The Northern Lights are considered the world’s most spectacular natural light show. People from all over the world travel to see Northern Lights, and Canada is one of the best places to do this. Watching shades of pink and green twist and turn across the sky is unforgettable.
For a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience, book your Northern Lights Canada tour early. The Insiders at Canadian Train Vacations have put together a guide on how to plan a trip to see the Northern Lights. This guide contains everything you need to know about the Northern Lights in Canada.
#1 Travel tip: go with a guide
The safest and most comfortable way to see the Northern Lights is with an experienced guide. Not only can they bring you to a location far from light pollution, they can provide a comfortable place to stay warm while you're waiting for the lights to appear.
What Are the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), one of several astronomical occurrences known as Polar Lights, are curtains or shafts of coloured light that appear in the night sky occasionally. They occur when the sun's energized particles, known as the solar wind, bombard our atmosphere. The magnetic field of Earth deflects these particles towards the poles of our planet, where they connect with our atmosphere, accumulating energy and causing vibrant colours in the sky. The colours are created by the atmosphere’s chemical composition. The dominant colours are green and red, produced by oxygen molecules and nitrogen molecules respectively.
Where Can the Northern Lights Be Viewed?
The auroral zone, the area of the Northern hemisphere within a 1,500-mile radial distance of the magnetic north pole, is the best place to see the Northern Lights. It extends from 60 to 75 degrees latitude and includes Iceland, Finland, Russia, Alaska, northern parts of Sweden, Norway, Canada, and southern Greenland. The Northern Lights can move further south during powerful periods of solar wind (geomagnetic storms), even appearing in places like the United States. However, aurora activity varies, and the Auroral oval shifts constantly. Because it is impossible to predict when these geomagnetic storms will occur, your best bet for seeing the Northern Lights is to visit locations within the auroral zone, where the phenomenon is most common. It is important to avoid artificial light sources, such as street lighting, when viewing the Northern Lights. The further you travel from the bright lights of human civilization, the more remarkable the spectacle.
When Can the Northern Lights Be Seen?
The Northern Lights appear nearly every day of the year, but they are not always visible. The Aurora Borealis is often at its peak around the equinoxes, whenever the sun is directly above the Earth's equator, and day and night are roughly equal in length. This is most common between late September and late March. Viewing the lights on a very dark night is best. If there is a full moon, the light will dim the aurora effect. When you are planning your trip, remember to check Canada’s cloud cover and aurora forecasts.
How Can I See the Northern Lights in Canada?
There are various options for viewing the Lights no matter when you visit or what the weather patterns are. You could join a tour group, stay at a hotel in an Aurora viewing area, or enjoy a self-drive adventure. There are numerous Northern Lights Canada packages to choose from. These range from single-day or night tours to multi-day packages that include lodging and meals.
A group tour may include visiting multiple Aurora viewing locations. You'll also be with local specialists who are familiar with the forecast and hot spots. Here are some options for seeing the Northern Lights in Canada.
Seeing the Northern Lights from a Town
You might be able to see the Northern Lights while staying in a town or city. If you view the Lights from an urban area, light and noise pollution could affect your experience, and viewing space may be limited. Canadian places to see the Northern Lights include Yellowknife (Northwest Territories), Whitehorse (Yukon), Churchill (Manitoba), Jasper (Alberta) or Banff (Alberta).
Taking a Tour
You can take a tour to see the Northern Lights of Canada. There are different touring options available that you can choose from. The best thing about a tour is that you have a guide. The guides will take you to the best viewing spots and may suggest how and where to take photographs. You will also meet new people while watching the Aurora Borealis, and you can interact with the locals and learn some fascinating facts and stories. You’ll be driven around by someone who is familiar with the roads and the weather conditions. Look at our Northern Lights to Churchill and Northern Lights to the Yukon packages for more information.
Explore: Northern Lights Tour Canada
This option is perfect for independent travellers. Hiring a car means that you can travel on your own schedule. During the winter, roads may be covered with ice and snow and can be challenging to navigate if you are not used to driving in these conditions. You can usually rent a car in Canada with a valid driver’s license from your home country.
#2 Travel tip: use a tripod for photos
Sharing your photos is a big part of the Northern Lights experience. Use a tripod for stability and use the fastest shutter speed possible.
6 Things you need to consider when planning a trip to see the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights are most visible during the winter, though they are highly unpredictable. Therefore, you need to plan your trip thoroughly, considering every aspect. Planning a trip to view the Aurora Borealis can be a daunting task. Here are some things to consider:
You should plan your Aurora trip between September and April. The winter months are the best time to see Northern Lights Canada. During the rest of the year, the Lights can appear, but they might not be visible or that bright due to extended daylight hours and not enough darkness. We recommend a 4-5 day trip to give yourself the best chance of catching the Lights.
