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Backpacker Magazine – September 2012

Trail Mix: Central

Your region's go-now guide

by: Steve Johnson (See This Now), Elisabeth Kwack-Hefferan (Pack Your, Perfect Days), and Rachel Zurer

Northen Lights (Jim Brandenburg/Minden Pictures)
Northen Lights (Jim Brandenburg/Minden Pictures)

See This Now
The Northern Lights, Boundary Waters, MN

Catching the aurora borealis transforming the sky into a moving watercolor is part luck, but you can boost your chances by planting yourself in the right place at the right time. The million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness sits at one of the Lower 48’s highest geomagnetic latitudes (close to magnetic north), so the display is visible even when the auroral activity is relatively low. Plus the wilderness is virtually free of light pollution.

Our favorite viewing spot: From the Gunflint Trail road (CR 12) 35 miles north of Grand Marais, hike the South Lake Trail three miles through old-growth red and white pines to the east end of the lake, on the U.S.-Canada border. Camp at the edge of the bay (permit required; $16/person;, with an unobstructed, wide-screen northern view across the lake.

Check the space weather forecast (; the higher the Kp number, the better your chances), and time your trip for a moonless night near the fall equinox (September 22 this year), when the magnetic fields of Earth and sun align to boost the odds of celestial fireworks.

Bonus for 2012: The 11-year solar cycle, featuring increased magnetic storms, peaks for a more active and colorful display. Trip ID 176406

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