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Right Place, Perfect Time: Aurora Borealis

Notch the best northern lights show in the Lower 48.

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A night beneath psychedelic pulses of green, red, and blue crawling across the sky like a giant amoeba should be on every hiker’s short list. Doing it right is one part location (north) and two parts timing (moon phase and equinox). That’s because a dark, moonless sky makes the aurora borealis brighter, and the equinox, when the Earth’s magnetic field aligns with the sun’s, intensifies the phenomenon.

For a big-ticket trip with easy logistics, head to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the banks of Angleworm Lake, with clear shots to the north and no light pollution. Take the 14-mile Angleworm Trail to campsites on the southwest shore. Snowshoe on the vernal equinox (March 20, 2011), or enjoy dry, bug-free conditions on the fall equinox (September 23, 2011). Tip: An 11-year sun cycle that influences the intensity of the northern lights peaks in 2012 and 2013.

Map McKenzie Map #11 ($7, bwcamaps.com) Info (218) 365-7561; recreation.gov