Northern lights above a water body. Northern lights above a water body.

Chasing Aurora: Prime Locations to Witness the Northern Lights in Canada

A beautiful and jaw-dropping view is always on everyone’s bucket list. And since a magnificent combination of colours appears in the sky, The Northern Lights, people are excited to watch this scenic beauty. Northern Lights, also known as Aurora, is the display of lights naturally and can be viewed at night in the dark sky.

This mind-capturing scene most likely appears in the North Pole region, hence named Northern Lights.

People travel across countries to savour these moments and capture them for their lifetime experiences.

1. Canada’s Dazzling Night Skies

The lights are generally seen in red, blue, green, and violet combinations of colours in the dark sky preserve areas. These mesmerizing Northern lights are formed when the particles from the sun collide with the atoms and molecules of the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

When the particles collide, the Earth’s magnetic field directs them to the North Pole resulting in the attractive and colorful lightning in the sky that leaves everyone in awe. The intensity and frequency of light depend on the activity of the Sun and Earth’s magnetic field. Since the Earth’s magnetic field is highest in the North Poles, lights are most likely to be seen in polar regions like Canada, Norway, Alaska, etc.

Many people travel from miles away to places that offer clear night skies. Aurora which is observed in Arctic areas such as Canadian Rockies, Alaska, Greenland, and Norway is known as Aurora Borealis while Aurora which is seen from Southern latitudes as in New Zealand, Antarctica, and Australia is Aurora Australis.

For years, Aurora has always been a shocking phenomenon. So, it is clear that Aurora can be viewed from different parts of the world, but you just have to hit the proper location and time.

A green light in the sky over a waterbody during the nighttime.
Image by Sami Takarautio from Unsplash copyright 2019

1.1 Why Colorful Auroras?

The astonishing view of The Northern lights which are colourful and luminous, pleasing to the eyes to watch, are displayed in a combination of various colours. When the particles from the Sun collide with Earth’s upper atmosphere, it results in lights of various colour combinations.

The colours are caused by the kind of gas the particles hit. If the particles hit oxide, it causes green and blue colour, and nitrogen gives purple colours to the Northern Lights. Also, the intensity fluctuates with the electromagnetic field and the Sun’s activity.

2. Places in Alberta to View the Northern Lights

Alberta is a province in Canadian country that delightfully offers spots to savour the breathtaking view of the Northern Lights. The North region of Alberta is quite popular for its glorious Northern Lights in Canada.

With minimum light pollution and clear night skies, the striking Northern lights are visible from these areas. While every place provides the best view, the only thing is that the farther north you go, the clearer the Northern lights are visible!

2.1 Canadian Rockies

Popular for its mountains and turquoise lakes, it gives the best viewing experience for the northern lights. The two national parks Jasper and Banff are the best locations for northern lights views.

2.2 Banff National Park

The oldest National Park in the south-west of Alberta province famous for its high-peak mountains, lakes, and scenic views. The Park in the Canadian Rockies is the perfect hotspot offering various places with clear night skies to view the Northern Lights. The park is high in elevation offering clear skies and a stunning view of the Aurora.

2.3 Jasper National Park

Being the world’s second-largest dark sky preserve, this place is also best for experiencing the lightning view in the Canadian Rockies in between mountains. One of the factors that obstruct you from enjoying the view of lights is light pollution.

You cannot watch the Northern lights if there is light pollution which is caused by cities and towns. Situated away from the town, with less light pollution, there are abundant spots in Jasper National Park for viewing Northern Lights.

This spectacular phenomenon is mesmerizing and worth watching in these places. Along with this, Jasper National Park hosts the Dark Sky Festival in October every year. Lake Annette and Lake Pyramid offer great places to watch The Northern Lights.

2.4 Wood Buffalo National Park

The largest National Park in Canada with certified dark sky preserve nights says there are 90 percent chances of viewing the Northern Lights. It is easy to go with the flow of enjoyment in Wood Park if the weather is as good as it should be!

With The view of the Northern Lights, this park also offers the best star-gazing view. From spots like the Salt River Day-use area, the Dark Sky Circle at Pine Lakes, and the Salt Plains lookout you can enjoy the constellation of stars in the dark sky preserve areas.

Blue Aurora Lights in the sky and a small house underneath with snow all around it during the night.
By Pexels / Pixabay Copyright 2016

3. A Complete Guide to Viewing Northern Lights 

The night sky displays aurora borealis several times a year. The struggle and patience are two required factors, but the results are pretty satisfying.

