You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the northern lights or Aurora Borealis. The magical phenomenon, which occurs when electrically charged particles from the sun’s atmosphere encounter the Earth’s atmosphere, can cause vibrant colors to streak across the sky. The famous 17th-century astronomer Galileo Galilei named the mesmerizing display after Aurora, the Roman goddess of the morning. Scientists also believe that other worlds in our solar system may experience the northern lights as well!
If you can’t wait to scratch the northern lights off your bucket list, look no further than the Great White North. Canada is one of the best places in the world for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. The best time to catch the Northern Lights is between December to April. Not sure where to start? Here are some of the best places to visit if you want to catch a glimpse of this spectacular show.
1. Whitehorse, Yukon
Whitehorse is one of the most popular places to observe the northern lights due to its crystal-clear skies. The city was initially established in 1953 and is the capital of Yukon. The pristine Lake Laberge is a popular area for sightseeing. The body of water sits on the banks of the Yukon River and has historical ties to the Klondike Gold Rush in the earlier part of the 20th century. You can easily rent a cabin by the lake or stay in a nearby bed and breakfast and watch the northern lights, or you can go on a guided tour.
Other things to do while you’re in Yukon:
While you’re in Whitehorse, you should also check out the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can see over 12 different species roaming in their natural habitat. The Yukon Wildlife Preserve spans over 700 acres, which will give you plenty of opportunities to see arctic foxes, caribou, bison and other wildlife.
2. Nain, Newfoundland, and Labrador
If you want to have an adventure, you should travel to Nain, Newfoundland, and Labrador. Located at the eastern tip of Canada, Nain is the perfect place to experience the great outdoors and see Mother Nature at its finest. The city is home to the remote Torngat Mountains National Park where you can camp and watch the northern lights. During the day you can explore its rugged mountains and rocky tundra valleys which covers over 9,700 square kilometers (3,745 square miles). It’s not unusual for people to spot humpback whales, caribou, polar bears, and other local wild animals during their stay at Torngat Mountains National Park.
Other things to do while you’re in Newfoundland and Labrador:
Although Newfoundland and Labrador is famous for its snow-capped mountains and untouched nature, there are many local festivals, museums and art galleries to enjoy. We suggest you check out The Rooms at St.John’s. The famous museum celebrates the rich history of the area and holds some of the largest collection of art and artifacts in the region. Visitors can also enjoy breathtaking views of the city while dining inside the museum’s restaurant.
3. Banff, Alberta
Located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park is ideal for watching the northern lights since it’s more isolated and is less polluted. Banff sits at an elevation of 4,540 feet (1,384 meters), which makes it the most elevated town in Canada. The park has several historic sites, over a thousand glaciers and mountains that range from 45 to 120 million years old. You can watch the hypnotizing lights dance across the sky and the surface of the Lake Minnewanka, Peyto Lake or Castle Junction.
Other things to do while you’re in Alberta:
You can’t leave Alberta without checking out Jasper National Park. The park is one of the biggest dark sky preserves in the world besides Wood Buffalo National Park. The expansive park measures 11,000 square kilometers (4,247 square miles) and features numerous mountains, rivers, lakes and beaches for you to explore.
4. Iqaluit, Nunavut
Iqaluit is the capital of Nunavut and has numerous arctic outdoor activities for visitors, including dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice fishing and kayaking. This destination is very unique from the other places since it is governed by the Inuit people. Making it the ideal choice for travelers who want to see the northern lights and learn more about the culture and history of the Inuit people.
Other things to do while you’re in Nunavut:
If you will be in Iqaluit in April, try to go to the Toonik Tyme Festival. The weeklong event features musical performances and traditional Inuit activities like dogsled races, snowmobile races and igloo building. You can also go to the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association (or NACA) to learn more about the people and history of Nunavut. The organization throws a festival every summer to showcase some of the local artists in the area.
5. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
Yellowknife is another popular destination to see the northern lights due to its flat landscape and long winter nights. The capital of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife is also the biggest city in the province. It’s about 400 km (250 mi) south of the Arctic Circle. Tourists flock to Aurora Village to see the northern lights. The hotel has a variety of tour packages and other services for guests. You can also go to Great Slave Lake, which is just outside Yellowknife. According to the city’s official website, the city has a Northern Lighthouse which can forecast when the aurora will be active later on in the evening.
Other things to do while you’re in the Northwest Territories:
Check out the Snowking’s Winter Festival when you’re in Yellowknife. The annual festival is held each March inside a snow castle near Great Slave Lake for the entire month. The Snowking’s Winter Festival has concerts, children’s theatre and much more.
Some advice before you plan your trip:
Now that you know which places to go if you want to see the northern lights, you’ll probably be tempted to book a ticket right away. However, it’s important that you understand when the lights are visible so you will have a greater chance of seeing them. Before you book your trip, check out Aurora Watch and the Aurora Forecast Predictor to find out when it’s a good time to travel to Canada and see them.