Help a family see the Northern Lights tmrw eve (pdx area)
May 10, 2024 10:09 PM   Subscribe

Hi pals, my family and I (6 adults) would like to go see the Northern Lights (or have a good shot at it) tomorrow evening somewhere 1-2 hours in pretty much any direction from Portland, Oregon. We would need it to be accessible by car, as a couple folks in our party aren't able to hike. Where would you go for this, PNW explorers? Thank you!
posted by fairlynearlyready to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
Drive east to get to darker skies, the further you go the better it will get (Burns and the Owhyee are legit Dark Sky areas but you can’t reach either in 2 hours from Portland. )
posted by janell at 11:03 PM on May 10

They were visible tonight from along the riverwalk, a couple miles south of downtown. Showed up best on cameras with a night mode, but subtly visible to the naked eye. So you may only need to find a spot that is dark-ish, without streetlights directly overhead.
posted by dorey_oh at 12:52 AM on May 11

Yeah I could see them in my extremely brightly lit Seattle front yard (!!! It was so cool!!!) although they were faint and the streetlights kept my eyes from acclimating properly. And I’m not quite in the band where they are supposed to be best, either. You probably won’t need to go far at all, just somewhere without copious lampposts.
posted by Mizu at 1:13 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Just so you know, they may be fainter and a bit less dramatic tonight, though there's still a decent chance to see them.

If you can't see anything with the naked eye, which is very possible, use your phone camera on night mode with at least a 3 second delay and take photos of the sky in various spots. For me it was just a very faint purpleish haze, but when I took pictures I could see the bands of colour clearly.

Good luck!
posted by fight or flight at 1:33 AM on May 11 [4 favorites]

We're heading to Banks/North Plains tonight. There's a few wildlife viewing areas out there that should have enough open space and few lights.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:26 AM on May 11

Either Rocky Butte or the Pittock Mansion may be good spots.
posted by Lynsey at 9:10 AM on May 11

There’s this list. Personally, we weren’t up for a drive of any great length, so we just drove up by Mt. Tabor. The view from the north border of the park itself involved a lot of stairs and was blocked by trees, but if you go a couple blocks north of Belmont/Stark, there are residential streets without bright street lights and good vistas. You could make out faint stripes and some colorful shadows just looking at the sky, but the colors popped beautifully on phone cameras. Enjoy!
posted by alygator at 9:27 AM on May 11

Might not need to drive that far - Sauvie Island, maybe? We could see them from the Pearl last night, although most of what we could see was just white light. It was still cool, but we're planning on driving out to Sauvie Island tonight I think.
posted by pdb at 12:09 PM on May 11

Well, from last night's experience I recommend against the Columbia River Scenic Highway. The level of darkness near the Vista House was satisfying, but it was super crowded leaving nowhere to park or view the sky except from the shoulder of the road with a constant stream of headlights going by. The KOIN list that alygator linked said go to Womens Forum, but it was untenable-cars were parked along both sides of the road for miles. It seems to me that the top of Larch Mt could be nice, but I didn't try to go that far, and can't say what the situation is like. I expect anywhere between Portland and Hood River would be similarly crowded and compromised. If you want to go east of Portland, I would aim to be somewhere to the east of Hood River.

That said, when we did find a relatively uncrowded spot just a couple miles down Larch Mt road, the sky was spectacular. It was worth getting away from the light pollution of the city.

I might try again tonight. Since the best part of the aurora should be expected in the north, going north of Portland makes the most sense. Maybe near Ridgefield or Scappoose? Sauvie Island sounds attractive, but I'd be concerned about a traffic jam on the bridge and all those narrow roads.
posted by polecat at 2:51 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

I found a Reddit thread. I plan to read it carefully, so apologies if this is redundant...but I thought I should add that if you want to go somewhere like Pittock Mansion or Rocky Butte, plan carefully around the problems of traffic and parking.
posted by polecat at 3:01 PM on May 11

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