Hunting the northern lights in Finnish Lapland reminded me of a children’s book I love called Owl Moon. It’s a story of a boy and his father who trek into an evergreen forest on a silent winter night. They’re searching for an owl and hoping to hear its mysterious call.
The author writes, “…for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is.”
Hunting the northern lights in Finnish Lapland is considered one of the best places in the world to spot the elusive auroras. Nevertheless, you need hope and a dash of luck. Sometimes the skies light up and sometimes they don’t.
Hunting the Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland
Technically, you don’t need to do a tour to see the northern lights. A clear sky and as little other light as possible during the aurora season of October-April gives the best chance.
If you’re staying in Rovaniemi, you’ll need to get away from the city lights for all but the most dazzling displays. In reality, this is easier said than done. Most hotels and Airbnbs are in the city center. But with a little determination and a taxi, you can find yourself in a relatively dark spot on a fell (or hill) within 20 minutes of the city center.
Truly, though, I decided on a northern lights tour with Lapland Welcome primarily because of the lack of gear. (The great TripAdvisor reviews didn’t hurt either!) Don’t get me wrong, I knew what to pack for Finnish Lapland, but even my complete ensemble of ski gear wouldn’t keep the icy arctic air from ruining the experience. I quickly learned what was considered necessary gear from the previous days snowmobiling and dog sledding excursions. After all, hunting the northern lights takes time and patience. Inadequate gear is an absolute night-ender.
In addition to the gear, Lapland Welcome’s northern lights tour started and ended the latest. Taxis would be hard to come by after midnight and the northern lights are most likely to appear when night has firmly taken hold and everything is still.
Besides the weather forecast and looking at the sky to gauge any cloud cover, tools like the KP Index are meant to help you know your chances for seeing the auroras on any given night.
In reality, the northern lights are unpredictable.
Even so, I almost didn’t book the tour because the sky seemed cloudy and the KP Index predicted only a slim chance for the northern lights over Finnish Lapland that night.
I’m so glad I ignored everything and just took a chance. Sometimes the northern lights appear and sometimes they don’t.
The tour company outfitted us with gear and drove us to a “secret spot” about an hour outside of Rovaniemi. I’m not planning to reveal the exact location. I will say if you read enough TripAdvisor reviews and do a little sleuthing on Google you can figure it out like I did.
It was -25C/-13F as our small group trekked up the fell. The air was a mix of evergreen and smoke from a distant fire. The clouds from earlier in the day had pushed off and a brilliant full moon lit up the sky. The light reflecting off the snow created silvery pathways in between the white-covered pine and spruce trees. As the snow crunched under my feet up the hill, my body heat warmed all the layers tucked within my Arctic suit. Along the way, I imagined the giant evergreen shadows were instead frumpy, friendly monsters from a Roald Dahl-inspired classic.
When we arrived at our spot on the fell, the guide talked about the native and scientific explanations of the northern lights. There was a momentary “ohh” from the group as a shooting star streaked past exposing our anticipation and collective hopes for the night. We continued to listen but kept our eyes on the northern sky.
“Look! There they are!” The guide interrupted himself, excitedly. Everything was silent as we all looked.
I stared and stared at the sky, but didn’t see the auroras. Yet, up until that moment, the sky was the most beautiful I’d ever seen. Not only were there countless stars shining as clear as I’d ever seen them, it was as if I could see the layers and the depth of the universe beyond them.
Determined not to miss what I came here for, I focused on the sky. I inhaled swiftly as I spotted the tiniest speck of green and watched as it widened into a small green band. Minutes passed and the green band multiplied into several until it looked like green billowy fingers filled the sky.
Our tiny group standing on the hill went from excited to quiet. The guides sensed we didn’t want any more chatter or explanations and retreated into the background. Whatever seeing the northern lights meant to each of us standing there, it didn’t need to be communicated. For when you see the northern lights, you don’t need words. We all knew that sometimes the northern lights show up and sometimes they don’t.
After a while, the sky went dark. Most of the group went to a nearby yurt where the guides had a warm fire, hot drinks, and flame-broiled sausages. The convenience of being on a tour was not just the gear or the “secret” location. It was the complete Finnish Lapland wilderness experience. We were out in this pristine wilderness with only the fire, the sky, and the forest to comfort us.
Not wanting to stay inside for too long (and thankfully with one guide keeping an eye on the sky), I hurried back out on the fell when the auroras returned.
They started from the same corner of the sky as before. The green hues bounced across the sky stretching into an arc over the evergreen forest. The lights playfully faded and brightened seemingly unaware of an audience watching their every move before finally going dark for good.
We stayed on the fell until just shortly after midnight. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew it was time. Finnish Lapland had treated all of us to a special night, and honestly, who wants those to end? But, we also made our way back down the fell feeling content.
We were given a bright moon, a brilliantly clear starry night, the peace of the surrounding forest, and of course, a glimpse of the elusive northern lights. After all, when you hunt the northern lights in Finnish Lapland, all you need is hope and a dash of luck.
Are you planning a trip to Finnish Lapland? Is seeing the northern lights on your bucket list? Where have you seen the northern lights?
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