Discover the most captivating Northern Lights destinations in Canada! Our comprehensive guide showcases the top spots for witnessing this natural light show. Plan your aurora adventure today and experience the magic of the Canadian night sky.
Witnessing the ever-changing colours dancing over the landscape is one of the most incredible feelings I’ve known. Witnessing the northern lights in Canada dance across the sky fills me with wonder every single time that I’m lucky enough to experience it. And with one of the largest northern landscapes of any country in the world, witnessing the Aurora in Canada is something that can be done with relative ease.
There are Northern Lights tours and camps throughout Canada’s north from Newfoundland to British Columbia. But if you want to experience this natural wonder for yourself, there’s a trick to seeing the northern lights in Canada.
You need to know where and when to go.
The northern lights are notoriously unpredictable and seeing this phenomenon, which paints the sky in a dazzling array of colours, from purples and blues to greens and reds, requires the stars to align in just the right way.
Canada is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. Huge swaths of the world’s second-largest country, up to 80-90% lie within the “Aurora Oval” the area of the northern Hemisphere where the Aurora Borealis is most easily seen.
I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing and photographing the aurora in five countries. And my guide to experiencing the northern lights for yourself is designed to help Canadians and visitors to this amazing country know where to go, and how to plan so that you don’t go home disappointed.
What Are The Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, as they’re scientifically known, are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena in the world. The mystery and beauty of these dancing lights have captivated humanity for thousands of years. And they’re so well-loved that they’ve been voted to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Across Canada, the Northern Lights are a spectacle that stops people dead in their tracks. And the beauty of these lights has been captivating people here for thousands of years. The Inuit, Indigenous People who live across much of the northern reaches of Canada call the Aurora “aksarnirq.” Many believe that the lights are the souls of the dead dancing across the sky.
These magical and colourful displays can light up the sky in many forms such as shimmering curtains, flickering arcs, and swirls that fill the night sky. The northern lights are caused by charged particles from the sun, known as “Solar Wind” interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field. As the charged particles collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, they produce a brilliant multi-coloured light display.
The Aurora Borealis can appear in multiple colours. The most common of these are green, red, and purple. Of those, the most common colour is green. The different colours of the Northern Lights are caused by the altitude and molecules that the solar particles interact with within the Earth’s atmosphere. Here’s a breakdown of what causes the various Aurora colours:
- Green: Green is the most common colour seen by those watching the Northern Lights in Canada. This colour is produced when charged particles collide with oxygen molecules at altitudes around 100 to 300 km.
- Pink and Dark Red: If you look closely at the Aurora Borealis you might notice that the lower edges are tinged with pink or dark red. This colour is caused by the solar particles interacting with nitrogen at altitudes of around 100 km.
- Red: The colour red can offer a very dramatic and photogenic contrast to the common greens. Red colour occurs when solar particles interact with oxygen molecules at higher altitudes between 300 to 400 km.
- Blue and Purple: If you’re really lucky while searching for the Northern Lights in Canada, you’ll get the chance to see blue and purple Aurora. These colours are caused when solar particles interact with hydrogen and helium. They can be tough to see with the naked eye but show up very well on camera.
The Northern Lights across Canada and around the world can vary in intensity and size. Occasionally even white and yellow Aurora have been seen, although they’re very rare. But each colour contributes to the mesmerizing spectacle that captivates observers across the north with their beautiful dance.
Where To See The Northern Lights In Canada
Believe it or not, the Aurora happens fairly regularly. The caveat is that we can rarely see it. This natural light show requires just the right combination of darkness, clear skies, and heavy solar activity for a big show to occur.
Even if there are huge solar flares that cause a tremendous atmospheric disturbance, you won’t be able to see the Northern Lights in Canada if the skies aren’t clear, and you won’t be able to see them in most cities or during the day.
Most Aurora viewing happens during the winters when Canadian nights are long and the skies are clear. This also means that some areas, especially coastal areas, tend not to be the best. The temperature fluctuations of many coastal areas tend to cause clouds, which block the view of the skies.
But rest assured, there are some places in Canada that are absolutely prime Aurora territory. Let’s have a look at where they are and how to make the most of your visit while you’re there.
With an average of 240 nights per year when the Aurora is visible, the Northwest Territories is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Canada. This subarctic territory is blessed with crystal-clear nights, and low humidity, and is in an ideal location within the Aurora Oval.
