I took my dogs for a walk outside on a cold night several years ago. The sky was ablaze with stars, and as I looked up to see the Big Dipper and the North Star, the far horizon glowed in a green glow. I couldn't believe I was seeing the northern lights.

In New Hampshire and Alaska, the glow turned into green strobes as if multiple search beams were working the sky. The charged particles from the sun had entered the Earth's magnetic field thousands of miles above, and as they rained into the planet's upper atmosphere, the particles collided with nitrogen and oxygen atoms, lighting the sky with rose pink and pale green bands of shimmering light.

It is possible to see the northern lights in Sweden or the Far North of Alaska. The Lower 48 is home to one of the best places in the world to see the Aurora borealis.

Mirka Zapletal is the director of education at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center and she said that it depends on how active the current solar cycle is.

It is necessary to have patience, clear skies, and an Aurora forecast in order to catch the spectacle. The sight of the lights makes it all the more spectacular. If your timing is right, you can see the northern lights at a number of outdoor destinations in the continental United States. If the weather doesn't cooperate or you sleep through the alarm, these places are rich in recreational opportunities.

The hours surrounding midnight offer the most optimal viewing conditions for the Aurora borealis, which can be seen only after dark. The lights are not visible during the summer.

The best times to see the display are in March and September. On clear nights, they can sometimes be seen from fall through early spring as far south as Pennsylvania, but only if you have an unobstructed and darkened view of the northern horizon.

Obtaining a weather forecast for cloudless skies is important. The website of the Geophysical Institute in Alaska provides weekly updated North American Aurora forecasts for the next three hours, three days or 27 days. The nights of March 11 and 19 will offer the best chances of seeing the lights in the Lower 48 because of the Earth's magnetic field. In half-hour increments, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gives advance predictions.

The lights over Moosehead Lake in Maine.
ImageThe lights over Moosehead Lake in Maine.
The lights over Moosehead Lake in Maine.Credit...Getty Images

Bar Harbor is a good base camp because it is known for its seafood, locally owned shops, breweries and museums. The best places to view the lights are on the north end of the park or down on the Schoodic Peninsula, away from the lights of town on either Schoodic Head or Jordan Pond. In this region, the stargazing is excellent if the Aurora isn't there. Those who snowshoe up Cadillac Mountain can catch the first sunrise of the year from October through March. The green flash that occurs over the Atlantic Ocean as the sun's first rays are bent over the horizon are as rare as the northern lights.

Beneath Mt. in northern New Hampshire. The largest ski resort in the state is located outside of the small town of Carroll. This is one of the more accessible places in New England to hunt for the northern lights.

The person is a meteorologist for the Mt. Washington Observatory has seen the northern lights about three dozen times in the past 15 years.

Downhill skiing is open until mid April, snow tubing is available, 60 miles of cross country trails are available, and fat bike rentals are available. Four miles south on Route 302, you can find the Highland Center, a less expensive option with plenty of potential hiking and snowshoeing viewpoints. Guests who are overnight can take part in guided hikes or borrow equipment.

Causeway Park, which is 10 miles north of Burlington, Vt., and alongside Lake Champlain, may offer one of Vermont's best dark sky vistas, with spectacular sunsets, too. The reflections off the vast surface of ice will remain unforgettable if the northern lights are out. The Causeway Trail is a great place to walk over the lake. The Shelburne Museum is a 15-mile drive south, with cottages and other lodging options nearby, and the temptation to sample the wares at Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory is 35 miles away.

The Northern Lights in Michigan.
ImageThe Northern Lights in Michigan.
The Northern Lights in Michigan.Credit...Getty

The Headlands International Dark Sky Park is located on 600 acres of old growth forest on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The Headlands is a certified Dark Sky Park and offers free programs and events for visitors. The park is open 24 hours a day with no access fees, but limited lodging is available on-site. A half dozen miles of trails feature signs that direct visitors to the stations to view the skies.

On some nights, hundreds of people come to the park to see the lights.

He said that we are at a point where we are going to be seeing more solar activity.

A 50-mile drive north of Lake Superior will lead to hundreds of miles of ideal and starry panorama above America's largest body of fresh water.

According to Jim Gilbert, author of several books about the state, Minnesota has the largest area of potential viewing for the Aurora. The Gunflint Lodge is 43 miles up the paved Gunflint Trail and is home to a variety of outdoor activities, including ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and dog sledding. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, has many places to view the Aurora display. Deb Mark, the owner of Seagull Outfitters, said that her neighbors are posting pictures of the northern lights, as well as the chance of hearing wolves.

If you want to see the Aurora in the spring, you can rent a canoe from Gunflint Lodge or Seagull Outfitters on warmer fall nights. The Ojibwe believed the night sky, Wawatay, was a performance of their ancestors dancing above to celebrate life and remind onlookers that we are all part of the wonder of creation.

National Geographic's Atlas of the National Parks is one of the 15 books written by Jon Waterman.