Whether you’re planning a trip to see polar bears in Manitoba or city-hopping through the southeastern cities like Montreal and Toronto, Canada is a wonderland for cultural and outdoors experiences. It’s also the most popular northern lights destination in North America. With so much space, you might wonder: how and where can I see the northern lights in Canada?
In this post, we’ve broken down some of the most important things you need to know to see the northern lights in Canada. First, we explain the phenomena of the aurora – so you know what you’re seeing. We also cover the details of which months are best for visiting if you want to ensure the best chance possible to see the northern lights. Then we detail almost 30 spots to see the northern lights in Canada in every province and territory so you can see them wherever you’re visiting. We have a few tour and aurora photography tips too.
Read on to learn everything you need to know to try and spot the northern lights on your trip to Canada.
What are the “Northern Lights?”
You know you want to see the northern lights… but do you understand what they are?
The northern lights, also called the aurora borealis, are an atmospheric phenomenon. The aurora occur when particles emitted from the sun – sometimes called solar wind – strike the earth’s atmosphere. These particles cause atoms in our own atmosphere to react, getting excited and releasing energy and light. This light is what we call the “northern lights,” when they occur in the northern hemisphere. (They’re called the “southern lights” or aurora australis when they occur in the southern hemisphere.)
Now you know the basics, so it’s time to start planning a trip to see the northern lights in Canada for yourself. Read on!
The Best Time of Year to See the Northern Lights in Canada
Before you book a ticket, it’s important to understand when you can visit and actually see the aurora borealis in Canada. If you visit during the wrong time of year, you won’t even be able to see them at all! Here’s a quick breakdown of the different seasons in Canada and your chances of seeing the northern during each.
Autumn (September to November)
When the days get shorter and the leaves begin to change colors, the northern lights in Canada start coming out to play. While it’s not the best season to visit Canada to see the northern lights, you can start to see them as early as September in some parts of Canada. Your chances at seeing the northern lights will increase the later in the fall you visit, as you’ll have more darkness to work with, especially in November.
Winter (December to February)
Winter is the best time to see the northern lights in Canada. This is especially true in the non-Arctic areas like the Canadian Rockies. If you are going to Canada specifically to see the northern lights, try to plan your trip from December to January. During this time of the year, you’ll have plenty of darkness for viewing the northern lights.
Spring (March to May)
You can see the northern lights in Canada in the spring, but the chances of seeing them decrease as the summer approaches. Daylight hours become longer and, in many parts of Canada, the springtime rains bring lots of cloudy skies. However, if you’re in a dark place with little light pollution, you can see the northern lights as late as May.
Summer (June to August)
In the summer, you basically have zero chance of seeing the northern lights. In many parts of Canada, the sunlight can last until 9 or 10 PM in the longest days of the summer, meaning that you won’t have many opportunities to see the northern lights at all.
The Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Canada
In case you’re a little fuzzy on the geography, Canada is huge. At over 3.85 million square miles, Canada is not the kind of place you can see in a weekend. The various northern lights destinations in Canada are often hours apart by car or plane. Additionally, Canada is divided into 10 provinces and three territories. Much like the United States, this means that you’ll plan a trip to 1-3 of these and should focus your astrotourism plans in that area.
Below, we’ve picked some of the most popular and best places to see the northern lights in Canada. However there are countless more along almost any route if you’re planning a Canadian road trip. Use these spots and the map below as a guide to planning your own northern lights itinerary in Canada.
Alberta is one of the best provinces in Canada for seeing the northern lights because vast stretches of land are protected as national parks. This also makes them great adventure travel destinations. Here are some of the best places.
Elk Island National Park
Often overlooked for its more picturesque and popular neighbor (Jasper National Park, detailed below), Elk Island is one of two Dark Sky Preserves in Alberta. Elk Island is much closer to Edmonton than Jasper, making it a great second stop on a northern lights road trip through the province.
