Home Lifestyle Tourism Canada’s best spots to see the northern lights

Canada’s best spots to see the northern lights


The northern lights are so magical they have inspired countless legends. The Southern Tutchone who live in the Yukon believe the beautiful lights are a message from their ancestors. The ancestors dance in the spirit world to let the living know they are happy there.

The science behind an aurora is a little more complicated. The colourful dancing lights of an aurora are created when charged particles from the sun become trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field. This happens most often near the magnetic poles. The phenomenon is called aurora borealis at the North Pole and aurora australis at the South Pole. Canada’s northern latitude with its low light pollution make it an ideal place for viewing aurora borealis. Here are some of the best places to view this magical phenomenon.

Fort McMurray, Alta.

Situated on the 56th parallel, the aurora dances in the skies above Fort McMurray on cold, clear evenings from October through March and occasionally during other months. The aurora is typically seen around midnight, but it can appear any time between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., lasting for hours or mere minutes. There are tour operators that offer aurora-viewing tours from Fort McMurray.

Melfort, Sask.

About 280 kilometres north of Regina, Melfort has been called “the city of the northern lights” due to the frequency of auroral activity in the area. Spruce Haven Park is a good spot for aurora viewing inside Melfort. If you want to view the aurora while camping, head two hours northwest to Prince Albert National Park. The marketing slogan for the province of Saskatchewan is “land of the living skies,” and northern Saskatchewan in particular lives up to that reputation.

Manitoulin Island, Ont.

At 2,766 sq. km, Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron is the largest fresh- water island in the world. There are more than 100 inland lakes on the island, and above it are some of the darkest skies in Ontario. Gordon’s Park is Canada’s first commercial dark sky preserve and a great place from which to view the northern lights. Spring and fall are the best times for aurora viewing, and the park hosts aurora borealis-themed weekends.

Nunavik, Que.

Northern Quebec’s Nunavik region is an aurora-watching hot spot. The Inuit village of Kuujjuaq is the largest community in this region, with a population of approximately 2,800. The tourism company Inuit Adventures offers multi-day aurora-viewing tours that include airfare from Montreal. During the day, guests experience Inuit culture, visit archeological sites and observe wildlife. Aurora tours run from mid-September through the end of April.

Whitehorse, Yukon

The Yukon is legendary for its reliable northern lights displays, and auroras can be spotted throughout the territory. Mid-August to mid-April is the peak season, and dark clear skies provide the best aurora viewing. From Whitehorse, take a drive toward Fish Lake or Chadburn Lake Road to get away from light pollution. There are many companies that offer aurora-viewing tours from Whitehorse. On such tours, guests are bused outside the city, where there are heated yurts set up, so they can relax and wait in comfort until the aurora comes out.

The magic window is typically between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.

Yellowknife, N.W.T.

The capital of the Northwest Territories is one of the best places in North America for northern lights viewing. The flat landscape along the shores of Great Slave Lake provides unobstructed views, and the low precipitation results in an abundance of cloudless skies. There are many tour operators that offer aurora-viewing tours, and there’s even an “aurora village” with heated teepees, excellent viewing areas and room to accommodate up to 400 people.

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Mid-November to the beginning of April is peak aurora season here.

Note: Please confirm COVID-19 travel restrictions before booking your trip.

Debbie Olsen is an award-winning Métis writer and a national bestselling author. Follow her at wanderwoman.ca.This adapted excerpt was taken from “150 Nature Hot Spots in Canada,” selected and edited by Debbie Olsen, with permission from Firefly Books.





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