a webpage with a map centered on the North Pole that shows the probability of seeing the lights at a particular place and time; visit www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast.
However, the predictions are only for the next 30 minutes and, so, are not very helpful for long-term plans. Note: the predictions don’t take into account the likelihood of poor visibility.
We were very fortunate that all of the requirements came together for us in Iceland. However, even with 15 days in the field, we saw the lights only once. It appears the recipe for success is to find a place north of 60 degrees latitude with clear weather (preferably in the summer) and to patiently wait for the odds to turn in your favor.
Stanley L. Cunningham
Oklahoma City, OK

When I flew to Zürich in January 2003, our plane went near GREENLAND. I looked out the window in the night and there was the most beautiful display of green northern lights!
Virginia Van der Veer, Tucson, AZ

It was in November many years ago, and our group had just finished a marvelous Natural Habitat Adventures (Boulder, CO; 800/543-8917, www.nathab.com) trip to see the polar bears in and around Churchill, Manitoba, CANADA. Amid much grumbling, our plane, scheduled for departure at 3 p.m., didn’t take off until after dark.
Within 10 minutes of becoming airborne, the captain turned off all the interior lights, and for a good half hour we were mute with awe at the spectacle of the green northern lights slowly swirling around us.
It was one of the highlights of my life.
Bobbi Benson, Burlingame CA

Although I had lived all of my life at a somewhat northern latitude (southern Michigan) and took summer trips to Alaska and the Baltic Sea, I never saw the aurora borealis until late October 1998, when my husband and I took our children on a trip to CANADA to see polar bears gathering in preparation for the formation of ice on Hudson Bay. My mother joined us.
A small plane took the eight of us to Churchill, where we spent the day with The Tundra Buggy Adventure (Churchill, Manitoba, Canada; 800/663-9832, www.frontiersnorth.com/the-tundra-buggy-adventure) seeing dozens of polar bears pacing around, sparring with one another and, in general, entertaining everyone.
In the evening, we boarded our plane and headed back to Winnipeg.
Once the airplane’s climb was complete, the captain came on the intercom and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you will all look out your windows, you will see the northern lights.”
We were surrounded by a greenish glow in the sky, and we were able to watch the lights all the way back to Winnipeg. This was definitely the icing on the cake of one very satisfying travel adventure.
Gail Sirna, Rochester, MI

Dayglow-green lights over a dark-blue horizon and tan mountains, all reflected in water — Iceland, February 2014. Photo by Nelson Burack

We visited Churchill, Manitoba, CANADA, with The Tundra Buggy Adventure in October 1999 to see polar bears. The bonus was seeing the northern lights.
The temperature dropped to 40 degrees below freezing, but we bundled up and planted ourselves in snowdrifts with a clear view of the beautiful colors whipping through the sky. It was such an incredibly awesome sight, really breathtaking.
You can describe it or see photographs, but only when experiencing it in person does this magical light display really imprint.
Steve Drosman, San Diego, CA

In November 1984, I took a train from Montreal to Vancouver, CANADA, with a seat on the right-hand, northern-facing side of the car. Every evening, the northern lights put on a great display for an extended period of time. Couldn’t have been better.
LaVonne Peck, Vallejo, CA

In October 2011 my son, Sam, and I got into my 2004 Subaru Forester in Davis, California, and headed north to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, CANADA.
We crossed into Canada at the Chief Mountain border crossing at Waterton Lakes National Park, between Montana and Alberta, and drove on to Edmonton, then to Peace River and High Level. We took the car ferry Merv Hardie across the McKenzie River. (It was the final year to use the car ferry, as the new bridge was almost complete.)
In Yellowknife we stayed at the Explorer Hotel (www.explorerhotel.ca). We inquired at the hotel and at the visitors’ center for the best place to see the northern lights and were advised to go out on a nearby untrafficked road. We went out, parked and waited.
The first night was overcast and we saw nothing. The second night we saw just a suggestion of color. The third night, bingo, a spectacular green display. When we returned to the hotel, we found that the show could still be seen right outside our window.
On the return trip, we tried to view the aurora again in Hayes River but had no luck.
On that trip we drove 6,400 miles, and over the 19 nights the accommodations averaged $100 a night. We saw black bears, moose, bighorn sheep, wood bison, marmots and muskrats plus all kinds of birds and, best of all, a once-in-a-lifetime view of the northern lights.
Norma Davis, Carmel, CA
Next month, northern lights experiences in Alaska.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Jack and Elizabeth Kaufman of Lake Quivira, Kansas, wrote, “We would like ITN readers to share their experiences in chasing the northern lights (aurora borealis). Where did you go to see them? Did you travel on your own or take a tour? When did you go (month and year)? To glimpse this marvelous show of nature, how long was your wait? How long did they last?” Additionally, ITN asked what a person could do to increase the chances of seeing the northern lights, about the costs involved and about any gear or equipment that would come in handy.
Last month, we printed subscribers’ letters about seeing the northern lights in, mostly, Norway. In this issue we’re printing accounts of seeing the lights in, mostly, ICELAND and CANADA. Next month, in a rare exception to ITN’s policy of printing information about destinations only outside of the United States, we’ll present travelers’ accounts of seeing the northern lights in Alaska.

