Where To See Aurora Borealis
Every year amid October and March, something magnificent takes place in the sky above a host of Canadian spots. In a display of epic proportions—the kind only the universe can pull off—the Aurora Borealis spreads the night sky with swaths of fuchsia, green, and violet that hang 80 to 640 km above the Earth. Canada boasts approximately 85 percent of all available land under the auroral oval, we encounter the brightest and most familiar displays.
Exploring on a scale that would put any fireworks show to disgrace, the Northern Lights—collisions between particles from the Earth’s and sun’s atmospheres—are best viewed from higher latitudes when the circumstances are just right, think clear night skies, inadequate light pollution, and long darkness. And yet, even when all these factors line up, Mother Nature’s light show only takes the stage when she feels ready (read: her spectacles are related to geomagnetic activity, which is difficult to anticipate).
Most of the Yukon’s immense territory is free from ambient light. This simple mood lighting, paired with its northern backdrop and inky winter skies offers some of the most reliable aurora-scoping in Canada. Because of this, a host of guides concentrate in Northern Lights tours.
For the DIY types, Yukon-based photographer Mark Kelly highlights “Kluane National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) as an ideal place to try one’s hand at night sky (aurora) photography.” But, in an interview with CBC he explained that in a northern and sparsely populated location such as the Yukon, it’s most important to “get out of town to find a good dark sky.” It’s here, he notes, you’ll find optimal viewing opportunities.
Prepare for the opportunity to get off the grid, go on an arctic polar bear safari, and encounter something magnificent: Subarctic Skies! Enter Churchill, Manitoba, known as one of the best places in the world to observe the lights due to its proximity to the Auroral Oval. For more than 240 years, astronomers have trekked to this Northern nirvana to investigate the upper atmosphere with cameras, balloons, and even rockets! Discover from their legacy at The Churchill Northern Studies Centre, an active Arctic research station just 30 minutes outside of Churchill.
Another notch on Canada’s astronomy belt belongs to the Royal Astronomical Society, a group that has established the world’s most stringent parameters for Dark Sky parks and preserves. One location adhering to these strict standards is Mont-Mégantic International Dark Sky Reserve stretching across more than 5,200 square kilometres.
Located in Mont-Mégantic National Park, the reserve is the first site to be globally recognized as an international Dark Sky Preserve. Through its significant investment in light pollution reduction, it provides a true Dark Sky experience both now and for years to come.
With such little artificial light, when the weather is right, the sky is ripe for stargazing (hello, Milky Way!) and marvelling at the mystery of the Aurora Borealis.
In an impressive “Oh! Canada” moment, Parks Canada protects more Dark Sky jurisdictions than any other agency worldwide with 13 parks holding Dark Sky designations.
Positioned near the Saskatchewan-Montana border, Grasslands National Park is the darkest Dark Sky Preserve in Canada. Its darkest block, spanning 729 square kilometres, is ideal for stargazing, viewing deep-sky objects, and, on occasion, catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights—quite apropos for Canada’s Land of the Living Skies province.
Parks Canada’s Dark Sky protectorate hovers at the top of Alberta and crosses into the Northwest Territories. Here, miles away from the urban glare, gaze into galaxies near and far at Wood Buffalo National Park, the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve. During prime fall and winter viewing season, nighttime flare activity on the sun can light up the night sky with ruby and emerald stones.
If you prefer warmer weather for your “brush” with the painted night sky, late August and September are also known to have gorgeous auroral displays.
The most southerly spot on this list of celestial stages is halfway between Toronto and Ottawa in Lennox and Addington County. Aiming to create a night sky experience similar to 100 years ago, its Dark Skies Viewing Area offers a lens into the otherworldly. Here, see planets such as Jupiter and Saturn; galaxies such as the Milky Way; and phenomenons such as meteors and the ethereal Northern Lights (which appear, ahem, when the stars align)—all in a wider environment with lots of physical distance.
Fill your days exploring the landscape on dog sledding tours, snowshoeing expeditions, ice fishing adventures, or cultural activities—many of which are run by Indigenous-owned and operated businesses.