Best northern lights adventures for families

Jan 2, 2020

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Seeing the northern lights dance across a darkened sky in shades of green, purple and, if you’re lucky, red, is about as magical as the great outdoors gets. It’s bucket list material for parents and equally mind-blowing for kids old enough to have even a vague notion about the aurora borealis.

Northern Lights in Anchorage, Alaska
The northern lights in Anchorage, Alaska (Photo courtesy of Visit Alaska)

But here’s the thing about the northern lights: seeing them is hardly guaranteed. For starters, the sky has to be clear. You have to be in the right place. Then, the solar flare activity has to be doing its thing. When all the elements come together, however, the show is nothing short of spectacular.

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Hedge your bets and get a guaranteed good vacation with or without the appearance of lights when you plan to scout for them someplace spectacular. From being pulled by reindeer in a sled across a frozen fjord in northern Norway, to looking for the aurora while keeping cozy inside a glass-domed igloo in Finnish Lapland, here’s where to spend those banked air miles and have some of the best northern lights family adventures this winter and beyond (after all, the aurora can be seen as late as mid-April).

Northern Norway

If you and your family took advantage of the kids fly free deal from SAS in September, perhaps a winter jaunt to Scandinavia in search of the northern lights is in your near future. Get above the Arctic Circle in Norway to spots like the Lofoten Archipelago and Tromsø for the best shot at seeing the lights. Off the Map Travel has a luxury floating barge, the Volda, with room for 14 guests in seven bedrooms. Three-night stays aboard the revamped 1960s ship include three daily meals, dog-sledding excursions and other activities from around $2,385 per person (based on a family of four). 

In Tromsø, you can cash in your Radisson Rewards to stay at the cozy Radisson Blu Hotel near the harbor front, a great launching point for northern lights excursions into the darkness of the surrounding fjords. And for one of the coolest experiences ever, hop aboard a reindeer-drawn sled with Tromsø Arctic Reindeer to look for the aurora while learning about the native Sami people and their reindeer-herding culture.

Norway Northern Lights
(Photo by Gaute Bruvik ­/ courtesy of visitnorway.com)

Use your Star Alliance miles to fly to Tromsø (TOS) and Bodø (BOO) in Northern Norway and you’ll be well positioned above the Arctic Circle for seeing the aurora borealis. Here are the best websites to search for Star Alliance award availability.

Norway Northern Lights
(Photo by wungenz/Foa / courtesy of visitnorway.com)

Finnish Lapland

When it comes to winter wonderlands, Finnish Lapland is the definition. Base yourself in Rovaniemi — located right above the Arctic Circle in northern Finland, and the home of Santa Claus himself at the Santa Claus Village — for the family winter adventure of a lifetime.

Just beyond the lights of town, you can stay in the Arctic SnowHotel & Glass Igloos for 360-degree views of the night sky (and hopefully the aurora!) from your cozy, duvet-topped bed. And Aurora Emotion recently launched the world’s first electric snowmobile safaris aboard eSleds, with 8 p.m. departures into the forests outside Rovaniemi to look for the northern lights (with all the loaner extreme winter clothing you need to stay warm included).

Finland's Northern Lights
Finland’s Northern Lights (Photo courtesy of Antti)

Finnair (use those OneWorld miles!) and Norwegian Airlines fly daily to Rovaniemi (RVN) from Helsinki (HEL). Check out these sites to check OneWorld award availability.

Finland Northern Lights
(Photo courtesy of Markus Kiili)

Arctic Sweden

“I admit I cried the first time I saw this indescribably beautiful phenomenon,” recalls Australian tourist Amber Moore, who traveled with luxury operator 50 Degrees North to Arctic Sweden on a winter tour in search of the aurora. “The lights danced across the sky, changed color, swirled and skipped — then were gone as quickly as they came.” 

On five- or six-day family tours with the company, you might find yourself sleeping in the famous Icehotel near Kiruna, driving a team of huskies through the Kirjesålandet Nature Reserve, or taking a scenic train ride from Luleå to Kiruna in between a slew of other snow-filled fun. And when a guide sounds the aurora bell in middle of the night, you’ll know it’s time to wake up and run outside to see the main attraction dancing across the sky.

ICEHOTEL
Icehotel (Photo by Asaf Kliger / Icehotel)

Scandinavian Airlines, (a Star Alliance partner more commonly known as SAS), and Norwegian Airlines fly to Kiruna (KRN) in northern Sweden.

Alaska

For U.S. citizens, the top no-passport-required destination for seeing the northern lights is Alaska. And hardcore skiing families should set their sights on the remote Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, where you can lounge in the outdoor hot tub and scout the sky for the auroras after a day spent heli-skiing the pristine surrounding slopes. For a softer sort of aurora adventure, you can often see the lights on your own by piling the kids in a rental car and heading just outside downtown Anchorage into the dark observation area of the Glen Alps Trailhead and Viewpoint, at Flattop Mountain. And in the state’s northernmost reaches, about 60 miles from Fairbanks, bask in natural outdoor hot springs that stay open until midnight while scoping skyward at Chena Hot Springs Resort, which also offers aurora snow coach tours to guests.

Trodrillo Mountain Lodge
Tordrillo Mountain Lodge near Anchorage, Alaska (Photo by Cam McLeod / Trodrillo Mountain Lodge)

Alaska family vacations offer many ways to use points. Alaska Airlines, Delta, United and American are among the airlines flying to Anchorage (ANC) and Fairbanks (FAI).

Anchorage is where you’ll find the most points-friendly hotels. Cash in your IHG Rewards Club points for stays at Holiday Inn Express Anchorage, Crowne Plaza Anchorage-Midtown and Staybridge Suites Anchorage. Use Marriott Rewards points at Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa and Anchorage Marriott Downtown. In Fairbanks, points properties include the Hampton Inn & Suites Fairbanks (Hilton Honors), Holiday Inn Express & Suites Fairbanks (IHG) and SpringHill Suites by Marriott Fairbanks.

Alyeska Resort
Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska (Photo courtesy of Visit Alaska)

Bottom line

Taking your kids somewhere to see the northern lights is the type of trip they’ll remember forever. And, it may just spur their love of travel for the future. If you’ve scouted for the aurora borealis with your family, where did you go — and were you successful?

To continue planning for your family’s northern lights adventure:

Featured image courtesy of Thomas Kast

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