In the eyes of the aurora hunter, few places can compete with Canada. It’s the second largest country in the world in terms of area, yet it’s one of the least densely populated with only four people per square kilometer. Combined with the country’s location in the auroral oval, Canada is the perfect (sun) storm. The entire country is basically prime real estate to see the northern lights in its full glory.
Here are some of the best spots to catch the northern lights in the Great White North:
Iqaluit, Nunavut- 63.7 degrees North
About this spot: Iqaluit is the capital of Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory. Nunavut is huge—it makes up over a fifth of Canada! Most of the territory sits within the Arctic circle, so prepare for temperatures that range from -15°C to -40°C in the winter. If you’re looking to visit a lot of Canada, Iqaluit’s probably not your most practical option as there are more well-connected destinations. But a relative lack of tourists gives you the chance to interact with locals and experience the northern lights in a place with basically no light pollution. Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park and Katannilik Territorial Park are some favorite areas to visit for even more darkness.
If you visit Iqaluit for your next northern lights adventure, the fall to early spring season will be your best bet (October through March). Your chances of getting a great aurora during the summer are almost nonexistent, as the sun barely sets at night. You can check out daily aurora forecasts for Iqaluit here.
Other things that make the area great: Inuit people compose up to 60 percent of the Iqaluit population, so visiting is both a cultural and nature-driven experience. You’ll see signs written in both English and Inuktitut, and it is a town worth visiting if you’re in interested in Canada’s Inuit population.
Hotel recommendations: Only a little more than 7,000 people live in this town, so there are few options to choose from. The Frobisher Inn and Capital Suites Iqaluit are the most popular stays here.
Yellowknife, Canada- 62.4 degrees North
About this spot: Yellowknife is the capital of the Northwest Territories, so it’s accessible by car and even plane via the Yellowknife Airport. The northern lights are visible here around 65 percent of the year and best seen from the end of August to mid-April. Astronomy North creates Yellowknife aurora forecasts in partnership with the Canadian government to forecast nights with high northern lights activity.
Yellowknife’s temperatures during aurora season get fairly low, with average winter lows reaching around -25°C. But you can avoid the cold weather by visiting in the fall (August to September), and you’ll be able to see the leaves change colors too! Like Iqaluit, the sun barely sets in Yellowknife throughout the summer, so I’d avoid from May to July. Some places to catch the northern lights in Yellowknife include the Dettah Ice Road and Prelude Lake.
Other things that make the area great: Yellowknife’s Naka Festival showcases local Dene cultural pride and features an aurora showcase. You can look up exact dates of the festival and other scheduled events here. Other activities, like dogsledding and tobogganing down one of its snow hills, are popular in the daytime.
Hotel recommendations: Hotels and B&Bs are the main options here, including The Explorer Hotel and NARWAL B&B. Yellowknife has a webpage detailing all of its accommodations.
Whitehorse, Yukon- 60.7 degrees North
About this spot: Whitehorse is another superstar among Canada’s northern lights destinations, and tourists frequent this city every winter. Around 70 percent of Yukon’s residents live in Whitehorse, so you won’t be able to see the northern lights in the city. Instead, visit surrounding areas like Fish Lake and Chadburn Lake Road for enough darkness.
Whitehorse is a sweet spot of northern lights destinations. It’s not as freezing as Iqaluit or Yellowknife, but still north enough for good aurora chances. The best time to visit Whitehorse is from August to mid-April.
Other things that make the area great: A
30-minute drive from the city is the Takhini Hot Springs, where you can defrost
yourself after a night of aurora hunting.
If you’re interested in the full northern lights experience and have some free time, drive five hours from Whitehorse to the Northern Lights Centre and learn more about the phenomenon. The center is in the middle of Watson Lake, which also doubles as a stargazing location.
Hotel recommendations: Yukon’s full list of accommodation options can be found here.
Churchill, Manitoba- 58.7 degrees North
About this spot: From my experience, Churchill is great for aurora viewing. The town is known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” and from October to November, you can watch polar bears migrate through the region. The fall is also the highest tourist season, so I’d wait until the winter months for the crowds to get smaller if your intention is just to hunt aurora.
Other things that make the area great: I’ve gone to Churchill twice, and I’ve found plenty of reasons to visit besides the northern lights! I’ve watched the sunrise while on a snowmobile, gone dogsledding with some excited pups, and visited murals depicting climate change.
Hotel recommendations: The town of Churchill offers a list of stays here. I’ve personally stayed at the Aurora Inn and a yurt through Nanuk Operations—both were cozy!
Jasper, Alberta- 52.9 degrees North
About this spot: Jasper is one of the most picturesque locations on this list. It’s a small town in the middle of Jasper National Park, so your proximity to nature is next-level. It’s the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world, achieving optimum darkness for aurora and star sightings. There’s even a yearly Jasper Dark Sky Festival held in the park.
September through mid-May is the best time to visit Jasper for the northern lights, but during strong aurora activity years, you can see the lights in the summer too. When there’s weak activity, I would go for high altitude areas in northeastern Alberta like Wood Buffalo National Park. This website forecasts aurora sightings in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta and a town near Jasper.
Other things that make the area great: Jasper is in the middle of the Canadian Rockies, so trails are abundant and an easy (or not so easy) way to explore nature in the daytime. Read about Jasper’s different trails here.
“If you want the stunning views minus the hiking part, you can take tours to viewing locations like the Columbia Icefield Skywalk. If you visit near the beginning or end of Jasper’s aurora season, you can ride the Jasper SkyTram up Whistlers Mountain for a dynamic viewing experience.
Hotel recommendations: Travel Alberta lists accommodation options throughout the Alberta province; select Jasper and your desired dates for options.
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan- 53.2 degrees North
About this spot: Saskatchewan is nicknamed “Land of Living Skies”, which is solid assurance of pretty atmosphere views. Prince Albert National Park is the town’s main attraction, with ways you can get to the park via foot or car. In the park, you can even pay a visit to conservationist Grey Owl’s cabin along some routes.
August through December is probably going to give the most exciting sky shows, as there are meteor showers during this time! But the northern lights are visible here year-round. It’s one of the few places where enjoying the light show won’t freeze your butt off. On warm nights, you can bring your sleeping bag for a night under the stars.
Other things that make the area great: Prince Albert’s national park is one of many aurora spots in Saskatchewan; the town’s location in the middle of the province is ideal for visiting other places. Drive 1.5 hours out to visit Saskatoon, another popular viewing location.
Hotel recommendations: Prince Albert’s tourism website lists different hotel, motel, and Airbnb options for travelers. There are also quirky options like the oTENTik (a tent and cabin hybrid) and the yurt. Tourism Saskatchewan has a directory of places to stay within the province.
Wherever you decide to see the northern lights, you can’t really go wrong when it comes to Canada. It’s a big country with endless opportunities to take a break, look up, and appreciate the beauty of the sky.
If you have a favorite northern lights spot, let me know! I’m constantly on the search for new places.