Here’s your guide to the best spots to see the Northern Lights across Canada, how and when to see a show, and tips for getting the most out of the experience – whether it’s from a rubber viewing bay in a teen village in the Northwest Territories or the remote mountains of base camps in Newfoundland and Labrador.
How does aurora occur?
The aurora borealis appears in the Northern Hemisphere when charged particles of the Sun, riding on the solar wind, enter Earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases – specifically oxygen and nitrogen. When the Sun is strongest, you’ll most likely see a stunning display.
The name is derived from Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, and the Greek god of the north wind: Boreas. Much of the North of Canada lies below the Northern Hemisphere’s Aurora Oval.
Northwest Territories – The best place to see the Northern Lights in Canada
The best place to see aurora borealis in Canada – if not globally – is the Northwest Territories, where they are typically visible 240 nights a year. The optimal time frame is fall or winter (although summer is also pretty good).
Take a scenic bush plane from Yellowknife to the rustic elegant Blachford Lake Lodge & Wilderness Resort if you prefer solitude. Watch the aurora show from the hot tub on the deck, or the dome-shaped rock that overlooks the water. You can combine hiking, fishing, and boating with the big performance.
The Lights are awe-inspiring in winter, contrasting with an icy, white wonderland. The most convenient way to catch a gig is in the cozy comfort of Aurora Village, a teepee village just outside Yellowknife. It is specially designed for viewing the aurora borealis, it features spacious wood-fired heated tables and chairs, furry sofas, and warm recliners.
North Manitoba lies within the Arctic Circle bordering Hudson Bay. This is the place that has been dubbed “one of the top three places on the planet” to see the Light – Churchill. Scientists worldwide flock to the town of 850, famous for its polar bears, to study the aurora borealis. But what makes a tour even more remarkable is that you can combine it with bucket-list wilderness viewing – think belugas, arctic foxes, polar bears, and more. Via Winnipeg is the best route; stop at the Manitoba Museum to learn more about the Lights and how to best photograph them.
End of winter
The peak season for the aurora borealis in Churchill is February and March because of the intense cold, which can drop to 40 below zero. Go with professional operator Frontiers North, head out around midnight in a Tundra Buggy heating is equipped with a bar. Bring spare batteries, which can work hard in high temperatures, and rent clothes from Polar Inn & Suites. Screenshots are often explosive or better, snap so you don’t miss anything.
September to November is the second-best term to see the Northern Lights. Combine trophy fishing through mid-September with a light show from the comfortable deck at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, a two-hour flight from Winnipeg.
Yukon – Best place in Canada to see Northern Light
Since the days of the Golden Peak, the Wild West Yukon has been the location for legendary adventure. Take part in a few of them – sledding, fat biking, open-miner-style rudiments – and see the Lights while you’re there from September to April. Thanks to the Midnight Sun, the night sky isn’t dark enough in the summer, though it’s also a great reason to visit!
Residing in a hunter-gatherer tent camp in the wilderness near Whitehorse with Northern Tales, lit only by the stars – and the aurora borealis. The caterer offers modern amenities like barrel stoves and steaming drinks to keep you warm while you wait.
Late winter and early spring
During the winter, Northern Tales organizes a range of aurora packages and tours with activities such as snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowshoeing and dog freeing. Warm-up in Arctic Range Adventures’ AuroraCentre with your choice of a plush, insulated yurt or a cozy First Nations-style t-shirt.
It’s hard to beat the juxtaposition of the Twinkles in the towering Canadian Rockies, reflected in glassy, glacier-filled lakes. It’s no surprise that northern Alberta is home to the Geophysical Observatory at Athabasca University, which studies the aurora’s magnetic field effects on Earth. Non-scientists should guide Banff National Park for the best vantage points.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Like solitude? Newfoundland and Labrador have beautiful stretches of wilderness, especially in untouched Labrador. During the winter months, go sledding on more than 900 miles of trails with lights dancing above them. Add snowshoeing, hunting, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing if you like.
You’re more likely to catch the effect further north and in the Arctic, but you can still see the elusive aurora in Canada’s lower latitudes, including Ontario.
For Ontario, September and October are prime times for aurora viewing. You need to be somewhere outside the city, with little ambient Light for the best conditions to see an impressive aurora display. The best places to see the Northern Lights include Manitoulin Island, Cree Village Ecolodge and Pukaskwa National Park.
The vast tundra and far north location make Canada the top aurora viewing country in the Arctic. Spring and summer in Nunavut is a seemingly endless period of daylight, with 16 hours a day from May to August and 24 hours of sunshine daily in June and July.