Seeing the northern lights was high on my bucket list, and I made two trips for that purpose.
• The first was the trip “Norway: A Voyage of the Northern Lights,” under the auspices of Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 888/514-1845, www.vantagetravel.com), sailing on a Hurtigruten-line ship from Bergen, NORWAY, to Kirkenes and back, 11 nights in all, in December 2010.
Seeing the lights is dependent on the weather, and my fellow group members and I saw the lights only twice, both on the northernmost leg of the trip. The ship’s crew would announce the presence of any solar activity, so, even if we had been asleep, we would quickly dress in our warmest gear and go out on deck for the viewing.
The first time, the lights lasted about 45 minutes and the second, a little longer. I was blown away by the unearthly shimmering belts of green and white.
• The second trip was to ICELAND in February 2014. A friend and I took advantage of one of Icelandair’s (in the US, 800/223-5500, www.icelandair.us) “Northern Lights” packages, which included a hotel in Reykjavik.
The package also included a boat trip to hunt the lights, and on the evening of Feb. 15 we set sail. For most of the evening I was sorely disappointed, with small, brief appearances (five minutes or so) that looked more like pale green clouds.
At about 11:30 p.m., just as the ship turned to return to port, a red glow developed. As a crowd gathered on deck, brilliant red streaks appeared, and then the sky exploded in red, green, white and purple pinwheels, belts and ribbons of color. Everywhere we looked, the sky seemed alive above us.
Nature’s show at its most spectacular continued for almost an hour. The most intense color then tapered off a bit, but the lights continued for most of the night. The commentator on the boat said it was the best he’d ever seen.
Two nights later, we saw another display, but it was only “average.”
Icelandair continues to run these packages, costing from $769 to $1,535 per person, double occupancy, including round-trip air*, airport/hotel transfers, three nights’ hotel, breakfasts and some sightseeing. My friend and I planned to go back in February 2016.
Laura Claunch, Glendale, AZ
*The included round-trip air is for departures from Boston, New York (JFK), Newark or Washington Dulles. Package flights from Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago or Denver cost an additional $17.

In early February of 2014, after doing some research about the northern lights on the Internet, my husband, Nelson, and I visited the website www.nordicvisitor.com. Nordic Visitor (based in Iceland; phone, toll free in the US, 800/490-1019) was a conduit for tour companies in Nordic countries and Greenland.
We chose the 8-day, 7-night “Winter & Northern Lights Photography Tour” of ICELAND [not offered in 2016 — Editor] operated by Gu∂mundur Jónasson Travel (Borgartuni 34, 105 Reykjavik, Iceland; phone +354 511 15 15, www.gjtravel.is). We excitedly bought the warmest clothes we could find, packed camera gear and boarded our Icelandair flight.
A representative of Nordic Visitor also provided, by phone, lots of helpful information on clothing, photography, etc., prior to the trip.
That organization has since changed its business practice. They were a referral service but now book tours, themselves. I called them in December 2015 and was emailed the link to their Travel Guide: https://iceland.nordicvisitor.com/travel-guide/practical-information.
A couple tips — if you’re planning to photograph the northern lights, be sure to read about and experiment with the various camera settings necessary for night photography, and pack a small flashlight so you can read the settings in the dark.

Swoosh of dayglow-green northern lights in Iceland. Photo: Nelson Burack

You will need a tripod, as pictures of the northern lights need to be taken with long exposures. Use the widest f-stop, and experiment with time, starting at 15 seconds.
Little did we know that the northern lights are not an everyday occurrence. My husband befriended the clerk at our hotel and excitedly asked to be awakened if the lights did appear. After settling down at about midnight, our phone rang and Nelson sprang into action. Within five minutes he had dressed, grabbed his camera and tripod and was out the door.
Although the show was not a spectacular one, it lasted about one hour in howling winds. The photos taken that night were good but not great.
The next morning, a bus took our group to the far reaches of our route on the west coast of Iceland. We enjoyed the scenery and small towns along the way. Each day, if the sun were going to be seen, it would rise at about 9:30 a.m. and set by 3:30 or 4 p.m.
During the rest of our week, we stayed at comfortable, inn-type hotels staffed by friendly innkeepers, ate simple but hearty food and listened to weather reports rating the probabilities of seeing the lights.
One night, with the wind blowing at almost 50 miles per hour, the northern lights appeared. They were green and hazy and undulated over a period of two hours. It was great!
On our last night, despite a clear sky and a high probability, they did not appear.
Reykjavik is a lovely, modern city, and we felt very comfortable there. The Icelandic people were very warm and friendly. It is a land of unknowns, with nature being fully in control.
Adrienne Burack, Melville, NY