Fort McMurray isn’t officially a dark sky location, but you’ll find great dark skies here nonetheless! This community in eastern Alberta is surrounded by natural beauty on all sides. As such, there’s little light pollution once you get out of town, and it’s a great base for an aurora expedition in the area. In fact, the highway officially ends north of town, so you’re about as far from the rapid pace of development as it’s possible to be!
Jasper National Park
Officially named a Dark Sky Preserve, Jasper National Park is one of Canada’s most picturesque locations and is quickly becoming a tourist hotspot. While there are many things to do in Jasper, one of the best activities is catching incredible dark skies, which is perfect for viewing the northern lights!
Since Jasper is largely covered in forests, you need to find a spot with a wide clearing to maximize your chances of seeing the northern lights.
- Maligne Lake: This is Jasper’s largest lake and one of the most iconic landmarks in the entire park. Because it’s a lake, you can find wide open skies here, perfect for viewing the northern lights.
- Pyramid Lake: This lake, located a 30-minute drive from Jasper’s town center, is a fantastic spot to watch the northern lights because it’s fairly clear of trees, which means big, wide, dark skies.
- Lake Annette: Located about 30 minutes outside of Jasper, Lake Annette boasts still waters and faraway mountain silhouettes, making it a perfect northern lights viewing spot.
- The Icefields Parkway: The nearby Icefields Parkway is one of Canada’s most picturesque highways, and is also a fantastic place to catch the northern lights. There are several pull-off overlooks along the highway, so when you find a nice, dark spot, you can pull off and watch the aurora borealis’ bright show.
Jasper National Park (and its largest town, Banff) host a dark sky festival each October where people travel from around the world to view the dark skies, learn astronomy, and listen to live music while the northern lights dance overhead.
Here are ideas for what to do in Jasper National Park during the day, if you need them.
Wood Buffalo National Park
Another major national park in Alberta, Wood Buffalo is widely considered a great aurora destination – but it’s a long ways from everywhere. Depending on the season you visit, you may need to drive up north into the Northwest Territories to reach an entrance to Wood Buffalo National Park – or fly in. Given its remoteness, it’s obviously got fantastic dark skies.
British Colombia is Canada’s most developed western province, with Vancouver nestled in its southwest corner. Despite this, there are great stargazing spots and dark sky preserves in the territory.
McDonald Park Dark Sky Preserve
Located just an hour outside of Vancouver, it’s surprising to find a dark sky preserve so close to a major city. In fact, McDonald Park is a favorite spot for the Fraser Valley Astronomers society. While it’s less common to see the northern lights this far south in Canada, it is possible if the atmospheric activity is strong enough, and this is your best bet for a dark sky site near Vancouver.
Muncho Lake Provincial Park
Located in northern British Columbia (closer to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory than Vancouver down south), Muncho Lake Provincial Park is a good stop-off if you’re doing a big road trip through this part of the country. It’s isolated from any major cities and far enough north (almost 59°N) that there are much better chances of seeing the northern lights here than further south in British Columbia.
Manitoba is best known for polar bears, the Hudson Bay, and the northern lights in winter. Where can you experience all of these things? There’s only one place!
Made famous for being home to many of Canada’s polar bears, the Arctic area of Churchill, Manitoba is a popular destination for winter wildlife expeditions. Because it’s so far north, it’s also one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. You can pair your pursuit of the auroras with a trip to see the polar bears, or simply visit to chase the northern lights.
- From the city center: Here’s the thing: when the northern lights are out in full-force, you can see them everywhere in Churchill, even in the middle of town. When the northern lights come out, many people in the town turn off the lights to reduce light pollution. On clear nights in the winter, get to a dark spot in the town and you might be able to catch them without going too far at all!
- Churchill Northern Studies Centre: Just 30 minutes outside of town is a much better spot to see the northern lights – the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. Here, you’ll get darker, wider skies than in the center of town, perfect for viewing the auroras with less light pollution.