The best chance to view Northern Lights is from October to March in winter as nights are long during this time of the year. It is surprising for many that one can catch the Aurora Borealis in the Canadian Rockies and enjoy this stunning experience.

3.1 Best Time to Experience Northern Lights

Though northern lights can be visible at any time of the year, the best time would be during the colder and darker months of winter. But thanks to the less light pollution and night skies in Banff, one can experience it in summer also.

All you have to do is stay awake all through the night as nights are small in summer. However, The Northern lights shine brighter in winter from December month to February. So, if you are looking for amazing and spectacular experiences, plan your trip in winter for the best views.

Weather plays a very important role as a cloudy sky reduces the chances of Aurora, whilst a clear dark sky along with less light pollution adds the best experience of the Northern Lights. Even if you are desperate enough, cloudy weather can ruin everything.

So, one cannot keep the weather at bay but can go through the weather forecast applications and websites for the best experiences. The charged particles that are thrown out by the Sun in the solar system are known as solar winds. These particles take two to three days to reach Earth and collide with the atoms in the upper atmosphere. Hence, the possibility of prediction is high before this Lightning phenomenon.

3.2 Keep an Eye on Following

Moonlight can also cause hindrance; new moon night will have the best exploitation of Northern lights. Moonlight can hinder the view as it can create light pollution because of the bright light of the moon. So better to avoid full moon nights for the Northern Lights experience.

A clear, not stormy, dark, and less light-polluted sky completes all the favourable conditions of providing the best stunning view of the Northern Lights. But also keep in mind that this phenomenon is not fixed and based on its situations so if it is a clear night and new moon, it does not mean that northern lights will be visible. You have to be patient!

Kp index Scientists calculate and track the Earth’s Geomagnetic Activity to predict the Northern Lights. They calculate the Kp index for measuring the intensity of the Geomagnetic activity of Aurora, which measures activity on a scale of 0-9. The higher the number range of the Kp index, the more the chances of Northern Lights visibility. If the score goes higher, that will show the geomagnetic storm and the chances are higher.

Lake Lousie would have been a dream spot for many for northern lights, but the lights are obscured and not clear. Because of the strong light pollution, it is not a perfect spot. But don’t worry there are many other places in Banff national park to witness the dancing lights in the beautiful landscape, the aurora.

Northern lights in Canada over a waterbody and mountains.
By ColiN00B / Pixabay Copyright 2016

4. Spots for Northern Lights in Banff

Banff is a location that does not have much trouble with light pollution. There are places and perfect spots for seeing the Northern lights.

4.1 Vermillion Lake 

Out of the three Vermillion Lakes, the one situated on the west of Banff Park offers great Northern Lights views with less light pollution. This place also gives a location to photograph animals and also offers various parking spots for enjoying auroras under dark skies.

4.2 Lake Minnewanka

The most popular spot to view the Northern Lights in Alberta, which is just a few kilometres away from the center of town, has night skies and provides a scenic view of the Northern Lights. In daylight, visitors can enjoy winter activities like ice ball fishing and at night witness the Borealis in the dark skies.

4.3 Icefield Parkway

If you are looking for perfect Northern light shots, then Icefield Parkway is best to capture the moments. With less light pollution and photographic spots, it can be a great choice for witnessing the Northern Lights.

4.4 Peyto Lake

The best experience of the Northern Lights is in winter and offers a glorious scenic view of dancing lights.

5. Some Places Other Than Banff

5.1 Fort McMurray

The most famous city in Alberta to witness the Northern Lights with several places to experience this. It also said that there are igloos in the way so you can enjoy it to the fullest under the lights while watching the view.

5.2 Yellowknife 

With long and dark winter nights, Yellowknife is the best place to witness Aurora, The Northern Lights. Situated just beneath the auroral oval and with the display of light 200 nights per year can become a perfect spot for the northern lights viewing.

5.3 Pyramid Lake

This lake in the range of Jasper town is a great spot for Northern lights with dark skies.

5.4 Bow Valley Parkway

Valley Parkway is a great photographic and aurora viewing spot. Being not so close in proximity to city lights, this place is ideal for The Northern Lights.

5.5 Any place in Alberta

As it is said that the northern lights and perfect weather go hand in hand, one can experience the dancing lights from anywhere in Alberta. You just have to find a spot that is less polluted with light, and the sky is clearer and darker.

