If you've ever wanted to see the northern lights, now could be the time. Aurorae borealis occur when solar storms eject charged, colliding particles into the Earth's atmosphere, a phenomenon that peaks roughly every 11 years during what's called solar maximum. As luck would have it, the next solar max is expected to occur in early 2013. That means that between now and April, aurora-gazers will likely be treated to some spectacular shows.
While a trip to spot the lights can't be a guaranteed success -- Mother Nature is fickle, after all -- some places offer particularly good opportunities.
Click through to discover the best places to see the Northern Lights.
Bear Lake, Alaska
A trip to remote Bear Lake, located about three hours outside of Seward, is well worth the trek. When night falls, the lake is blanketed in darkness. The lack of light pollution makes northern lights viewing nothing short of spectacular.
The lake can be reached from Bear Creek Road off the Seward Highway. Accommodations are sparse, but a bed and breakfast is located along the lakeshore.
Fairbanks' clear, dark skies and location near the far-north region known as the "auroral circle" make northern lights sightings a common occurrence.
A number of tour operators and resorts cater to aurora-seekers, including the Chena Hot Springs Resort, which pampers guests with snow coach viewing tours, heated yurts and hot beverages. Guests can even book a stay in their "Aurorium," a heated log cabin with enormous plate glass windows facing northeast.
Denali National Park, Alaska
Northern lights are best spotted above 60 degrees north latitude, and Denali National Park lies at a convenient 65 degrees north, making sightings common. The park offers visitors a number of winter activities well beyond aurora viewing, including snowshoeing and dog sledding.
Check for accommodation options at the Denali Visitors Bureau website. Camping is free in winter at the Bear Creek Loop of Riley Creek Campground at the park's entrance, but be sure to bundle up: Temperatures hover around 0 degrees.
Perhaps the most unforgettable way to view the northern lights is by booking an overnight stay in a heated, glass igloo at Hotel Kakslauttanen's Igloo Village (at left) in Finland. These glass-enclosed, pod-like spaces are perfect for spotting the lights. The hotel also offers traditional snow igloos (complete with down sleeping bags and wool socks and hoods) and standard, indoor lodging.
While waiting for darkness to fall, guests can keep busy with a reindeer sleigh ride, ice swimming or even ice karting (think go karting, but on a more slippery surface).
Many travelers to Iceland have made a northern lights tour a key part of their visit. The country's location and dark skies make viewing a breeze when nature is cooperating (which, thankfully, is often). The lights generally reach their peak between October and April.
Local tours can come with perks. Imagine viewing the spectacle while lounging in hot, natural mineral baths, or taking a pause from your lights spotting to dine on lobster. Not bad.
Multi-day tours are also available and include stops at some of Iceland's stunning waterfalls and geysers.
Þingvellir National Park, Iceland
One of Iceland's most popular tourist destinations, Þingvellir National Park also happens to be one of the country's prime spots to look for auroras.
The park's location on the northern shore of Þingvallavatn, which is Iceland's largest natural lake, provides a particularly dramatic landscape for viewing and photographing the lights.
Visitors can plan their own trip to the park, or join a day tour that also includes a steamy soak in nearby Fontana natural spa.
Located at 70 degrees north latitude, Tromsø has been called the "Gateway to the Arctic." Its cold, northern location makes the town prime grounds for aurora viewing.
Plenty of tour operators offer jaunts to see the lights. The most popular just might be Arctic Lights Chase tours -- nightly excursions organized by the Arctic Guide Service. Experienced guides take passengers in buses and minibuses on a mission to find the lights. Bonus: The five- to seven-hour tours include hot chocolate and cookies.
Still, one of the most spectacular ways to see the lights in Tromsø is aboard a midnight cruise through nearby fjords.
Abisko National Park, Sweden
The Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park just might be the world's premier location for aurora spotting. Abisko is perfectly located in the auroral zone, and its skies are frequently cloud-free.
Travelers ride a chair-lift to the observation station, where they can climb a lookout tower or visit an exhibition focused on observing and understanding the lights.
It's even possible to book an overnight stay at the station, or make a reservation for a three-course Nordic-themed dinner under the northern lights.
Greenland may be one of the more remote regions to see the lights, but the town of Kangerlussuaq is home to the country's international airport, making it relatively convenient for travelers. The journey frequently pays off: The city's location and frequent clear skies make it one of the best places in the world to spot auroras.
One exciting way to see the lights here is from a dog-sled excursion. World of Greenland Arctic Circle offers three-day expeditions from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut from February to April. Participants help with the daily work of manning a dog team, feeding the dogs, packing the sled and even cooking. The company provides appropriate polar clothing (think heavy down and big boots) for an additional fee.
According to Inuit legend in Greenland, the northern lights shine and dance when the dead play football with the skull of a walrus. Whatever the true cause, the frequent displays here in Kulusuk verge on epic. The tiny town has a mere 316 inhabitants, which, for aurora seekers, translates to few buildings and minimal light pollution.
While the region is isolated, an airport is located nearby and northern lights tours are available. Among them is a popular dog-sled tour from World of Greenland. Should you decide to travel to Kulusuk and view the lights on your own, stay at the town's main accommodation, Hotel Kulusuk, which is a 30-minute walk from the airport.
Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
Canada's Yukon territory is another hotbed of aurora-viewing activity. A number of tours include other cold weather entertainment. The four-night Sourdough Rendezvous & Aurora Borealis tour, for example, lets guests join in on the Sourdough Festival, a weeklong event that features chainsaw chucking, flour packing competitions, whip sawing and comedy routines.
The tour also includes a half-day dog mushing tour, entrance to the Takhini Hotsprings, and of course, four nights of aurora viewing, complete with snacks and hot drinks. Other Northern Lights tours feature optional activities like snowmobiling, ice fishing and air tours.
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada
Yellowknife locals are so confident in their town's prime-viewing locale, they've actually created Aurora Village, a unique viewing encampment.
Located just a 25-minute drive from the town center, the village offers guests heated, reclining viewing chairs, a teepee campground, a dining hall with hot soup, campfires complete with marshmallow roasts, and interpretive guides who speak multiple languages.
The village offers daytime activities for guests, too, including snowmobiling, snowshoeing and dog sledding.
The Best Places to See the Northern LightsAnd why the next few months just might be the perfect time to spot them