- In the tundra: The best way to see the northern lights in Churchill is in the tundra, often by boarding a special kind of bus called a “tundra buggy.” However, this is the most expensive option on the list, and you may want to pair this with taking a wildlife safari (if that’s something you’re planning on doing in Churchill as well).
Located in the far eastern part of Canada along the northern Atlantic coast, New Brunswick has even more of the pristine stargazing opportunities you’ll find along the Maine coast in the United States. Here are some of the top spots to plan a stargazing trip to the province.
Kouchibouguac National Park
One of the dark sky reserves in Canada, Kouchibouguac National Park is located on the central part of New Brunswick’s coast, away from the city lights of Fredericton and Moncton. It’s also protected from the more dramatic ocean by barrier islands, salt marshes, and forests, making it a great spot for exploring the outdoors and seeing wildlife. After dark, you can camp in the park to enjoy the stars above and the northern lights if the conditions are right.
Mount Carleton Provincial Park
Located inland, Mount Carleton Provincial Park is another dark sky preserve that takes advantage of the open space in New Brunswick. You’ll need to plan ahead for a multi-day and night trip to Mount Carleton, as services are pretty limited in the surrounding region. That helps ensure almost no light pollution though, which is obviously perfect for viewing the aurora!
Newfoundland & Labrador
Located in the far east of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador is both part of the Canadian mainland (Labrador) and a massive island in the North Atlantic (Newfoundland). Known for its archaeological sites and cultural heritage, you can also find pockets of the dark sky and good opportunities to view the northern lights.
Located on the eastern coast of an island in the Labrador Sea, Battle Harbour is a 19th-century fishing village that makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time once you arrive. Far from the modern conveniences of cell coverage or even power lines, Battle Harbour is home to some of the most pristine dark skies in Canada.
This is aided by the lack of light pollution in Battle Harbour itself, as well as the distance from other development or urban city lights. You’ll need to catch a ferry to reach Battle Harbour, and its rustic offerings aren’t for everyone… but avid aurora chasers will find the sacrifices well worth it if the skies are clear and the northern lights are visible.
Torngat Mountains National Park
This one tops our list of the most epic (and also most difficult) places in Canada to see the northern lights. Located in northern Labrador on the eastern coast of Canada, Torngat Mountains National Park can only be reached by plane or ferry, but once you get there, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous places to view the northern lights dancing above these untouched valleys and mountains.
- Torngat Mountains Base Camp: The base camp offers stunning views across the water and the nearby fjords and serves as the perfect place to stay while visiting.
- Guided overnight fjord tour: On an Inuit-guided overnight tour, you can catch the northern lights in some of the most rugged and wild areas of Torngat Mountains National Park.
Like its neighboring provinces, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, and the nearby U.S. state of Maine, Nova Scotia’s rugged coastline provides ideal spots to go stargazing or view the aurora. In between days noshing on fresh seafood and admiring lighthouses, Nova Scotia will give you a chance to try and see the northern lights if they’re visible this far south.
Kejimkujik National Park
Affectionately called “Keji” by Nova Scotians, Kejimkijik National Park and Historic Site is a perfect place to get away from it all and experience the great outdoors. This means waterways for canoeing, kayaking, or fishing; hiking trails of every difficulty and distance; and camping opportunities where the night sky reveals its wonders. Kejimkijik National Park and Historic Site is one of Canada’s Dark Sky Preserves – the only one in Nova Scotia – so you can expect dark skies and a good chance to see the northern lights when they are active.
The far and almost entirely uninhabited north of Canada is predominantly comprised of the Northwest Territories. This massive area encompasses huge swaths of tundra and arctic landscapes, and as you’d expect, is virtually free of all light pollution. It’s not easy to get to NT, but it’s worth it if you’re trying to escape everyone and all the light that you can.
