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Are the northern lights visible in Big Sky?

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By Derek Lennon EBS Contributor

The northern lights are perhaps the ultimate natural phenomena. This dazzling display of dancing lights paints the night sky with vibrant greens, blues, reds and yellows. It’s an otherworldly experience to see the night sky come alive with this all-natural light show. If you’ve never seen the northern lights, add it to your bucket list—it’s mind blowing.

While many people head to Alaska, Canada, Iceland, or Norway to view the northern lights, it’s also possible to see them without leaving Big Sky.

While it’s not an everyday occurrence, the northern lights are most certainly visible in the great state of Montana. If you’re in Big Sky Country, you might just catch a glimpse of the legendary northern lights. You just have to time it right.

According to Canada’s Northern Lights Centre, the northern lights or aurora borealis “are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.”

The best time to see the northern lights in Big Sky is when the K-index is high. According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website, “the K-index (Kp) is a measurement of the relative fluctuation in Earth’s geomagnetic fields. The higher the K-index (on a scale of zero to nine), the better your chances of seeing the northern lights at lower latitudes. For regions of Montana south of I-90, a K-index of seven or higher is generally required to see the northern lights.”

To best view the northern lights, you’ll want a cloudless night ideally around the time of a new moon when the sky is at its darkest. You’ll also want to watch from a secluded place far away from any light pollution and that offers an unimpeded view to the north. Don’t forget your camera and be sure to dress appropriately.

One of the best ways to view the northern lights in Big Sky Country is to plan a backpacking trip that takes you off the grid. This way you can find the ultimate, panoramic vantage point and the blackest night sky. Take a look at a map or chat with folks at the local outdoor retail shops who can help you find the perfect spot to watch the night sky come to life.

When you see the northern lights in Big Sky or surrounding region, it feels as if you can reach out and touch the entire galaxy. Can you do that at home? It might be time to plan a trip to Big Sky.

For more information on the aurora borealis, visit,, There are also a number of apps that provide alerts when viewing conditions are prime.

Derek Lennon is a skier and writer who lives, works and plays in the mountains of the world. He is based in Big Sky, Montana, where he lives with his wife Mia and two dogs.

A version of this story was originally published on the Visit Big Sky blog at Read more interesting content about the area on Visit Big Sky’s blog at

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