image of northern lights

How You can View the Northern Lights at Priest Lake

The quest to see the Northern Lights is a bucket-list destination that one should experience at least once in their lifetime. But most never make the journey because they think they have to spend $1,000s to venture to remote places like Alaska, Antarctica, or Iceland. But did you know that Northern Idaho offers night gazers the opportunity to see the Northern Lights not too far from home? That’s right, due to the immense dark skies and extensive horizons, Northern Idaho and places like Priest Lake make it one of the best places to witness such an experience.

To help start planning your trip, use our tips below about how you can view the Northern Lights at Priest Lake and Northern Idaho.

But first, what are the Northern Lights?

A full sky view of the Aurora Borealis.

The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights is a natural light display that is made due to disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by solar winds. In other words, the lights are a result of electrically charged particles from the sun entering the earth’s atmosphere. Colors of pale greens and pinks are most commonly seen, but blue, yellow, and red colors have also been reported.

The intensity of the light is measured on a Kp-index of geomagnetic activity. It really isn’t too important to understand what that all means, other than you should look for a forecasted Kp of four or more when determining the best time for viewing.

Where to see the Northern Lights at Priest Lake

While there are several notable places to see the Northern Lights in Idaho’s panhandle, Priest Lake offers the best opportunity for viewing. Due to its location just south of the Canadian border plus clear, dark skies, conditions are optimal here. Photographers love to see the lights reflect off the lake and coupled with the mountainous backdrop, it’s truly picturesque.

  • The Northern Lights at Priest Lake are phenomenal and probably the most reliable. Elkins Resort on Priest Lake offers a clear view, with sandy beaches, fire pits, and comfortable seating that makes waiting for the show to start, enjoyable.
  • Another great place to view the Northern Lights at Priest lake is on the lake in a boat.  This gives you a better angle to the northern sky.
image of firepits at elkins resort
Elkins Resort offers the perfect viewing spot to see the Northern Lights.

Best time for viewing

While you can technically see the Northern Lights at Priest Lake most anytime of the year, here are a few tips for optimal viewing conditions:

  • Look for dark skies. The less light pollution the better. Avoid places where there is artificial lighting.
  • Avoid full moons. Viewing is best one week before or after a new moon.
  • Make sure there are clear skies. Avoid cloudy evenings.
  • If the lights are active, they can be seen around two hours after sunset.
  • Knowing when the lights will be active is key. Just like there is a weather forecast, there is also a forecast of when the lights will be most active. Websites like Geophysical Institute will provide a 27-day forecast, which is helpful for planning. Or download an app such as the My Aurora Forecast App to help track information like the current Kp-index, best locations for viewing right now, and two-week forecasts – all for free.

What to bring

The Northern Lights are active all year, but they are typically not visible from April through August. So, you will be viewing from September through March, in the colder months. For an optimal experience, be sure to pack the following:

  • Appropriate clothing is needed. Make sure to dress warmly as you will be out and about late into the night. Below are a few items you should bring with you:
    • Face mask or balaclava
    • Gloves
    • Winter hat
    • Waterproof boots with a warm lining
    • Base layer shirt and pants made of moisture-wicking material like wool
    • Warm socks
    • Winter jacket
  • Warm beverages are always nice to have
  • A digital camera and tripod. Ideally with a wide-angle lens that reaches an aperture of f4.0 or better and a high ISO range.
  • Or a telescope for optimal viewing

Where to stay

image of cabin at elkins resort
Cozy cabins with a fireplace at Elkins Resort.

When viewing the Northern Lights at Priest Lake be sure to book your stay at Elkins Resort. Our lakeside cabins are nestled along the sandy shores of Reeder Bay on Priest Lake, practically a front-row seat to see the Northern Lights. We offer year-round accommodations with our 30 cedar cabins that feature a warming fireplace and modern amenities.

Book your stay with us today and start planning your unforgettable trip to see the Northern Lights at Priest Lake!