With its arctic location and dark skies, Yellowknife is one of the most famous places in Canada to see the northern lights. In fact, Yellowknife locals love the aurora borealis so much that they have “tiny lighthouses” which alert residents and visitors when there’s a likely showing of the northern lights that night. Because of its northern location, during the peak season, you can see the northern lights from inside of the city as well as in the surroundings.
- Pilots Monument: You can climb to the top of this Yellowknife monument to see the northern lights on clear nights.
- Dettah Ice Road: In the winter, the Dettah Ice Road opens over Great Slave Lake Lake once it freezes enough to hold weight. You can either drive or walk on the ice road, which provides a big, open space to view the northern lights. Note that the Ice Road is only open during the winter, usually during the months of January to March.
- Tin Can Hill: This hill, located on a trail on the outskirts of the city, offers sweeping views of Yellowknife Bay and Great Slave Lake.
- Boat Launches: There are several boat launch areas around the city that make for fantastic northern lights viewing spots during the winter.
If you want to change the aurora as far north as possible, consider planning a trip to Tuktoyaktuk, or “Tuk” to those who know the place. Tuktoyaktuk is one of the Inuvialuit communities in the far northern mainland part of Northwest Territories and is connected to mainland Canada by road – though you may want to fly into the small regional airport to save time.
When viewing Canada on a map, most people are astonished by the massive body of islands that sprawls out into the Arctic Ocean. Most of these form Nunavut, a sparsely populated territory that ties with the Yukon for being home to the fewest Canadians. Those that do live there know that it’s a great spot for viewing the northern lights in the winter – but you’ll need to be willing to make the journey to get there!
Related: Did you know Nunavut is home to one of the coolest impact craters on earth? Read more here!
In most Canadian provinces and territories, the capital city is not a good place to try and see the northern lights due to city lights and urban development. In Nunavut, that’s not the case: capital city Iqaluit is an ideal base for an aurora expedition in the region. Iqaluit is a small community of fewer than 10,000 people and offers primarily rustic accommodations and tours, but at 63°N latitude, it’s well placed to see the northern lights – and dark enough that they’ll be easy to spot if they’re visible.
Ontario may be Canada’s most populated province, but don’t let that discourage you from visiting if you want to see the northern lights. There are still some amazing dark sky destinations where you can see the aurora borealis under the right conditions.
There’s no feeling like seeing the northern lights dancing over a lake, their reflection glimmering in the dark waters. In Thunder Bay, Ontario, it’s possible to see the northern lights over Lake Superior in the winter. While it’s possible to view the northern lights from the city of Thunder Bay itself, there are many places nearby where you can catch even better aurora spectacles.
- Highway 17: For the closest viewing spot to Thunder Bay, you can simply drive out along Highway 17 and view the lights from various points there with less light pollution than in the city.
- Silver Islet: This town near Thunder Bay has some fantastic areas nearby to view the northern lights over Lake Superior.
- Sleeping Giant Provincial Park: Just over an hour outside of Thunder Bay lies Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, which has tons of trails and views of Lake Superior.
Gordon’s Park Dark Sky Preserve
A private natural park established in 1991 on Manitoulin Island, Gordon’s Park is a surprising dark sky destination – but it’s also a delightful option if you want to try and see the northern lights in Canada without trekking north to the Arctic. A TK-hour drive from TK, Gordon’s Park has plenty of outdoor adventures during the day and great stargazing at night (even if the aurora doesn’t show!).
Bruce Peninsula National Park
On the northern tip of Bruce Peninsula where it sticks out between Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, Bruce Peninsula National Park is an outdoor-lover’s wonderland. Bruce Peninsula National Park is open year-round for activities ranging from hiking and camping to skiing and snowshoeing. During the winter months, you’ll want to explore the coast of Georgian Bay along the Bruce Trail, where a good northern view offers the opportunity to see the northern lights when the sky is clear.
Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve
Another of Ontario’s Dark Sky Preserves, Torrance Barrens is named for its location and geologic features: you’ll find large open sky views and barren rocks upon which to set up your camera for a good astrophotography session. Located far from city lights and isolated by the surrounding region, Torrance Barrens is a great spot to try and see the aurora this far south on a night of strong solar activity.