With some of the brightest and longest-lasting Aurora in the world, seeing the northern lights in the Northwest Territories is something truly stunning. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can be inside a city such as Yellowknife and still see a stunning display.
There are two Aurora seasons in the Northwest Territories. The first is Autumn is a personal favourite of mine. The weather is still warm and the lakes are often not frozen yet, creating dazzling reflections. The second is the winter when the lakes are frozen over and you can access some of the most outstanding landscapes easily by dogsled or snowmobile.
How To See The Northern Lights in the Northwest Territories
Being one of the best places in Canada to see the Northern Lights, you’ll find a great range of Aurora viewing experiences in the Northwest Territories.
Yellowknife is one of the few cities in the world where it’s possible to see the Northern Lights without leaving town. But you’ll always get a better show if you leave the city lights behind and head out into the darkness.
The Northwest Territories have some fantastic Aurora lodges where you can relax in comfort and style with great meals and be able to gaze out your window or enjoy a guided Aurora tour in the northern wilderness.
Aurora Village lies just outside of Yellowknife. This Indigenous-run Northern Lights lodge offers a variety of nighttime tours and daytime activities. It’s a one-stop shop for those looking to make the most of their northern adventure.
Lac La Martre Adventures is another Northwest Territories Aurora lodge. This fly-in lodge offers an unforgettable remote experience about 50 minutes by air from Yellowknife. You can pair your visit with some of the world’s best fishing and ice fishing.
Situated on Akaitcho Bay on the shores of Great Slave Lake. B. Dene Adventures offers a magical Aurora experience within easy reach of Yellowknife. Relax in a cozy cabin or teepee and enjoy a cultural connection with the local Indigenous Dene community.
These are just a few of the Aurora experiences that you can enjoy in the Northwest Territories. You can find even more right here.
With huge expanses of dark wilderness and some of the most amazing Canadian Northern Lights viewing imaginable, the Yukon Territory is a haven for those who love AstroTourism. Both Dawson City and Whitehorse make for amazing home bases for those wanting to catch the dancing lights high in the northern sky.
The Yukon boasts the perfect combination of epic landscapes and exceptionally dark skies. Stargazing is such a big thing in the Yukon that there is an annual festival called the Kluane Dark Sky Festival that takes place at Mät’àtäna Män (Kathleen Lake), in Kluane National Park and Reserve. The event draws visitors from around the world to enjoy stargazing, astronomy workshops, bat house building, live music, and campfire talks.
How To See The Northern Lights in the Yukon Territory
During the winter, the Yukon offers up some of the clearest skies in Canada, making it the go-to destination for winter Northern Lights in Canada. During this time Northern Lights resorts often book up well in advance.
In Dawson City, it’s possible to step outside your hotel and see the lights swirling above your head. The extreme cold weather of Dawson makes for exceptionally clear nights. One of the most unique aspects of the city is the Dawson Spa which will be opening a rooftop patio in summer 2024.
If you want a little pampering, Northern Lights Resort, just south of Whitehorse, is one of the few properties in the Yukon that has dedicated staff members on-site till 2 a.m. to alert guests when the Northern Lights appear.
For a truly unique experience, Yukon tour operator Terra Riders offers Autumn Aurora canoe rides from early September until the ice sets (usually in November). These unforgettable nature adventures take visitors out on Lake Laberge north of Whitehorse. Paddlers can warm up by the fire pit while enjoying hot chocolate and marshmallows while they wait for the Northern Lights to appear.
Churchill, Manitoba is one of Canada’s most incredible places. This tiny community along the shores of Hudson Bay is famous for many things. It’s been called the Polar Bear capital of the World, and the Beluga Whale Capital of the World. To those who know Churchill well, it’s also one of the best places in Canada to see the Northern Lights.
This tiny town on the edge of Hudson’s Bay has become famous worldwide for its furry residents. It’s not uncommon for the world’s largest land predator, the Polar Bear to come strolling through town on its way to the coastline as it searches for seals on the fall ice sheets.
With incredibly dark skies and a beautiful shoreline, Churchill, Manitoba is one of the most beautiful and unique places to see the Aurora in Canada. In fact, the Aurora can occur up to 300 nights per year over this coastal town.
