It’s one of the most magnificent visual phenomena on Earth, once seen, never forgotten. When charged particles from the sun strike the upper atmosphere at the poles they produce stunning displays of multi-colored light. The current phase of high solar activity means that these lights are more spectacular than ever. Although the best ones in the solar system are on Saturn, Canada is a lot closer, and at these beautiful locations the aurora borealis rarely disappoints.
Jasper National Park
Deep in the interior of this Alberta park, far away from the light pollution of the cities, stargazers gather at all times of year, but winter is best for those who also want to see the northern lights. Take the SkyTram up Whistler’s Mountain to be surrounded by their glow, or see them reflected in the mountain lakes. The best way to reach the park is by road (it’s just off the state highway), by bus from Edmonton or by rail from Edmonton, Calgary or Vancouver.
One or the premier locations chosen by scientists who study the aurora, Churchill is well equipped for doing so in comfort. If you don’t want to be outside in the snow, you can relax in a warm observation dome. While it’s possible to get a train into Churchill from Winnipeg, the journey takes two days, so it’s a much better idea to fly. Services like Flights.com are simple to use to book a flight from any location.
With displays more frequent there than anywhere else in Canada, Fort McMurray is an enduringly popular choice for aurora watchers. There’s a night viewing center where you can join local astronomers who are happy to offer their expert advice on what you see. Winter is the best time to go but it’s also possible to see the aurora there in spring. It’s easy to reach by air and can be reached by road along Highway 63, with a bus service available from Edmonton.
Takhini Hot Springs
Way up in the Yukon, Takhini Hot Springs has relaxing, natural hot mineral water to soak in while gazing out at the snowy wilderness, and at night the aurora there is stunning. Visit between October and March for the best effect. The easiest way to reach it is to fly to Whitehorse and then hire a car. It’s also on the Alaska Direct bus route.
Blachford Lake Lodge
A true wilderness retreat where you can go dog sledding or ice fishing in the daytime, Blachford Lake Lodge can be reached by charter flight from Yellowknife, beside the frozen Great Slave Lake. Aurora viewing there is spectacular and, just to make it more tempting it can be done from the comfort of an outdoor hot tub.
Wherever you choose to do it, seeing the aurora is an experience you’ll treasure—always more overwhelming in real life than it’s possible to convey with words or even on film. It will make you acutely aware that you’re on a planet hurting through space, while at the same time helping you connect with the mystical beliefs of the ancients. It’s truly awe-inspiring.