Point Pelee National Park
Point Pelee National Park is the southernmost point in Canada, but it’s still far enough north to see the northern lights under the right conditions. Surrounded on almost all sides by Lake Erie, the water and protected land create a perfect barrier of night skies for stargazing or aurora viewing. During the day, take advantage of cycling, hiking, or canoe/kayaking opportunities in the national park.
Prince Edward Island
Small and densely populated, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is perhaps the least suited to a northern lights expedition. Located so far south and with more light pollution across more of its area, you’re better suited to traveling elsewhere if you really want to try and guarantee and aurora viewing. But if you do have your heart set on visiting PEI for its daytime experiences as well as those at night, here’s where to go.
Gulf Shore Parkway
Winding along the coast Oceanview Look-off in Cavendish to the entrance to Prince Edward Island National Park, the Gulf Shore Parkway is a good drive if you want to try and find a dark spot to see the northern lights. Anywhere you can pull off the road with a good northerly view will be your best bet to try and see the northern lights. Unlike other provinces or territories where you might be able to see the aurora any night the sky is clear, be sure to check the forecast before trying to see the northern lights from Prince Edward Island.
Stretching from its southern border with the U.S. to the northerly arctic waters, Québec is the second-largest province or territory in Canada – but most people don’t realize just how big it is (about 50% larger than the next largest!). This means that once you get out of the major cities like Québec City and Montreal, you’ve got tons of space to try and see the northern lights. Here are a few spots to inspire you.
Located about 2.5 hours’ drive from both Québec City and Montreal, Mont-Mégantic National Park is an ideal astrotourism destination. At its core, Mont-Mégantic Observatory sits atop the mountain of its same name, a good spot for organized stargazing or trying to see the northern lights. If you want to do it on your own, you can also spend the day hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even paragliding/hang gliding before camping in the national park.
While Mont Mégantic is a good option in southern Québec, die-hard aurora hunters will make the journey north – far north – to Kuujuaq to guarantee success. This indigenous community is the largest and northernmost in the province. You can view the lights from the outskirts of town, or opt to fly further north to smaller communities if you’re really looking to get away from city lights.
More or less the “centermost” province or territory in Canada, Saskatchewan is often overlooked. The Rockies in neighboring Alberta draw the crowds, as do the polar bears and belugas that frequent parts of Manitoba in the east. Nevertheless, this is a benefit for Saskatchewan, which has among the lowest population density – despite being one of the largest. This means limited light pollution and great dark skies for trying to see the northern lights from Saskatchewan!
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
Located on the Saskatchewan-Alberta border, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is an area of protected forest, grassland, and prairie. Within the park is the highest point between the Canadian Rockies and the Labrador Peninsula, at Head of the Mountain (4,816ft in elevation). Throughout the park, you’ll find good dark skies for stargazing – and spotting the northern lights if they’re visible.
Grasslands National Park
On Saskatchewan’s southern border with U.S. state Montana, you’ll find Grasslands National Park. This massive swath of protected prairie is home to huge land mammals like the buffalo. It’s also far from light pollution, making it a good stargazing or aurora viewing spot. After days of hiking, wildlife viewing, or gazing at dinosaur bones, you can camp in the park and enjoy the northern lights overhead if the skies are clear.
La Ronge is a community in central Saskatchewan, but it’s far enough north that you can easily see the northern lights on a good, clear night. Located on the shores of Lac La Ronge, you can peer out over the water toward rugged islands and see the stars or aurora reflected back. During the day, outdoor adventures including hiking, paddling, and fishing are popular ways to pass the time.
The territory in Canada’s northwest corner, the Yukon is massive – and massively empty. With one of the largest areas and smallest populations, it’s easy to escape the crowds and light pollution that come with them. It’s not easy to explore the Yukon due to its size, but it’s well worth it when you find that perfect patch of dark sky and see the northern lights dancing above.
