A Viewer’s Guide to Seeing the Northern Lights In Canada
A Guide To Viewing The Northern Lights In Canada
Wondering where to see the Northern Lights? Or how to see the Aurora Borealis? Well here’s an insider’s guide of top tips on how to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Canada.
The Northern Lights (also known as the Aurora Borealis) is a magical natural phenomenon of colourful lights, which dance across the night sky. Witnessing the Aurora Borealis is breathtaking, and for many people, a once in a lifetime experience.
Seeing the Northern Lights in Canada however, needn’t be down to luck. If this bewitching spectacle is on your bucket list, read our 7 Top Tips on how to improve your chances of watching the best show on earth!
1- Head up North
They’re called The Northern Lights for a reason. Now, we’re not going to get all science-y on you and tell you why they can be seen from some places and not others (that’s what Google is for), but the general gist of it is: the further North you go, the more likely you are to catch them.
65-72°N is known as ‘The Aurora Zone’ and is where aurora borealis activity is most often seen. Most of that zone however (66.3° and up), is in the Arctic circle, making it pretty hard to access, unless you have a private jet. So, your best bet is to just get as far north as you possibly can. You can regularly see the Northern Lights in Alaska, Iceland, Greenland and some Scandinavian countries too, but for anyone based in mainland North America, we recommend visiting Canada to see the Aurora Borealis. With its vast open skies and relatively easy access (with direct flights to Whitehorse), we love watching The Northern Lights in the Yukon.
2- Brave the winter
The Aurora Borealis is active all year round, but you can only see it when the sky is dark. Seasonally, it could be spotted any time from August through to April, but the best chance to see it is when the nights are long and the skies are darker: i.e. winter. Typically, early winter (December – January) tends to be a good time of the year for Northern Lights viewing in Canada.
3– Tune in with the moon
The Northern Lights don’t always transform the entire sky into a sea of dancing demons. Sometimes, during periods of quiet aurora activity, you might just catch some swirls of light, fluttering across the horizon.
It’s during these quieter phases of auroral activity that having a truly dark sky really helps you to see the magic. A big, bright moon adds much more light to the sky than you might think. So although the Northern Lights can be seen under a full moon, it’s a good idea to make the most of the really dark nights during the New Moon phase for your aurora borealis viewing.
4- Watch the forecast
Much like we can forecast the weather, some clever people have come up with a way to predict aurora borealis activity. They can tell you not only the likelihood of activity happening on a given day, but also where you might be able to see it from. Check out websites and apps like:
Please note: there are no long-range forecasts for Northern Lights viewing. All of these models are good for short-term conditions (1-3 days). There is no way to forecast many months in advance!
5- Chase the darkness
We’re back to that darkness thing again. This time though, it’s about getting away from artificial light. If you’re up north, in the winter, and it’s dark, your next step is to leave the city or anywhere with light pollution. Get yourself out into the mountains or the countryside, where there are no other light sources to distract your eyes from the northern lights.
While you can see aurora borealis activity from inner-city areas, you’re much less likely to witness the full enchanting spectacle. Plus, being out in the wilderness adds that extra element of feeling really ‘at one’ with nature. And that’s the kind of awe-inspiring experience we’re all hoping for, right?
6- Bring a compass, or a local
The Northern Lights tend to appear in the northern part of the sky first. It would really suck if you’d hiked all the way up a mountain, then sat facing towards the south and, unbeknownst to you, the northern lights merrily danced away behind your head. Bring a compass with you (or download a free one onto your phone) and make sure you set yourself up looking in the right direction!
The other option, is to find yourself a local and get them to take you to their secret spots. If you don’t back yourself to make knowledgeable friends in the bar, consider booking a guide. Guides are not only an awesome way to make the most of your trip, but they’ll transport you to the best viewing locations and make sure you’re looking the right way! There are many northern lights tours in Northern Canada, and we run our own too!
7- Stay a while
The Aurora Borealis tends to be seen most often around midnight, or between the hours of 10pm-3am. It’s a good idea to plan on being outside for that whole time (or at least be in a location when you can regularly check what the sky is doing). Just make sure you wrap up incredibly warm (it can get down to below -40°C in some of these northerly spots!) and bring yourself some blankets, hot drinks and snacks. Sometimes it’s cloudy at 9pm, but then the skies clear at 2am and reveal a dazzling display. As the old adage goes: good things come to those who wait.
Along the same vein: even if you’ve followed all of our top tips listed above, don’t expect the northern lights to appear on your very first night of looking. Aurora borealis activity comes in waves. Sometimes it will be visible every night for weeks. Sometimes it just doesn’t show up. Trips lasting more than a couple of nights will give you a longer window of opportunity. So don’t rush the experience: relax and stay a while. Plus, there are plenty of things to do in all of these epic northerly locations. You could spend your daylight hours snowshoeing, dogsledding (aka mushing), ice skating, relaxing in hot springs or curled up next to a roaring fire. I mean, you might as well make the most of this once in a lifetime northern lights viewing trip, right?
Think we missed something in our Aurora Borealis Viewing Guide? Tell us your top tips and relive your favourite Northern Lights memories in the comments below!
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