I was lucky to observe the aurora borealis in ICELAND on a group tour with Overseas Adventure Travel (Cambridge, MA; 800/955-1925, www.oattravel.com) in September 2012.
We had been touring the Snæfells­ness peninsula all day and stayed that night at Hotel Stykkisholmur (Borgarbraut 8, Stykkisholmur; www.hringhotels.is/hotel-stykkisholmur). At 11:30 p.m. I was awakened by a phone call from our tour guide saying the northern lights were visible.
At first, all I saw was a small, wavy green shadow in the sky, but the longer I observed, the bigger the lights got. After three hours, the whole sky was filled with these lights — an awesome sight.
With my small Nikon camera, I was unable to get pictures of anything but a dark sky.
I felt very lucky to have been able to see this.
Carol Magraw, Seattle, WA

For a winter trip, my husband and I decided to see the northern lights, and we chose ICELAND because there’s a lot of northern lights activity there and the winter temperatures are much more temperate than in Scandinavia or Alaska.
We went on our own, Feb. 11-18, 2010 (Aug. ’10, pg. 50). We spent four nights at Hotel Rangá (Sudurlandsvegur, 851 Hella, Iceland; phone +354 487 5700, www.hotel ranga.is) in Hella, about 100 kilometers east of Reykjavik, and two nights in Reykjavik. Hotel Rangá is a perfect place to view the northern lights because it is isolated (but near some waterfalls and volcanoes), so there are no city lights to interfere with the viewing.
The staff at the hotel monitored northern lights activity and, at your request, would wake you up in the middle of the night when the lights were active.
It was possible to take a northern lights tour if you were staying in Reykjavik, but if the lights didn’t show up during the tour, from 9 p.m. to midnight, then you wouldn’t see them. Staying at Hotel Rangá provided more flexibility and therefore a greater chance to see the lights. Although the hotel was expensive, about $250 a night, there was no need to pay for a tour.
On our first night at the hotel, it was cloudy and we didn’t see a thing. On the second night, the skies cleared and we saw minor activity at 1 a.m. The next night, the activity began at 11:30 p.m. and was more intense.
On our last night it was a bit cloudy, but the activity was intense, compensating for some of the lights having been obscured. It was fascinating to look at the changing sky, and the hour or two that we stood outside went by like a flash.
Even if the temperature remains around 20 or 30 degrees, standing in the middle of the night in a field, unprotected from the wind, can get quite uncomfortable unless you are dressed for it. Take very warm clothes and layer them.
For more info, email me c/o ITN
Nili Olay, New York, NY

In August 1989, my college-aged son and I volunteered to assist in a gravity survey in ICELAND. The group leader hoped to use the data we collected to predict volcanic eruptions. We worked our way around the north, east and south coasts of the island, sleeping in tents at night.
The weather in Iceland seemed to run in 3-day cycles, first sunny, then cloudy, then rainy. One clear night in the south, we were awakened by excited exclamations from outside our tent. We rushed out to investigate.
In the northern sky, there was a dazzling display of northern lights. They were mostly white and appeared to dance down toward the horizon. Then they would abruptly stop their downward direction, regroup at higher levels and start the downward dance again. At irregular intervals the color would change, though it remained predominately white.
What causes the northern lights? As particles ejected by solar flares approach Earth, they are attracted by the Earth’s magnetic poles and interact with molecules of air in the upper atmosphere. The occurrence of solar flares is unpredictable, thus determining when the lights will appear is also largely unpredictable. The strengths of solar storms vary in 11-year cycles, the latest peak having occurred in 2013.
To see the northern lights, first you have to go to high northern latitudes. The center of Iceland is at about 64 degrees north latitude, and any latitude higher than that works. My wife once saw the lights in Bergen, Norway, which is a little lower, at about 60 degrees. Other high-latitude cities that come to mind are Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Fairbanks.
The area of activity is not a circle around the North Pole but is more like an ellipse, parts of which can dip farther south.
The weather should be clear, so Iceland may not be the perfect place, from this standpoint. And light pollution is to be avoided, so that may exclude large cities such as St. Petersburg. Even in remote places, you need to be away from the lights of cabins, etc. For the same reason, the northern lights are usually seen only at night.
The number of occurrences should be approximately the same year-round, but in summertime harsh weather can be avoided; moreover, the weather is clearer for viewing. Unless you prefer the winter ambiance of a snowy setting, August is good.
As for the probability of success, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration has a webpage with a map centered on the North Pole that shows the probability of seeing the lights at a particular place and time; visit www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast.
However, the predictions are only for the next 30 minutes and, so, are not very helpful for long-term plans. Note: the predictions don’t take into account the likelihood of poor visibility.
We were very fortunate that all of the requirements came together for us in Iceland. However, even with 15 days in the field, we saw the lights only once. It appears the recipe for success is to find a place north of 60 degrees latitude with clear weather (preferably in the summer) and to patiently wait for the odds to turn in your favor.
Stanley L. Cunningham
Oklahoma City, OK

