As interesting as it sounds, there is an aboriginal North American belief that the alluring dancing northern lights are powerful guardian spirits of the ancestors.
But the science behind it is that these luminous arches of lights in colours of red, violet, pink, white, and green are brought about by the collision between the sun’s solar winds and Earth’s atoms.
Learn more about this colourful natural phenomenon and know where to see the northern lights in Canada and what causes them!
Where Can You See the Northern Lights in Canada?
Theoretically, the Northern Lights can be seen almost anywhere in the Canadian skies because the Great White North is situated in the northernmost part of the hemisphere.
However, the problem is that due to air and light pollution in populated areas, especially in bigger cities like Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa, the visibility of the Aurora Borealis is significantly blocked, which is a killoff.
Nowadays, it’s seen chiefly in remote areas of the far north of Canada, where locations are primarily free from bright city lights and pollution. The closer you’re to the Earth’s North Magnetic pole, the higher the chance of seeing these light phenomena – called the “auroral zone” 2000+ kilometres from the North Pole.
If you’re wondering where to see the Northern Lights in Canada of the highest quality, here are the seven best locations in Canada.
1. Whitehorse, Yukon
Whitehorse, Yukon, is one the best places to see the Northern Lights in Canada because it sits right below the Aurora Oval, where lights are seen 240 nights a year, and there are tons of DIY recommendations, tours, and packages for Northern Lights viewing.
There are so many options for taking in the beautiful views of the Northern Lights, and one of the top picks is the scenic route to Fish Lake or Chadburn Lake Park. If you’ll stay for a while, consider some lodging options like Hidden Valley Bed and Breakfast, Aurora Inn, and Northern Lights Resorts & Spa.
Other top regional picks for Northern Lights viewing in Yukon are Campbell, Kluane, Whitehorse Region, Klondike, and Watson Lake Region.
2. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
They all claim that the Northwest Territories is where you’ll see the best view of the Aurora Borealis, especially in its city, Yellowknife, known as the Aurora capital of North America.
Since the town is located 500+ km south of the Arctic Circle and has a subarctic climate, clouds are not that seen, so you’ll get the best views in 240 nights of Yellowknife, Canada’s Northern Lights viewing experience.
Check out Pilots Monument, Aurora Village, Blachford Lake Lodge, and end-of-road Tibett Lake for unobstructed views of the Northern Lights in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.
3. Churchill, Manitoba
Churchill, Manitoba, is one of the ideal places to view the Northern Lights in Canada for many reasons –the highest concentration of Earth’s auroral activity, clear skies, and longer nights give more chances of witnessing the displays of various colours in the night sky. More than that, they claim that there is an average of 300 nights per year the phenomenon is seen in town.
The best places to see the Northern Lights in Churchill are Cape Merry, the Churchill Northern Studies Center, Dan’s Diner, Wapusk Adventures Dogyard, Thanadelthur Lounge, and Yurt.
4. Banff & Jasper, Alberta
Nothing beats the scenic backdrops of the Northern Lights in Banff and Jasper National Parks while watching stunning Northern Lights between October and April. Surprisingly, the Northern Lights are seen almost yearly mainly because Alberta is also located underneath the auroral zone and is elevated, making it favourable for viewing.
Some of the best spots for Northern Lights viewing in the parks are Pyramid Lake, Abraham Lake, and Lake Minnewanka.
5. Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories
It is not as popular as Yellowknife as a viewing spot of the Northern Lights. Still, there is also a high probability of seeing them here in many forms, be it arcs, rays, flickering auroras, or coronas, since it has 240 nights of active Aurora Borealis each year.
What’s spectacular about Tuktoyaktuk is that since the town is located adjacent to the Arctic Ocean, you can view the Northern Lights the clearest without obstructions. Drive down along the Inuvik – Tuktoyaktuk Highway to see the Northern Lights.
6. Iqaluit, Nunavut
The capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit, is a small city in northern Canada where you can enjoy looking at the Northern Lights, especially during the winter months from October to March. They claim that you can see the appearance of the aurora borealis in the town almost every day.
The location is so remote that few artificial lights pass through the city’s skies, and there are many activities you can do while waiting for the Northern Lights to appear. These include snowshoeing, hiking, and exploring Inuit arts and craft breweries.
Some of the best locations in the city for the best view are Sylvia Grinnell Park and Frobisher Bay, just outside the city.
7. Kuujjuaq, Quebec
Kuujjuaq, Quebec, near Greenland and Nunavut, is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Canada because of its strategic location of high northern latitude and right below the auroral zone. Aside from being underneath the auroral oval, the chance of seeing the lights increases because of less artificial light pollution.
The best spots to view the Northern Lights are the outskirts of town, specifically on the west shore of the Koksoak River, and fly further north to the smaller communities like Nunavik and Nunatsiaq.
Northern Lights Canada Map
One of the best ways to see the Northern Lights is to check weather forecast systems and search for the most precise possible skies. To give you a rundown, here is a screenshot of the comprehensive Northern Lights Canada map pinned with the best spots to see the Northern Lights in Canada.
There is a specific application called the My Aurora Forecast and Alerts, where you can see real-time Aurora maps, the best locations, and the stunning live Aurora webcams. The app is user-friendly and appealing to tourists because of its dark tone resembling that of outer space.
What is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Canada?
The best time to see the northern lights in Canada is from late August to mid-April, when most hours of darkness are present and periods of solar activity are intensely bursting.