Whitehorse is one of the main viewing destinations for the northern lights in Canada. Located in the westernmost part of Canada, the views here will be comparable to many northern lights destinations in Alaska.
Whitehorse is also one of the places in Canada that has the longest season for viewing the northern lights, spanning from mid-August to mid-April. If you’re hoping to see the auroras during the shoulder seasons, Whitehorse is a great option!
- Fish Lake Road: This area boasts a hiking trail near a lake where you can see the northern lights. If you hike to the Fish Lake viewpoint, there are panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes with lots of open skies.
- Mt. Lorne Ski Facility: This ski area is a fantastic place to catch the northern light, as there’s limited light pollution and it’s located at a higher altitude than the city.
- Kokatsoon Lake: Kokatsoon Lake is about 20 minutes from Whitehorse and offers a large, open viewing spot for the northern lights over the lake.
- Carcross Desert: Located just under an hour from Whitehorse, Carcross Desert is arguably the best place near the city to view the northern lights. There’s virtually no light pollution out there and the desert area is surrounded by picturesque mountains.
Dawson City generally draws crowds for the chance to experience Gold Rush history firsthand. It’s also the second-largest town in the Yukon (after Whitehorse), so it’s the best base to set out and explore northern Yukon and see the northern lights in the area.
Starting east of Dawson City, the Dempster Highway heads northeast out of the Yukon toward Northwest Territories. This highway passes through large areas of subarctic and arctic landscape, with plenty of places to stop and see the northern lights. There are limited services along the highway, so plan ahead to ensure you have enough fuel and supplies – and know where you’ll be stopping for the night.
Popular Tours & Day Trips to See the Northern Lights in Canada
Canada is one of the best places to see the northern lights, both because of its northern location, but also because there are tons of tours and excursions you can book to make seeing the northern lights
a lot easier. Here are a few of the most unique tours in Canada you can take to see the northern lights:
- Night Sky Photography Tours in Jasper: There are several operators that offer night sky photography tours year-round in Jasper National Park. During the aurora high season, the expert guides will take you to some of the darkest, most beautiful spots in Jasper to photograph the northern lights.
- Polar Bears Excursion in Churchill: One of the most famous tours in Manitoba is a multi-day tundra buggy excursion through the Churchill area to see polar bears. Another added benefit? The chance to see the northern lights every night of your trip from the most remote parts of Manitoba.
- Nights Under Lights in Churchill: If you’re going to skip the polar bear safari but still want to see the northern lights in Churchill, you can go to the Nights Under Lights.
- Aurora Village in Yellowknife: This tour company offers nightly tours, as well as complete northern lights tour packages, for those visiting Yellowknife for the purpose of seeing the northern lights.
- Northern Lights Resort & Spa in the Yukon: This remote lodge in the Yukon is a perfect place to view the northern lights from the comfort and warmth of your bed! You can book an all-inclusive package here to relax and disconnect for a few days, and if you’re lucky, catch the auroras a few nights in a row.
How to Photograph the Aurora in Canada
If you want to try and capture the northern lights during your trip to Canada, the best way is through astrophotography. Northern lights photography is a more advanced style of photography than photographing the stars, but here are some tips to get you started:
- You need a camera that allows for manual settings. You’ll also need a tripod and a remote.
- Keep your shutter speed short. If you keep the shutter open longer than 15 seconds, you’ll start to notice star trails (which admittedly look cool) but can distract from the aurora in your pics!
- Set your f-stop low (3-5) and your ISO no higher than 800.
- Don’t forget extra batteries. When shooting in cold weather and with long exposures, your battery will run down much faster than expected.
- Once you’re set up, be patient and keep shooting. Once the aurora light up, you’ll have a chance to shoot some amazing dancing lights in the sky.
Have other questions about seeing the aurora in Canada? Let us know in the comments!