When I flew to Zürich in January 2003, our plane went near GREENLAND. I looked out the window in the night and there was the most beautiful display of green northern lights!
Virginia Van der Veer, Tucson, AZ

It was in November many years ago, and our group had just finished a marvelous Natural Habitat Adventures (Boulder, CO; 800/543-8917, www.nathab.com) trip to see the polar bears in and around Churchill, Manitoba, CANADA. Amid much grumbling, our plane, scheduled for departure at 3 p.m., didn’t take off until after dark.
Within 10 minutes of becoming airborne, the captain turned off all the interior lights, and for a good half hour we were mute with awe at the spectacle of the green northern lights slowly swirling around us.
It was one of the highlights of my life.
Bobbi Benson, Burlingame CA

Although I had lived all of my life at a somewhat northern latitude (southern Michigan) and took summer trips to Alaska and the Baltic Sea, I never saw the aurora borealis until late October 1998, when my husband and I took our children on a trip to CANADA to see polar bears gathering in preparation for the formation of ice on Hudson Bay. My mother joined us.
A small plane took the eight of us to Churchill, where we spent the day with The Tundra Buggy Adventure (Churchill, Manitoba, Canada; 800/663-9832, www.frontiersnorth.com/the-tundra-buggy-adventure) seeing dozens of polar bears pacing around, sparring with one another and, in general, entertaining everyone.
In the evening, we boarded our plane and headed back to Winnipeg.
Once the airplane’s climb was complete, the captain came on the intercom and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you will all look out your windows, you will see the northern lights.”
We were surrounded by a greenish glow in the sky, and we were able to watch the lights all the way back to Winnipeg. This was definitely the icing on the cake of one very satisfying travel adventure.
Gail Sirna, Rochester, MI

Dayglow-green lights over a dark-blue horizon and tan mountains, all reflected in water — Iceland, February 2014. Photo by Nelson Burack

We visited Churchill, Manitoba, CANADA, with The Tundra Buggy Adventure in October 1999 to see polar bears. The bonus was seeing the northern lights.
The temperature dropped to 40 degrees below freezing, but we bundled up and planted ourselves in snowdrifts with a clear view of the beautiful colors whipping through the sky. It was such an incredibly awesome sight, really breathtaking.
You can describe it or see photographs, but only when experiencing it in person does this magical light display really imprint.
Steve Drosman, San Diego, CA

In November 1984, I took a train from Montreal to Vancouver, CANADA, with a seat on the right-hand, northern-facing side of the car. Every evening, the northern lights put on a great display for an extended period of time. Couldn’t have been better.
LaVonne Peck, Vallejo, CA

In October 2011 my son, Sam, and I got into my 2004 Subaru Forester in Davis, California, and headed north to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, CANADA.
We crossed into Canada at the Chief Mountain border crossing at Waterton Lakes National Park, between Montana and Alberta, and drove on to Edmonton, then to Peace River and High Level. We took the car ferry Merv Hardie across the McKenzie River. (It was the final year to use the car ferry, as the new bridge was almost complete.)
In Yellowknife we stayed at the Explorer Hotel (www.explorerhotel.ca). We inquired at the hotel and at the visitors’ center for the best place to see the northern lights and were advised to go out on a nearby untrafficked road. We went out, parked and waited.
The first night was overcast and we saw nothing. The second night we saw just a suggestion of color. The third night, bingo, a spectacular green display. When we returned to the hotel, we found that the show could still be seen right outside our window.
On the return trip, we tried to view the aurora again in Hayes River but had no luck.
On that trip we drove 6,400 miles, and over the 19 nights the accommodations averaged $100 a night. We saw black bears, moose, bighorn sheep, wood bison, marmots and muskrats plus all kinds of birds and, best of all, a once-in-a-lifetime view of the northern lights.
Norma Davis, Carmel, CA
Next month, northern lights experiences in Alaska.