If you like to take higher chances of seeing these stunning skylight shows, book travel packages during the cold winter months of December and February when the daylights are very short, and head over at midnight between 10 PM and 2 AM.
However, there are still chances of seeing the Northern Lights outside the typical Canadian Northern Lights season of August and April. As long as it’s dark out, there’s no pollution, and the moon or solar wind activity is vigorous, there’s a high chance of witnessing the Northern Lights. For instance, in Banff and Jasper, the streaks of luminous lights are shown during the summer months, from June to August.
Below is a quick rundown of the best months to see the Northern Lights in Canada:
- Yukon (August – April)
- Churchill, Manitoba (November – March)
- Banff & Jasper (June – August)
- Manitoulin, Ontario (September – October)
- Newfoundland & Labrador (September – April)
Before heading out to a known Northern Lights sight, check the aurora forecast or have a quick look summary from Space Weather Canada to be informed on their forecast on geomagnetic activity to get the most out of your night of observation.
What Are the Northern Lights?
Northern Lights, sometimes called the “aurora borealis” or “chasma,” is a glorious atmospheric phenomenon in the night skies around the northern hemisphere, showing dancing luminous lights of various colours. They mainly occur near the Earth’s magnetic poles in what they call the “Aurora Oval” or “Auroral Zone” and can be seen on high latitudes of the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
The phenomenon was discovered by the famous Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1619, and he named it after the Greek goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the God of the north wind, Boreas. But way before that, the phenomenon has been observed by the ancestors like the Norwegians, seeing it as shields or armour of the Valkyrie who died in battles.
Although green is the most widely seen colour from ground or observation decks, the Northern Lights also come in diverse colours like red, blue, pink, purple, and dark red, and these colours are determined based on the following factors:
- Altitude of occurrence
- Atmosphere’s density
- Involved energy levels
- Gasses present in the Earth’s atmosphere
Speaking of present gasses, shown below are the types of gasses present if you’ve come across different colours of the Northern Lights.
- Green – oxygen at 100-300 km altitudes
- Pink and dark red – nitrogen at altitudes of 100 km
- Red – oxygen at altitudes 300-00 km
- Blue and purple – hydrogen and helium
The Northern Lights also come in very spectacular and diverse patterns of beams, swirls, spirals, dynamic flickers, and curtains.
- Banding (aurora oval) – most commonly shown in multiple bands
- Beaming – piano-like styles towering over the sky with neon pink and green bases and top red or purple colours
- Corona – crown-shape flares
- Substorm aurora – rapid movements of repeated coronas
- Swirls – large swirling
- Post-explosion aurora – weird shapes in the haze of greens
What Causes the Northern Lights?
The scientific explanation of what causes the Northern Lights is not that difficult– the lights emitted are caused by the collision of atoms in Earth’s atmosphere and the charged particles from the sun caused by the solar winds.
The sun’s charged particles travel 300 – 500 km/s in multiple directions. Still, our magnetic field produces an invisible protective shield deflecting most of these, but as solar activities get more robust, the stream of particles still penetrates the Earth. Our magnetic field then pilots these particles toward the North Pole, creating an auroral oval above the north magnetic pole.
As the electrons and protons from the sun hit the air molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere, molecules get excited, create tiny flashes, and give off distinctive light colours as they calm down and decay back to their original state. These billions of little flashes occur in a beautiful sequence, appearing to be moving or dancing across the dark sky, hence, the northern lights.
The rule of thumb is the more active the sun is, the more beautiful the auroras will be seen from Earth and the more they are seen in the Northern part of Canada.
Northern Lights Canada Packages
Since Northern Lights Viewing is one of Canada’s best attractions, they have many organized guided tours bringing you to the best locations. Here are the best Northern Lights Canada packages.
- Northern Lights of the Yukon: The Northern Lights of the Yukon tour package is offered by Fresh Tracks Canada with a flight from Vancouver to Whitehorse for 5-nights and a six-day tour during winter from December to March.
You can have the best and most mystical view of the Northern Lights and personalize your itineraries with various non-viewing experiences like cultural tours, dog sledding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and ice fishing.
- Fall Colors and Northern Lights in Yellowknife: If you can’t go on a tour during winter, the fall season is another excellent time to witness the Northern Lights in the Northwest Territories. The best part of the Fall Colors and Northern Lights in Yellowknife tour is you get to view the aurora borealis in the best locations of Yellowknife, including the Aurora Village and Skydome.
- Aurora and Astronomy in Churchill: If you’re coming from Winnipeg and want to experience the best Northern Lights, try the 8-day Northern Lights trip in Churchill, which you can attend in February. There are several tours in the city, with nightly skywatching at CNSC and listening to research presentations.
With a low probability of seeing the Northern Lights in Toronto, the closest place you can view the Northern Lights in Toronto is in Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve, a dark-sky preserve near Gravenhurst in Ontario.
The chances of witnessing the Northern Lights in Vancouver, Canada, are low. If you wish to see the Northern Lights in Vancouver, Canada, head over to Porteau Cove National Park.
Point Pelee National Park is the most southern place in Canada to see the Northern Lights in the bottom part of Ontario because of the incredibly cloudless night sky views. Please take note that it is not always guaranteed.
You can see the Northern Lights with the naked eye, but not as gleaming as they are in photographs circulating online. It is because cameras can capture more light, and pictures can be edited. Moreover, our eyes are sensitive to green-yellow light, the most dominant colour from the dancing lights.