2. Choose The Right Countries
One of the first decisions to make when planning your Northern Lights adventure is which country to visit. Canada is an excellent choice for an Aurora Borealis viewing trip. Some Canadian places experience a more magnificent display of colours and lights or have a more frequent show of the Lights. Some of the best places to watch the Northern Lights in Canada include Torngat Mountains National Park in Newfoundland, Banff or Jasper national parks in the Canadian Rockies, Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Northern Saskatchewan.
3. Expect Different Colors
While on the trip, be ready to see the different colours of the Northern Lights. You may anticipate seeing the green colour, which is most sighted, but you could be surprised by a spectrum of colours like red, blue, violet, and even grey. It can be challenging to spot grey if the sky is cloudy.
4. Check The Forecast
In the days leading up to your trip, keep an eye on the Northern Lights forecast. This forecast will predict each day’s Northern Lights activity. If the number on the scale is Kp=3 or higher, this will give you the best chance to view the Northern Lights after sundown. So, before you head out, make sure to check the forecast. If the skies are clear, stars are visible, and there is a good Aurora forecast, you have a high probability of seeing the Northern Lights.
5. Check The Weather
The weather has an impact on your ability to view the Northern Lights. If it is raining or there is a lot of cloud cover, then the probability of seeing the Lights is low. So, check the weather and pick a day with clear skies for the best chance of viewing the Northern Lights.
6. Plan For Winter
We recommend planning your visit to Canada during the winter months to watch the Northern Lights. You need to know the sunrise and sunset times and plan your itinerary accordingly. If you are planning to drive in Canada during the winter, roads will likely be snowy and icy. With these road conditions, you should allow more time to get to your destination and plan to arrive before sunset. You can also enjoy other Canadian winter activities while on your trip, like dogsledding, ice skating or snowshoeing.
How to pack for watching the Northern Lights in Canada
You’ll probably be travelling in the winter as this is the best time for Northern Lights Canada, so you should prepare for cold weather. Make sure you pack warm clothes and lots of layers. You’ll be spending time outdoors, so check the weather conditions, layer up, and choose an outer layer that is wind and waterproof. You can carry a thermos filled with coffee, hot chocolate, or tea to keep you warm during the night while you watch the Lights. Here is a simple packing list to get you started.
- Base layers of clothing - tops, shirts, and trousers
- Multiple pairs of thick socks
- Jumpers and sweaters made from wool or fleece
- Woolen scarf, thick gloves, and hat
- Sturdy, waterproof boots
- Windproof and waterproof jackets and pants
Wearing thick gloves can make it difficult to operate your camera and cellphone, which makes it tricky to take pictures. You could wear microfiber gloves underneath and remove the thick gloves when you want to take pictures.
How Much Does It Cost To See The Northern Lights?
Northern Lights Canada trips vary in price. The cost of a Northern Lights tour depends on your chosen destination, the tour duration, dates, hotels, and more. Our 7-day Northern Lights package to the Yukon starts from $2,440 USD per person. Schedule a call with one of our Canadian Insiders to learn more.
Frequently Asked Questions
What month is best to see the Northern Lights?
Autumn and winter are the best seasons for a trip to Northern Lights Canada. For Northern Lights trips to the Yukon, you should travel between November and March. If you’re looking to go to Churchill, Manitoba, then January, February, or March is ideal.
Is 2023 a good year for Northern Lights?
Yes, 2023 is a great year to capture the Northern Lights. Solar activity follows an 11-year cycle. For the current cycle, 2025 is predicted to be the solar maximum, the peak of increased solar activity. 2023 may provide more opportunities to view the Northern Lights as we move closer to this solar maximum.
Do the Northern Lights show every night?
No, the geomagnetic storms which are the cause of the spectacular display of the Lights don’t take place every night. Also, they are mostly not visible during the summer months of May to August due to the constant daylight.
Where is the easiest place to see the Northern Lights?
Some of the easiest places to see the Northern Lights include the Yukon and Churchill, Manitoba. Generally, you are more likely to see the Northern Lights in remote communities up North.
Can you see Northern Lights with your eyes?
Yes, you can sometimes see the Northern Lights with your naked eyes, but the colours only appear in shades of gray and white. The light is too faint to be detected by our colour-sensing cells.
Can you see Northern Lights with a phone camera?
Yes, you can see the Northern Lights with your phone camera, and it’s also convenient to take a good photo with your smartphone. You will need to configure specific settings on your phone to capture the Lights.
Do you need special equipment to see the Northern Lights?
No, you do not need special equipment to see the Northern Lights.
What are you not supposed to do at the Northern Lights?
Some cultures say you should not whistle, wave or sing while viewing the Northern Lights.
About the author: Louise Weiss is Director of Legendary Hospitality with Fresh Tracks Canada. Having worked in the Canadian travel industry for more than 25 years, she enjoys sharing her local expertise with visitors. She is based in North Vancouver and has spent time... Read more