If you’re interested in the best places to see Northern Lights in Canada, you’ve come to the right place. I mean, who hasn’t dreamed of witnessing one of the most awe-inspiring spectacles that nature has to offer?
Of course, we’re talking about the celestial wonder of the Aurora Borealis. This natural phenomenon has been captivating people for centuries now- and for good reason!
After all, there’s nothing quite like this magical display of dancing ribbons, twisting and undulating across the sky on a crisp winter’s night. From soft pinks and purples to that legendary ghostly green and even the occasional blue tinge, the aurora borealis sure know how to put on a show – but they can be as fickle.
Averaging around 240 nights of visibility per year, Canada certainly offers a front-row seat to this unique experience. So, to help you tick this off your bucket list, we’ve put together a guide of the top places to see northern lights in Canada – so grab your winter boots, and let’s get started!
Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Canada
While Canada provides prime auroral viewing opportunities you simply can’t find in many other parts of the world, it’s crucial to time your trip just right if you want to up your chances of witnessing this natural phenomenon.
First things first though: heading north is always a great idea, but the further up north you venture, the more unpredictable the weather can be. Clouds are the natural enemies of northern lights, so it’s always a good idea to check the official weather forecast while planning your trip.
The next thing to remember is that Canada usually sees two prime aurora seasons: mid-November to early April and late August to October when the climate is milder. Despite the harsh conditions though, we recommend that you try to plan your trip in the winter between November and April. Not only is the risk of rain significantly lower, but crisp winter nights usually mean crisp, cloudless skies, which is exactly what you want when chasing the aurora borealis! In addition, darkness comes much earlier in the winter months, giving you much more time to spot the elusive lights.
Where to See the Northern Lights in Canada
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s check out those prime spots for witnessing one of nature’s (many) wonders!
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
Located smack in the middle of the Auroral Oval, Yellowknife tops our list of best places to see northern lights in Canada!
Often said to be ground zero for seeing the aurora borealis, Yellowknife may be tiny and super isolated, but your chances of spotting these elusive lights are high. For starters, the city has plenty of natural attributes like low precipitation and a flat landscape, making it easier to view the night sky. Its population count is quite low too, which means fewer city lights.
Not only does Yellowknife have the brightest displays of lights, but they also happen quite frequently. We would recommend that you keep an eye out for the ‘Northern Lighthouses’. Speckled across the city, these small structures are designed to alert residents and visitors when chances of spotting the northern lights are high. How cool is that?
As mentioned at the beginning, the winter months offer the ideal conditions for seeing the aurora borealis. However, bear in mind winter can be alarmingly harsh in the Northwest Territories, so you must grab the right gear and cold climate gear before planning your trip.
You may also want to opt for a Northern Lights tour. Yellowknife is one of the key regions in Canada offering Northern Lights tours and these can make the experience much easier and more comfortable. Often, they are tracking the lights and can bring you out to a secluded area with hot drinks, and snacks, other people to enjoy it with, and take care of all the logistics. It’s certainly not necessary, but many people love taking the tours.
Looking for a great place to stay in Yellowknife while chasing the northern lights? One popular option is the four-star Chateau Nova Yellowknife hotel, which has a restaurant, a bar, and a sauna- perfect for warming up after spending half the night outside!
- Best time to go: Mid-November through Mid-April
- Number of nights visible: up to 240 nights per year
- Read before you go: Things to Do in Yellowknife
Next up on our list of best places to see northern lights in Canada is Whitehorse, the capital city of the Yukon! Also known as the Yukons ‘Aurora Capital’, this small city commands an excellent location along the shores of the mighty Yukon River.
Just like Yellowknife, Whitehorse’s clear nights and Northern location make it a great place for spotting the aurora borealis. However, you’ll want to visit in the winter because in the summer months, these Northern cities get very little darkness.
The Northern Lights season generally extends from mid-August to April, but we would suggest that you head there from November to March to take advantage of the longer and darker nights.
One of the main advantages of watching the northern lights from Whitehorse- other than the clear skies of course- is that the city has a handful of great accommodation options to enhance your experience. Be sure to check out this Bed and Breakfast, which has a great location with minimal light pollution. Alternatively, you can also consider staying in a really cool Aurora Glass Chalet where you can admire the Northern Lights right from the comfort of your bed!
If you don’t want to plan your own expedition, this 4-day Yukon Aurora Viewing Tour looks pretty spectacular. They take care of all the work for you, securing three nights in a hotel and offering a guided experience with transportation, three nights of Aurora chasing, and even a city tour that includes visits to the SS Klondike National Historic Site, the Old Log Church, the Log Cabin Skyscraper, and Main Street.
You can also consider Northern Tales, which conveniently offers aurora borealis packages combined with accommodation at the Best Western Hotel. You can also book your own hotel and just take the Northern Lights tour if you prefer.
- Best time to go: Mid-August to April
- Number of nights visible: up to 200 nights per year
- Read before you go: Things to Do in Whitehorse
Located in Northern Manitoba, Churchill is one of the best places for planning a northern light tour.
