Embrace the darkness of winter and experience the magic of the aurora boraealis

Story & photography by Greg Lindstrom
The thick darkness that blankets Northwest Montana in the winter months can feel oppressive. Instead of letting the dark days get you down, climb out of the doldrums and venture into the night for a chance to see the aurora borealis.

The dancing lights seem otherworldly. Caused by gas molecules from the sun entering the earth’s atmosphere and emitting light when they collide, the phenomenon generally occurs closer to the north and south poles where the earth’s magnetic fields are weaker.

Northwest Montana has no shortage of remote locations removed from light pollution that make it easy to explore the night sky. Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park is one of the best spots for viewing the aurora.

On a clear night at the shore near Apgar, look north along the lake for an eerie green glow creeping up behind the snow-capped peaks. The lights can be elusive and generally don’t begin to appear until after midnight. Bundle up and brave the cold. Watching these lights dance across the Big Sky will warm your spirit.

Viewing Tips

Find a location with unobstructed view to the north on a clear night, particularly when the lunar cycle is near a new moon. Be prepared to stay out until after midnight; the best viewing times are generally between midnight and 4 a.m. Solar storms increase the likelihood of a viewing, and can be tracked at www.aurora-service.org.