The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, is a natural phenomenon where curtains of green, pink, violet and even red lights are visible in the night sky. Not many people know this, but Canada (North America) is one of the best countries to go to if you want to view the northern lights, due to being close to the Arctic circle.
One of the best things about the northern lights is you can experience them completely free - you just have to know where to go. However, for the best experiences, it may be worthwhile booking a tour. Here are some of the best places to see the enchanting streaks of light in the Great White North.
Things To Know
Before you go booking your flight, it’s important to know when the best time to see these spectacular light shows is. The most important factor is darkness, as it is much easier to see in the night sky when there are long hours of darkness. This means the colder, winter months from October to March are the best times to go the northern lights dancing in the night sky.
The auroral oval is what makes Canada such a great place to see the northern lights. The magnetic poles of the earth pull particles from solar activity and direct them to a concentrated spot on the globe. This is known as the auroral oval. Consider visiting areas, such as the Northwest Territories, that sit under the auroral oval for the best chance of seeing the lights.
The northern lights are best seen far from cities, where there is less light pollution.
Check the aurora forecast to get a better estimate of whether the northern lights will be visible.
Make sure to check the weather app as cloudy skies and rain will cover the light show.
Although you can start to see the aurora after the sun sets, the lights are typically brightest between 10pm and 3am.
During winter, temperatures can get as low as -40 degrees Celsius, so be sure to bundle up and bring some hand warmers!
The city of Yellowknife is considered to be one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. Here, there is a 90% chance you will see them with less light population, clear nights, flat landscape and a position directly under the auroral oval making it an ideal location to see the bewitching lights. Visit the city from mid-November to April for the best viewing.
If you are looking to stay in Yellowknife, it’s best to book a resort near the Great Slave Lake. Even better, check into a resort that has a hot tub so that you can go aurora viewing while in the tub, overlooking the waters. Be sure to bring a camera to capture stunning shots of the lights reflecting off the lake.
The Northwest Territories is home to Aurora Village, a destination that is famous for helping travellers experience the wonders of the north. A 20-minute drive away from the city of Yellowknife, Aurora Village is the best place to see the northern lights. Located right under the auroral oval, combined with wide skies, low humidity, and no light pollution, this location offers the perfect conditions for the northern lights to dazzle and amaze you.
If you decide to stay at this Teepee Village, be prepared for unrivalled comfort and luxury. Enjoy multi-night aurora viewing tours while living in a teepee tent, experience what it is like to dine under the lights as well as fun winter activities such as dog sledding. These Indigenous-owned experiences offer heated outdoor seats that rotate 360 degrees, perfect for viewing the aurora borealis from all angles.
Having a higher latitude, Yukon is one of the best provinces in Canada to visit if you want to see the northern lights. Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse, is the most popular destination to view the aurora in Canada due to its ease to access. Between 10pm to 3am, we recommend taking a short drive to either Fish Lake or Chadburn Lake Road to get past the city lights. Step outside, look up and admire the explosions of colour dancing across the sky.
If you would rather go on an aurora tour, get ready to be spoiled with the large selection of choices. From dogsledding to ice fishing to viewing the natural wonders of the sky from your cabin, you will definitely find one that satisfies your needs!
Beyond the northern lights, Whitehorse is full of adventure. Take a scenic flight through the mountains and into Kluane National Park. Zigzag through the canyons and take in the dream-like scenery below. For something closer to the ground, visit Yukon Wildlife Preserve to watch the moose graze and feed a family of lynx.
While you’re in Yukon, why not spend some time in Dawson City? Known for being a base for the Klondike gold rush from 1896 to 1899, Dawson City is a historical site preserved in time with its colourful frontier-style buildings.
Being a small city and located right in the middle of the aurora oval, you can see the lights just by stepping outside your room. If you are out in the town, keep your ears open for “the lights are out!” and experience the green glow with the locals.
Keen on getting out there and experiencing the aurora from within the ice-capped peaks? At lower latitudes, British Columbia, Alberta, and the Canadian Rockies would be the best place to see the northern lights. A tourist favourite is to experience them while taking a road trip along Icefield’s Parkway, starting from Banff National Park to Jasper National Park, two of the best national parks in Canada.
This 230-kilometre road trip will leave you stunned by the beauties Canada has to offer. From the Rockies to National Parks to the northern lights, nowhere else in the world will compare. Take your time exploring the diverse wildlife, glacier-fed Lake Louise, and the magnificent Rocky Mountains during the day, and once the sun falls below the horizon, the shimmering, green glow will illuminate the sky.
In Northern Manitoba, you will find the city of Churchill which considers itself to be one of the top three places on the planet to see the northern lights. Late winter (February and March) is the best time of year to see the lights in Churchill.
Be sure to pack warm, because temperatures can drop to negative 40 degrees Celsius. What makes seeing the lights in Churchill even more special is the wildlife. While here, be sure to take a wildlife tour to see belugas, polar bears, arctic foxes, and more.
Love the cold and snow? With a population of fewer than 8000 people, the Capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit, is possible one of the coldest places to watch the northern lights. Consisting of endless tundra, rugged mountains, and small remote villages, the only way to get there is by plane or boat.
Because of this, there is very little light pollution, leaving clear skies and a great environment to view the aurora borealis, despite being slightly north of the auroral oval. If you are looking to get off the beaten track, Iqaluit is a great place to experience the magical phenomenon.
While Toronto is a great place to visit, it’s not the best destination to visit if you want to go aurora viewing. We recommend staying far away from the light pollution coming from large cities if you want to see the aurora borealis in its full glory.
If you plan on staying in Ontario, drive up to the border where Hudson Bay is, far away from the city lights. For an even better view of the aurora from the bay, go on a four-day rail trip up to Churchill.
Located at a high latitude, this polar bear capital is the best place to view both the ice bears and the northern lights, so why not combine the two? Hop on a polar bear tour to marvel at those shaggy, cream-coloured bears sniffing your direction in curiosity from mere metres away.
After the sun sets, drive out to Hudson Bay, lean back, and watch as the aurora borealis dances across the sky. Located directly beneath the aurora oval and having auroral activity 300 nights of the year, coming to Churchill should definitely be added to your bucket list. Who knows, maybe you’ll even spot a polar bear viewing the lights with you!