guidesImage

Where to See the Northern Lights in Canada: An Ultimate Guide

Ammara Younas2024-05-31

Table of Contents

dropdown

Canada, with its vast wilderness and clear night skies, is one of the premier destinations in the world for viewing the mesmerizing Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. This natural light show, caused by electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with the Earth's atmosphere, paints the sky with vibrant colors and has fascinated people for centuries. In this guide, we will explore everything you need to know about seeing the Northern Lights in Canada, including the best places, times, and tips for an unforgettable experience!

Explore the Best & Cheapest Small Group Tours in Canada!


What Are the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon characterized by luminous displays of colored lights in the sky, predominantly seen in high-latitude regions around the Arctic and Antarctic. These lights can appear in various colors, including green, pink, red, yellow, and blue, depending on the types of gases in the Earth’s atmosphere and the altitude at which the interactions occur.

Northern Lights

Credit: Leonard Laub / Unsplash

What Causes the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights occur when electrically charged particles from the sun, also known as solar wind, interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. These particles are drawn towards the poles by the Earth's magnetic field and collide with gases in the atmosphere, such as oxygen and nitrogen, creating spectacular light shows. The intensity and frequency of the Northern Lights are influenced by solar activity, which can vary from year to year.

Where Is the Best Place in Canada to See the Northern Lights?

Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill, located on the shores of Hudson Bay, is often hailed as the best place in Canada to see the Northern Lights. This remote town, also known as the “Polar Bear Capital” due to its large population of polar bears, offers up to 300 nights a year of Northern Lights viewing. Churchill lies directly beneath the auroral oval, a ring-shaped zone around the North Pole where auroral activity is most frequent. Visitors can enjoy unique experiences like watching the lights from a tundra buggy or a special diner car.

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Yellowknife is renowned for its consistent and vibrant Northern Lights displays. Situated 400 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, Yellowknife’s location under the auroral oval, combined with clear, cold nights, provides optimal conditions for aurora viewing. Visitors can expect up to 240 nights of Northern Lights activity per year. This city also offers organized tours that include cozy setups with fire pits and heated shelters to enhance the viewing experience.

Whitehorse, Yukon

Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon, is another fantastic spot for Northern Lights enthusiasts. The region offers clear skies and minimal light pollution, making it perfect for aurora viewing. The best time to visit is between November and March, although the lights can sometimes be seen from late August to mid-April. Tours such as those offered by Northern Tales provide guided experiences that maximize your chances of witnessing this spectacular phenomenon.

Northern Lights

Credit: Leonard Laub / Unsplash

Jasper National Park, Alberta

Jasper National Park is a designated Dark Sky Preserve, ensuring minimal light pollution and excellent conditions for viewing the Northern Lights. Located in the Canadian Rockies, Jasper provides a stunning backdrop for the aurora. The best time to visit is from September to May. The park also hosts the Jasper Dark Sky Festival in October, offering an excellent opportunity to combine stargazing and Northern Lights viewing.

Banff National Park, Alberta

Banff National Park, another gem in the Canadian Rockies, offers great opportunities to see the Northern Lights. The best viewing times are between October and April. Like Jasper, Banff’s status as a Dark Sky Preserve helps in reducing light pollution, enhancing the visibility of the aurora.

Top Places in Canada to See Northern Lights

- Churchill, Manitoba: Known for its polar bears and up to 300 nights of Northern Lights.

- Yellowknife, Northwest Territories: Offers 240 nights of clear aurora viewing.

- Whitehorse, Yukon: Optimal viewing from November to March with guided tour options.

- Jasper National Park, Alberta: Dark Sky Preserve with excellent viewing conditions from September to May.

- Banff National Park, Alberta: Ideal between October and April with reduced light pollution.

- Newfoundland and Labrador: Coastal regions with up to 60 nights of viewing potential, best during September to October and March to April.

Northern Lights

Credit: Leonard Laub / Unsplash

What Month is the Best to See the Northern Lights in Canada?

The best months to see the Northern Lights in Canada are typically between September and March. During this period, the extended and darker nights create perfect conditions for viewing. Solar activity, which influences the intensity of the aurora, tends to peak around the equinoxes in September and March, making these months particularly good times to plan your trip.

Northern Lights

Credit: Greg Johnson / Unsplash

Can You See the Northern Lights from Toronto?

While Toronto is too far south and too affected by light pollution to regularly see the Northern Lights, it is not entirely impossible. On rare occasions of intense solar activity, the aurora can be visible in Toronto. However, for a reliable and breathtaking Northern Lights experience, it is best to travel to northern destinations like those mentioned above.

Viewing Tips and Preparation

Best Conditions for Viewing

To maximize your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, aim for cold, clear nights away from city lights. Light pollution can significantly diminish the visibility of the aurora. Therefore, heading to remote locations with minimal artificial light is crucial.

Planning and Tours

Consider joining a Northern Lights tour. These tours often provide transportation, accommodations, and expert guidance, ensuring a comfortable and informative experience. They also tend to include amenities like heated viewing shelters and warm clothing, which can be particularly useful in the frigid Canadian winters.

Capture the Moment

For those interested in photographing the Northern Lights, a tripod is essential for long exposure shots. Using a wide-angle lens and experimenting with different ISO settings can help capture the vibrant colors of the aurora. Apps and camera settings optimized for night photography can also enhance your images.

Additional FAQs

How Should I Photograph the Northern Lights?

Even with a smartphone, you can capture stunning photos of the Northern Lights. Use a tripod to keep your camera steady, set a longer shutter speed, and utilize night mode settings. For best results, use a wide-angle lens and adjust your ISO settings to capture more light while balancing noise levels.

Northern Lights

Credit: shubham kamboj / Unsplash

Is a Northern Lights Tour Worth the Money?

Definitely! Northern Lights tours provide a hassle-free way to see the aurora, covering everything from transportation and accommodation to guided viewing experiences. They often include additional winter activities like dogsledding, snowshoeing, and hot spring visits, making them well worth the investment.

How Much Does it Cost to See the Northern Lights?

The cost of a trip to see the Northern Lights can vary widely depending on the destination, duration, and type of accommodations. Packages can range from a few thousand dollars for a basic tour to over $7,000 for a luxurious, all-inclusive experience.

Conclusion

Canada offers some of the best locations in the world for viewing the Northern Lights. Whether you choose the remote beauty of Churchill, the vibrant skies of Yellowknife, or the dark skies of Jasper and Banff, you are in for an unforgettable experience. Plan your trip for the optimal viewing months, prepare for cold, clear nights, and consider joining a guided tour to make the most of this awe-inspiring natural phenomenon.