How To See The Northern Lights In Manitoba
During my last visit to Manitoba, I was lucky enough to witness the northern lights over Hudson’s Bay with just a short walk outside of my hotel. Because of the unique wildlife in the region, this isn’t an activity that anyone should undertake alone.
Polar Bears are incredibly dangerous and are one of the few animals that look at humans as food. So travelling in groups with assignments for wildlife spotting is essential. If you opt to do Aurora viewing with your own group, Discover Churchill offers a nightly call list where you can sign up to be informed that the northern lights are out and join a quick viewing tour.
One of the safest and most comfortable ways to enjoy Aurora viewing in Churchill is through a package with a local operator. These often cover everything from accommodation to activities. It sometimes even includes your flight from Winnipeg or other Canadian destinations.
Wapusk Adventures is a local tour operator that offers bike tours and dogsled experiences in Churchill. You can have a one-of-a-kind adventure sledding through the sub-Arctic Tundra under the Northern Lights pulled by a team of professional sled dogs.
For something truly unforgettable, climb aboard one of the largest tour buses on Earth, the Frontiers North Tundra Buggy, and enjoy the Aurora in their Thanadelthur Lounge on the far side of the Churchill River. This amazing experience includes a visit to Dan’s Diner, a pop-up restaurant located in the northern Manitoba wilderness.
British Columbia, on the surface, has the complete package for Northern Lights viewing in Canada. It stretches far into the north and has a high elevation. Much of the province, outside of the Greater Vancouver Area can get quite dark. But the province has one big disadvantage. The coastal areas combined with the Rocky Mountains mean British Columbia experiences a lot of cloudy nights.
But that just means that you have to look a little further afield to find the Northern Lights in British Columbia. The best place to go is north. The route along the Alaska Highway, which connects Dawson Creek in B.C. to Delta Junction in Alaska offers some of the clearest and darkest skies in the province.
How To See The Northern Lights in British Columbia
To see the Northern Lights in British Columbia, you’ll need to head inland, away from the coastal cloud cover and north towards the border with the Yukon. Areas such as Dawson Creek, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, Fort Nelson, and Prince George are all some of the best areas to capture the Aurora during the autumn and winter seasons.
If you’re looking for a packaged tour, the only operator offering Northern Lights tours in British Columbia is Northern Rockies Lodge on Muncho Lake west of Fort Nelson.
The Aurora can often be seen around Muncho Lake between September and early April. With a stay at Muncho Lake, you can combine your Aurora viewing with ice skating, cross-country skiing, and a visit to the Liard River Hot Springs.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador features swaths of stunningly beautiful landscapes, remote fishing villages, and some of the darkest, most remote skies in Canada. This East Coast gem is one of the few places in the Canadian Maritimes that experiences up to 60 nights of Aurora viewing each year.
While the Northern Lights in Newfoundland and Labrador might occur more often than that, it’s the coastal clouds that often hamper the view of this stunning phenomenon. Because of that, you’ll want to keep a close watch on the weather forecast to know when clear skies and Aurora activity are going to combine.
How To See The Northern Lights In Newfoundland And Labrador
The best time to see the Northern Lights in Newfoundland and Labrador is between September and October and March to April when the cloud cover disperses and the nights are still long and dark.
Rather than the island of Newfoundland, the region of Labrador on the mainland is prime for Aurora viewing. The massive National Parks up north are popular with snowmobilers, making much of these areas accessible for Northern Lights viewing. There are over 1,500 kilometres of snowmobile trails available to explore. These can be combined with cross-country skiing and ice fishing to round out your adventure.
Northern Lights Dog Sledding in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador offers unforgettable overnight packages that combine Aurora viewing with a unique experience following the routes of the Ol’ Smoker Legend, one of the most famous ghost stories in Labrador. Perhaps this is one of the most haunted places in Canada?
One this Indigenous-run experience you’ll learn to harness, drive, and care for a team of sled dogs as you traverse the magical landscapes of Labrador.
Canada’s southernmost country isn’t often associated with viewing the Northern Lights in Canada. Under the right circumstances though, Northern Lights in Ontario can put on quite a show.
Ontario is my home province, so it’s where I spend much of my time photographing Canada’s Aurora Borealis. So I’ve tracked down a few places where, if the conditions are right, you may have one of the best seats in the house. In fact, I wrote a whole article about viewing the northern lights in Ontario on our sister site Ultimate Ontario.