6. The Unique Charms of Canada’s Cosmic Canvas

There is no doubt that The Northern lights are beautiful and mesmerizing, but it also has some cultural importance as well. There are different myths and stories around the world about these stunning lights. According to Norse Viking legends, the lights are reflections of Valkyries’ shields, helmets, and tools that are bouncing back off. Other folklore says that lights are created by arctic foxes that run across the snow. Some Canadian people think of lights as the dancing spirits of ancestors, considering them sacred.

Above all, many folk tales say that northern lights as sacred and spiritual. Some say not to attract attention towards lights as they can draw energy and take a person away. Whether these folktales are myths or not, people believe in these sayings and Canada offers great places to visit and experience this striking natural phenomenon.

green lights in the sky over a waterbody and mountains during the night.
Image by Jonatan Pie from Unsplash copyright 2017

7. Tips for Watching Northern Lights

Who wants to spoil their trip to Aurora? Make sure to consider these tips before heading forward. If you are heading for winter tourism, which you should, as there are greater chances of witnessing the Northern Lights in Canada, the temperature drops very low in winter.

7.1 Pack your Winter Clothes

Common weather fluctuating conditions cause a sudden drop in temperatures. Make sure to take warm socks, warm clothes, and coats, gloves, boots.

7.2 Take a Camera and Tripod Stand

If you want to capture a perfect shot and avoid blurriness. Capturing nature’s beauty is quite interesting and also pretty hard but the results are so satisfying. Charging cables for phones and extra memory cards for cameras must be included in the list.

7.3 Make Sure to Visit the Different Websites of the Weather Forecast!

It requires time and patience for this stupendous view. The weather prediction websites will assist you and help in guiding your trip as the only thing that rules the Northern Lights tours is the weather.  Download apps for forecasts like My Aurora Forecast and Aurora Watch. Check these forecast applications before heading out and if it is in your favour then good luck!

7.4 Snacks and Proper Hydration

Keep yourself energetic for the moment. One important thing is being patient and giving immense time to enjoy this stunning view. So, plan for longer hours than usual for backup timings.

7.5 Get a Perfect Spot!

Select a spot that has a vivid display of the northern horizon having little or no light pollution. Banff and Jasper have many perfect locations for seeing the northern lights.

8. Do Northern Lights Affect Wildlife?

No proof or scientific evidence has been found that would say wildlife is affected by Northern lights. Moreover, reports say that animals react in the same way as reindeer at the time of aurora. And neither do aurora affect humans in any way. This is just a natural phenomenon and one can experience this under the night skies.

10. Some Interesting Facts about Aurora Lights

The first ever photograph of an aurora was captured by the German astronomer and physicist Rudolph Martin Brendel on the 5th of January 1892. Northern lights are believed to make noises of crackling and clapping or sound like a thunderstorm striking. Aurora occurs in the auroral oval shape at the poles.

Scientists have observed auroras on the other planets as well, despite the lack of magnetic fields like Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. The most commonly seen colour of aurora is green because the particles collide in the layer where there are high concentrations of oxygen. The next green is pink and red.

Our naked eyes cannot usually spot the purple or blue colour hues of aurora. The dancing lights of the aurora are thought to be present just above us but in actuality, they are 80 kilometres to 600 kilometres above the surface of the earth.

The Southern Lights are less known because it is hard to reach out easily as compared to the Northern lights. This amazing experience can be viewed from space. The International Space Station (ISS) has reported the northern lights view from space and satellites have captured it beautifully.

In actuality, the displaying of an aurora causes deformation in the magnetic field of Earth. Most particles get deflected away but some collide with the Earth’s atmosphere at the poles causing distortion. The magnetic poles move with time and hence the viewing place of the aurora changes with magnetic poles.

The height of the International Space Station and The Northern lights happen to occur at the same latitude. It means astronauts can see them along their side. The place, Yellowknife Canada is called the aurora capital sometimes, as this place displays northern lights very frequently.

A spooky tree and Aurora light in the sky during the night.
By TheDigitalArtist / Pixabay Copyright 2017

10. Final Words

So, let’s say hello to Alberta! Watching the Northern Lights has always been someone’s bucket list thing. The powerful dancing colors in the sky amazes every being and witnessing Aurora is one of the best experiences one can have! If you go with a proper plan and tools, you will surely get to have an experience of The Northern Lights.

As mentioned, it is just about the weather, so make sure to check the weather forecast and yay you can enjoy the beautifully dancing lights across the sky. Also, capture the beautiful moments of lights and do share. Hope this article helped you in guiding you to viewing the Northern Lights trip.

Last Updated on by ayeshayusuf


  • Yaana Vyas

    I have always wanted to be a writer so that I can provide good information through my content. Hope you will find valuable content here.

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