Churchill Northern Lights  Frontiers North4

The Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, is a dazzling natural phenomenon and a bucket-list travel experience for many — and Canada is one of the best places in the world to see them. People journey from far and wide with hopes of glimpsing this magical light show. Our guide tells you where to see the Northern Lights in Canada, as well as when to travel here for your best chances of viewing, along with recommended Canadian train vacations for this memorable experience.

Facts about the Northern Lights in Canada

The Yukon is a top spot to see the Northern Lights in Canada
© Canadian Tourism Commission

What Do the Northern Lights in Canada Look Like?

What can you expect with Northern Lights in Canada? One of nature’s most fabulous shows, the Northern Lights look different each night Streaks of light dance in the darkness, with the lights sometimes appearing in a range of vibrant hues. The lights usually appear white or green, but it’s possible to also observe tones of blue, red, violet and pink. Some evenings are subdued and gentle, but some shine brightly. There are nights when the lights may appear simply as a warm glow. However the lights present themselves, it’s a wondrous sight. Your camera will likely pick up views even more incredible than those seen with the naked eye.

What Causes the Northern Lights in Canada?

Aurora, or light phenomena, occur over both of the Earth’s poles. The Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, are caused in the same way as the Southern Lights, or aurora australis: from activity on the Sun’s surface.

Solar storms create electronically charged particles, some of which travel as far as the Earth. Some particles are deflected, while others are drawn in by the Earth’s magnetic field and pulled toward the poles. As these particles collide with matter, such as molecules and atoms, in the atmosphere. The resulting geomagnetic storms produce heat. Different gases glow in various colors when heated, resulting in the multi-colored Northern Lights.  

Why Are the Northern Lights in Canada so Special?

Besides looking beautiful and being on many travelers’ wish lists, the Northern Lights are fascinating from a scientific point of view and have lots of cultural significance.

The lights are surrounded in many myths and legends across the world. For example, in Finnish folklore many people say the lights are created by the Arctic fox running through the snow. The country’s Sami people, however, believe the lights are the souls of the dead. In old Norse Viking legends, the lights were reflections bouncing off warriors’ armor.

In Canada, some Indigenous Peoples see the lights as sacred, regarding them as ancestral spirits dancing in the sky for the Great Spirit. For other groups, the lights are sky people playing ball, while others believe they are the spirits of those who passed in a difficult way. Many people speak hearing the lights, with crackling, sizzling, and hissing sounds. Some legends warn against attracting the attention of the lights because they can draw close and carry you away. 

Top Spots to See the Northern Lights in Canada

Northern Lights over the VIA Rail train
© VIA Rail

The Northern Lights are visible, during the right conditions, in several places in the northern hemisphere. There are several great aurora-hunting destinations across northern Canada. The lights don’t appear every night, and some times of the year are better than others for witnessing the spectacular sight. However, some destinations are especially known for being more reliable, containing regular appearances or clearer views. Where are the best places to  see the Northern Lights In Canada: 

Manitoba

Located in the northeast of Manitoba, along the shores of Hudson Bay, Churchill is a great destination for anyone wishing to see the Northern Lights in all their glory. Lying on the fringe of the Arctic, and directly under the auroral oval, Churchill is among the best places around the world for watching the awesome Northern Lights illuminate the skies. The aurora is visible in Churchill for most of the year, although the winter months of January, February, and March offer the best experience. Because of the longer nights and colder conditions, the lights often appear brighter and remain in the sky longer.

A guided train vacation to Churchill is a great option for seeing the Northern Lights in Canada, as the town is only reachable by plane or train. Led by an expert guide, you’ll not only see the amazing lights, but also benefit from photographic tips and tricks to capture the perfect reminders of your excellent adventure. Spend your nights visiting diverse, secluded hotspots in gorgeous landscapes photographing the Northern Lights, while filling your days with activities and sightseeing. The trip includes snowshoeing and dog-sledding, as well as a chance to learn more about Indigenous Northern People at the Manitoba Museum.

Yukon

In the northwest of Canada, Yukon boasts several destinations with a high chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Part of the region lies underneath the auroral oval. The prime time for seeing the natural spectacle is between November and March, although you may spot the lights anytime between the end of August and the middle of April. Due to its remote northern location, Yukon experiences the midnight sun during the summer months. The long hours of sunshine make it impossible to see the lights.

Venture away from the city lights to areas of total darkness and turn your gaze skywards while trying to see the lights.

The Canadian Rockies

Seeing the Northern Lights while surrounded by the raw beauty of the Canadian Rockies, is simply awe-inspiring, which is why it's included on our list of top places where you can see the Northern Lights in Canada. Banff and Jasper National Parks, both in Alberta, are particularly good locations if you’re hoping to see the Northern Lights. In Banff, October to April offers the best chances of witnessing the lights, although you may spot them year-round in the right conditions. At Jasper National Park, the dedicated Jasper Dark Sky Preserve typically sees the brightest lights between September and May. If you visit in October, you can time your trip to coincide with the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. 

Newfoundland and Labrador         

The nation’s easternmost province of Newfoundland and Labrador is another top place to see the Northern Lights in Canada. While many of the best viewing spots lie along the coast, you’ll also find great destinations inland. Essentially, avoiding light pollution and heading to remoter areas gives the best aurora-spotting opportunities. While it’s possible to see the lights between September and April, the region has two main aurora periods: September to October and March to April.