Located right below the Aurora Oval, Churchill has nearly 300 days of northern lights viewing each year. While there are displays throughout the year, we would recommend that you plan your visit in the colder months when the skies are less cloudy and precipitation-free.
To really up your viewing experience, you can always head over to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, an operational research venue located just half an hour from the city. Not only is the research centre a more affordable option for travellers who’d like to see the lights, but you’ll also attend engaging lectures centred around this natural phenomenon. Be sure to get your tickets in advance though because spots do fill up pretty quickly.
Since it’s one of the best places to see northern lights in Canada, you’ll certainly be spoilt for choice if you’re looking for tour packages. Some of the most popular operators include Frontier North, Great White Bear Tours, Nanuk Operations, and North Star Tours.
Northern Lights tours are quite new in Churchill as the town is mostly famous for being both the polar bear capital of the world and the beluga whale capital of the world. The good news is that if you also want to spot polar bears, you could come during October or November and try to kill two birds with one stone. Otherwise, you’re better off visiting between January and March when the town is almost completely dark at all times!
- Best time to go: January to March (If you want to see polar bears, however, the only months to go are October and November)
- Number of nights visible: over 300 nights per year
- Read before you go: Things to Do in Manitoba
The Canadian Rockies
Not everyone can handle overly isolated spots. Not only are they difficult to reach and expensive, but the amenities are often lacking as well. If you want to plan a Northern Lights vacation without completely cutting off civilization, then the Canadian Rockies are a pretty safe bet!
Plus, this destination is an absolute playground for fans of the great outdoors and is one of the most popular areas in the country. That means that even if you don’t see the Northern Lights, you’ll experience some of the best scenery in the entire world. Check out our guides to read about the best things to do in Banff and the best things to do in Jasper.
Between the two national parks, Jasper National Park would be your best bet, simply because it’s further north and is home to one of the darkest dark sky preserves in the world thanks to its lack of light pollution. Jasper receives only seven hours of daylight during the winter solstice, which is another reason it offers one of the best places to see Northern Lights in Canada. Although the winter months are typically the best, we can also recommend visiting during the Jasper Dark Sky Festival in October, which celebrates all things astronomy and science.
You can also head over to Lake Louise, a gorgeous hamlet in Banff that has minimal light pollution. If you’re looking for a home base in Lake Louise, we can recommend the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel and the Mountaineer Lodge.
- Best time to go: Late September to Early April
- Number of nights visible: up to 300 nights per year
- Read before you go: Tips for driving the Icefields Parkway
Elk Island National Park and Northern Alberta
Northern Alberta, in general, is a good spot to see the Northern Lights. Whether it’s a small town like Cold Lake or even a big city like Edmonton, there are times when you’ll be able to see them in all their glory. However, one of the best places to see them near Edmonton is Elk Island National Park, which is only 30 minutes east of Edmonton. It is a popular place though, especially being so close to a major city, so expect a lot of traffic if it’s a good night to see them.
- Best time to go: November to March
- Number of nights visible: up to 300 nights per year
- Read before you go: Things to Do in Edmonton in Winter
Battle Harbour, Newfoundland & Labrador
Newfoundland is one of the most fascinating places in the world- so it should only make sense that it also happens to be one of the top destinations for seeing the aurora borealis!
We’ll admit that Battle Harbor isn’t exactly the most visited destination in Canada: after all, this quaint, 19th-century fishing commune is found on an island in the middle of the Labrador Sea.
But if you can make it there, we promise you’ll be completely wowed by the staggering scenery that awaits! Think towering icebergs and majestic fjords, complete with clear, glacial skies in the winter. Depending on when you’re visiting, you can even spot the occasional whale breaking through the waves.
Accommodation choices in Battle Harbor are quite limited, so it’s important to make your reservations in advance. We can recommend the Battle Harbor Heritage Properties Inn.
Because it’s so isolated, Battle Harbor is known for its pitch-black skies. However, It’s important to know that the village is only open from June to September as this is a historic site and not a year-round town.
If you can’t plan your trip then, rest assured that you’ll find other places in Newfoundland to see the aurora borealis. In March 2023, the northern lights were on full display in St. John’s, a charming city known for its historic sites and bars.
Other more remote Newfoundland and Labrador destinations for seeing the lights include Ferryland, Woody Point, Lake Harbor and the Torngat Mountains National Park.
- Best time to go: August to September for Battle Harbour and October to April for most other places.
- Number of nights visible: up to 60 nights per year
Here’s one for hardcore adventurers!
Kuujjuaq is definitely as isolated as it gets. Located in the Nunavik region, Kuujjuaq feels almost like you’re stepping into another country. To begin with, there are no roads linking it to neighbouring towns and villages. The only way to get there is by canoe, plane, or sled.
During the winter solstice, Kuujjuaq only has four hours of daylight, which is why it’s among the top places in Canada to see the aurora borealis.
