Can I see the Northern Lights in Autumn?

26 May, 2017, by Jayde Kincaid

When most people think of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), they imagine frozen lakes, freezing temperatures and several feet of snow. But, believe it or not, you can also try to see this ‘once in a lifetime’ light show in our region during autumn.

When does the Northern Lights season start?

Solar activity, the cause of the Northern Lights, is actually the same all year round; it’s just the longer hours of darkness in winter that up your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in winter.

From mid to late August, there is just enough twilight late in the evening for the Northern Lights to make an appearance. This is a rare phenomenon but there is a chance that you can see the sun setting and the Northern Lights dance across the sky together. Don’t hold your breath though; it is rare!

Hiking in Finland during Autumn

Hiking in Finland during autumn, credit: Julia Kivelä

More realistic, however, is to plan your autumn holiday around visiting any time after the equinox. This September equinox occurs the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above Earth's Equator – from north to south. This happens either on September 22, 23, or 24 every year. However, arriving slightly earlier might also give you a chance if that is how your travel plans work. At this time of year, it starts to get dark around 7pm and the auroral activity typically reaches it's peak around midnight.

While the autumn months of September, October and November can produce Auroras to match any of the deep winter months, unfortunately, there are no guarantees any time of year.

Critical is that the weather is clear – cloud cover is the Aurora Borealis viewers biggest enemy. Early in autumn, you have a better chance that the snowstorms haven’t started gathering in earnest and the skies tend to be clearer. Having said that, we often suggest visiting two different spots during your Northern Lights tour so that, for instance, if the rain clouds are sweeping the coast, by heading inland to the dry regions behind the mountains, your chances might increase. 

Remember, the longer you stay, the higher the chance you’ll see one or more displays.

Northern Lights over the lakes of Swedish Lapland

Northern Lights over the lakes of Swedish Lapland, Autumn in Swedish Lapland, credit: Graeme Richardson

What is the weather like in the Nordic Autumn?

O.K – so you don’ t like the cold! Visiting at this time of year, it is usually much warmer than the deep arctic winter, so you won’t normally have to get kitted out in full weather ski-gear. You might encounter some snow and it’s not going to be tropical, but jeans and a heavy jacket will usually do the trick – maybe with woolen undergarments.

You can expect mild and colourful days with frosty nights. The fabulous display of autumn leaves add an extra bonus to your holiday, known as the ‘ruska’ season. We have several specific Autumn Northern Lights tours that just run in this season, Autumn in Swedish Lapland and Autumn Colours & Aurora Borealis

Without the snow, however, your daily activities will be very different from the usual Northern Lights holidays. Instead of snowmobile riding and dogsledding, you will be generally offered fishing, hiking, kayaking and berry picking excursions. Just bear that in mind when you are considering travelling in this period.

Fishing in Sweden, ICEHOTEL

Fishing at the ICEHOTEL, credit: Tomas Jönsson

So how wet will it be?

It’s no secret that autumn can be wet. When the rain clouds sweep in over the coast, we often suggest that our guests head inland behind the mountains. We tailor-make our itineraries so that you can stay in the both the inland and coastal areas of Scandinavian Lapland. You may also get clear skies at the coast when the rain clouds are glued to the mountaintops. Pack your rain jacket, just in case you're unlucky. 

What else is happening at this time of year?

There aren’t any public holidays in autumn, so it’s a season when life settles back to normal for the people of Scandinavian Lapland. As the nights draw in, the cafés in the towns get busier, the restaurants start serving cozy hearty meals, and locals mainly attend the concerts and galleries. The 'hygge' time of year starts in earnest. 

As well as the lights, there is a wealth of other things to see that are unique to the autumn months. It’s a particularly good time for bird watching as it’s the migratory season. Wildlife safaris to see animals such as elk and bears are running and it is lively in the forests.

Moose in Sweden Bears in Finland

Moose in Sweden, credit: Eddie Granlund and Bears in Finland, credit: George Turner

Credit for top image: Tomas Jönsson

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