Because most of Ontario is so far south compared to much of the rest of Canada, your best chance at viewing the Aurora in the province comes from heading north. The longer nights away from the bright lights of Toronto make Aurora viewing much easier.
How To See The Northern Lights In Ontario
You won’t see the northern lights in Toronto. But if you head up the Trans-Canada Highway north of Sudbury you may have some luck. Areas such as Manitoulin Island offer some of the province’s darkest skies and lie at the bottom of the Aurora Oval.
If you head even further north to Lake Superior Provincial Park on the shores or Quetico Provincial Park near the border with Manitoba you’ll find some of the province’s darkest skies paired with some of the best Northern Lights opportunities in Ontario.
But for your absolute best chance, you’ll want to head to the town of Cochrane, Ontario, and take the Polar Bear Express train up to Moosonee on the southern shores of Hudson’s Bay. Here you’ll be right inside the Aurora Oval at one of the best places to see the Aurora Borealis in Canada.
Stretching up almost to the Arctic Circle, Canada’s largest province, Quebec, offers some of the best opportunities to see the Northern Lights in Canada.
Quebec, like many places in Canada, suffers from cloudy winters that can often impede Northern Lights viewing, but there are a few places up north that experience more than 100 nights of Aurora activity per year.
Quebec’s southern region is bisected by the massive St. Lawrence River which enters at the Western edge of the province from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The warm waters of the St. Lawrence can cause heavy cloud cover across large areas inland including Quebec City and Montreal.
How To See The Northern Lights In Quebec
Spanning the mouth of the Koksoak River near the border with Labrador, the best place to see the Northern Lights in Quebec is in the Inuit territory of Kuujjuaq.
Formerly known as Fort Chimo, this was once a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost and grew to become the largest northern village in the Nunavik Region of Quebec. Aventures Inuit offers magnificent Indigenous-led Aurora experiences across an area the size of France with a population of just 12,000 residents.
Guests will travel by dog-sled and snowmobile across the land chasing the greatest natural light show on the planet. You’ll stay in one of the handful of small hotels in the villages that offer basic comforts, along with meals prepared on request that have a focus on locally foraged delights.
Alberta, home to some of Canada’s most iconic landscapes, lies in an Aurora sweet spot that combines long dark nights with high-altitude and clear skies.
Head out to the Rocky Mountains and enjoy the clear skies where the Pacific cloud base is blocked by the sky-high Rocky Mountains. If you time your visit between October and mid-May, there’s a solid chance of catching the lights filling the night sky.
How To See The Northern Lights In Alberta
For the best chance to see the Northern Lights in Alberta, head north away from cities such as Calgary to the areas free of light pollution. Fort McMurray, the most populous city in northern Alberta is a great place to start. Fort McMurray experiences upwards of 300 nights of Aurora activity each year.
Your best bet up north is to head to Wood Buffalo National Park. Dress warmly on a clear night between October and March and the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve is going to put on a show. If you’ve got the gear for winter camping, you increase your chances on a multi-night experience.
Jasper National Park may be one of the most beautiful places in Canada, but it’s also one of Alberta’s best dark sky preserves. Every October the park hosts a wonderful Dark Sky Festival that sometimes coincides with the Aurora.
For something a little closer to civilization, Elk Island National Park is a dark sky preserve east of Edmonton. This is the spot where the Royal Astronomical Society of Edmonton often meets to enjoy stargazing and astrophotography.
Enjoy Your Northern Lights Adventures In Canada
We hope that these tips for seeing the Northern Lights in Canada have helped inspire you to explore Canada’s north in even greater depth. Experiencing the Aurora firsthand is something I’ll never tire of, and I’m confident that you’ll feel the same.
Do you have a favourite attraction or restaurant in Canada? Head over to the We Explore Canada Facebook Community and join the conversation! You’ll find an amazing group of people passionate about travel in Canada who love to share their local secrets.
Kevin Wagar is a founder and editor of We Explore Canada. He has been working in the travel media industry since 2015 when he founded his family travel website Wandering Wagars – Adventure Family Travel.
Over the years Kevin has developed a deep love for his home country and aims to showcase the incredible experiences and amazing small businesses found within it.