Given the harsh conditions, we definitely wouldn’t advise you to head to Kuujjuaq on a DIY expedition. Instead, you can always contact operators like Kuujjuaq Tours, Adventures Inuit, or Ungava Polar Eco-Tours to help plan your adventure. Bear in mind that accommodation can be quite scarce in Kuujjuaq, so it’s worth booking your trip through a licensed company.
Travellers who don’t want to head that far up north can also consider visiting Mont Mégantic National Park, located just 18km from Quebec City. While the park offers less visibility than Kuujjuaq, it’s within driving distance of one of the most famous cities in Canada. More importantly, this place features an observatory on the mountain where you can catch the aurora and so much more. You can always look up the observatory’s live stream to check the current conditions before heading up there.
Now, if you’ve got some extra time to spare after chasing those legendary lights, you can always head out to explore Quebec. This lively city is buzzing with an abundance of things to do, so believe us when we say you’re in for an epic adventure!
- Best time to go: October to March
- Number of nights visible: over 130 nights per year
- Read before you go: Things to Do in Quebec
Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territory
Okay, we’ll admit that this isn’t a super popular option. But if you don’t mind venturing off the beaten track, the chances of spotting the northern lights in Tuktoyaktuk are quite high! Plus, you can say you’ve been to the Arctic Ocean!
Also located in the Northwest Territory, Tuktoyaktuk is no doubt one of the best places to see northern lights in Canada, but there are a few things you should keep in mind before planning your adventure: to begin with, this little fishing village is found right on the Arctic Ocean. When we say it’s isolated, we do mean isolated– so you must be properly prepared before setting out on your expedition. Bear in mind that the weather up there is notoriously unpredictable as well.
If you’re not used to harsh climates, especially in the wilderness, we recommend that you plan your outing through an experienced operator for safety reasons. You can always check out Entrée Destinations, Polar Pack Arctic Adventures, or Arctic Range Adventure.
Because it’s located at approximately 70°N latitude above the Arctic Circle, Tuktoyaktuk is set in the prime zone for seeing the lights. In fact, its oceanfront location means that you’ll enjoy aurora views from virtually every direction!
Astronomy aficionados will be glad to learn that the village is also perfectly located for enjoying unblemished views of the Milky Way.
- Best time to go: Late August to early April
- Number of nights visible: up to 200 nights per year
- Read before you go: Things to Do in Tuktoyaktuk
Canadian Insider Tips For Experiencing the Northern Lights
As someone who grew up in Northern Canada under the Northern Lights, I was lucky to see them regularly. However, since moving to a big city further south, I’ve learned that they can be quite difficult to spot. Many things need to come together for a spectacular viewing experience.
- Aurora Activity: First things first, the Northern Lights need to be active. They are not always out and when they are, they are not always strong. The stronger they are, the higher the chance you have to see them.
- The sky: Even if the Northern Lights are out, you’ll need a clear sky to be able to see them. This means that there needs to be little light pollution and few clouds. Even something like a full moon can make it too bright to see them in all their glory.
- Staying up late: Although the winter months make it easier to see the Northern Lights thanks to the short days, they still tend to come out quite late at night. The prime viewing hours are often between midnight and 3 AM.
- Tour guides: Although you can easily see the Northern Lights on your own, hiring a guide or taking a tour can be helpful for a number of reasons. Often, they take you to a quite secluded area, sometimes even providing a warm cabin to hang out in while you wait. They also tend to know the area well and where the best places are to see them, ensuring you the best chances.
Photographing the Northern Lights
Although we highly recommend just enjoying the Northern Lights rather than fumbling around with your camera, we understand that almost everyone wants to try and capture them as a memory down the road. If you’re trying to take the best photos possible, here are some tips for photographing the Aurora Borealis.
- Gear: Although phones can take decent photos of the lights, you’ll ideally want a camera with a wide-angle lens with a low f/stop. You’ll also need a tripod. If possible, a manual focus is best.
- Shutter Speed: Use a slow shutter speed of 10-15 seconds. We even go as slow as 25 seconds at times.
- ISO: Keep the ISO low but feel free to go as high as 2500.
- Remote: I also recommend using a remote or using the timer function to avoid movement when you press the shutter button.
Northern Lights in Canada
We sure hope this guide made it easier for you to plan your next vacation and hopefully tick the fickle northern lights off your list!
Although I grew up with the Northern Lights, I never get tired of seeing them. They truly are one of the most beautiful natural wonders you’ll ever experience. However, you’ll need patience if you decide to chase them. As you’ve read in this guide, you’ll need everything from solar activity, weather, and cloud coverage to be in your favour.
Our list of recommended places to see northern lights in Canada offers a combination of dark skies, minimal light pollution, and optimal geomagnetic latitudes- basically everything you need to maximize your opportunity for a sighting!
A night under the Auroral Oval promises the kind of experience that’ll no doubt stay with you for a lifetime, so here’s wishing you clear skies on your nocturnal adventures!