Watching the northern lights
Credit: Kevin Schaefer / Alamy

Watching the northern lights

Right now, you may see the aurora borealis – also known as the northern lights – from northern California to the Texas Panhandle to the Virginia coast. About every 11 years, the sun's magnetic-field activity peaks, causing the lights to blaze farther south. Here are our top three spots to see the light shows, expected to begin near the fall equinox, on September 22. "It's as good as you think," NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center scientist Joseph Kunches says. "It's worth staying up late to see."

Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
Five hours west of New York City, this favorite spot of amateur astronomers has some of the darkest skies east of the Mississippi. The 82-acre park is in the middle of the 265,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest, shielded from city lights by miles of hills and trees.

Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado
A couple of hours northeast of Denver, the grassland is untraveled and unlit, and has flat horizons that stretch forever. Pawnee is a patchwork of public and private lands – ensure you're staying on the former by checking in at the Owl Hollow site.

Steens Mountain Wilderness, Oregon
Even in years of low northern lights activity, the aurora borealis can be seen here. Why? The area claims the darkest nights in the Lower 48. The unpaved Steens Mountain Back Country Byway provides easy access to the hinterlands, but check road and weather conditions first: Some stretches may require four-wheel drive.