For anyone visiting Canada’s north, witnessing the aurora borealis (or the northern lights as they are also known) is almost always high on their bucket list. After all, who can look at photographs of green, pink, and purple ribbons of light dancing across the sky and not want to book a northern lights holiday? Having grown up in Fort.McMurray, Alberta, I saw them all the time, but once I moved down South, I didn’t see them for many, many years. So, when I was up in Whitehorse, Yukon, it was on my bucket list to see them as well.
Since we wanted to experience the options that tourists have when visiting the area, we contacted Northern Tales and asked about their northern lights vacation packages. Located right in the Best Western hotel in Whitehorse, they’re conveniently located for anyone visiting the area. In fact, accommodation at the Best Western is included in some of their packages. We ended up trying out their Basic Aurora Borealis package, which basically consists of a few nights at the Best Western combined with late-night viewings outside the city.
Northern Lights Whitehorse
Since the lights don’t come out until very late in the night, the vans start to pick people up at around 10 PM at the hotel and take them outside the city to a secluded piece of land in the middle of the forest. They really do have a nice setup. There’s a rustic cabin where you can keep warm, eat snacks, and drink hot chocolate. There’s a beautiful campfire outside where you can also keep warm and mingle with people from around the world. Then, just a few steps from the cabin is a large open field, which makes a perfect place to set up a camera and await the magic of the northern lights. In fact, if you don’t have a tripod, they have many of them to loan out.
When we were there, the weather was, unfortunately, not cooperating. There were a lot of clouds and even some rain, which is not something you want when trying to see the aurora borealis. In fact, this is a good time to let you know that seeing the aurora borealis requires a lot of luck. You could spend a month in the Canadian north and not see them, especially if you’re hoping to see them the same way you see them in those incredible photographs that inspired you to visit in the first place. First off, you need aurora activity. There are websites that help track the aurora borealis and will help you plan the best night(s). Basically, the stronger the “activity”, the better the lights and the better your northern lights holiday. If they are weak and you do see them, they won’t be as spectacular as you had imagined. If they are really strong, get ready for a spectacular show – well, if everything else works out. This brings us to the second important step, which is needing clear skies. Sure, you can see them with some scattered clouds but they will be much more visible and vibrant if the skies are clear. Third, you need extreme darkness. This is why the winter season is the best time to see the aurora borealis rather than in the summer season. In the summer, the sun is out much longer than in the winter, and in some months, the skies are never all that dark. Even a bright full moon or city lights will make it more difficult to see the lights. This is why tours like Northern Tales bring you outside of the city. Less light is better. No light is best.
All of this has to combine with the timing of your trip to truly experience the aurora borealis in all of their glory. Your camera can pick them up on weaker nights but your eyes won’t be able to. Even in our photos above, we couldn’t see that with our own eyes. The camera can see them much better when left on a longer exposure. Photos, therefore, can be deceiving. We spent an entire month in both the Yukon and the Northwest Territories and only had one night that produced really good aurora borealis and that was in the middle of the Dempster Highway in a place called Eagle Plains. However, this is nature we’re talking about and you truly never know when they will put on a good show.
Having been born in Northern Alberta, I’ve seen them hundreds of times, and I never did realize how rare they were for most of the world. Now that I don’t live so far north, I truly miss seeing them so often. If you can see them on a night when they truly “come to life”, it will definitely be one of the most beautiful things you ever see. And for that reason alone, they’re truly worth the effort.
Some of the best places to see the northern lights are in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the northern parts of many provinces such as Alberta and Manitoba. However, I’ve also seen them as far south as Winnipeg, and many of my friends have seen them around the Canadian Rockies and Edmonton. You just never know! If you’re in Whitehorse though, it’s definitely one of the best places to see Northern Lights Yukon.
Have you seen them before? Are they on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments below!