Canada is one of the best places to see the northern lights, or aurora borealis. One of the great wonders of nature, the spectacular light displays of the aurora can be seen mainly from high-latitude regions of the planet, closer to the north pole.
Large areas of Canada’s northern territories fall within the Arctic Circle, where the aurora appears most prominently. The northern lights can even be seen in parts of the southern provinces.
Where are the best places to witness the aurora borealis in the Great White North and when is the best time to go?
Discover when and where to see the northern lights in Canada with this guide.
Where Are the Northern Lights?
The northern lights are seen in the skies, usually at latitudes far to the north. They are most frequently visible from areas within or close to the Arctic.
There are various places around the world from which one can see the northern lights. Canada is one of the countries with the most opportunities to see the aurora since it occupies a vast area of land to the far north.
The northern lights are caused by charged particles from solar winds hitting the Earth and exciting the atoms and molecules high in the atmosphere. The interactions of these particles release light of different colors, which form ethereal patterns in the sky.
Most of the light produced by auroras occur 90-150 km above the ground, at times reaching heights of over 1,000 km.
Where Can You See the Northern Lights in Canada?
There are various places in Canada from which the northern lights can be seen. The 3 northern territories of Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories are all located partly within the Arctic Circle, making them good locations to watch the phenomenon.
However, the northern parts of the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador are also frequently illuminated by the lights of the aurora, especially during winter nights.
It is not uncommon to see the northern lights as far south as Jasper National Park in south-western Alberta. The aurora has been known to be visible as far south as Toronto, Ontario at times.
Where Is the Best Place to See the Northern Lights in Canada?
Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories advertises itself as the best place in the world to see the northern lights. Its flat landscape and frequently clear nights make it an ideal location to see the aurora.
Whitehorse is the capital of Yukon as well as being the territory’s only city. It is one of the easiest places to get to where visitors have a good chance of seeing the northern lights. Various tours and hotels on the outskirts of the city cater to travelers who wish to see the aurora.
Churchill, Manitoba is another location where the northern lights can easily be seen. Although it is more famous for its large local populations of polar bears and beluga whales, the aurora borealis is another reason to visit this small community on the shore of Hudson Bay.
Other good places to see the aurora borealis in Canada include:
- Battle Harbour, NL
- Dawson City, Yukon
- Fort McMurray, Alberta
- Iqaluit, Nunavut
- Jasper National Park, Alberta
- Melfort, Northern Saskatchewan
- Muncho Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia
- Nunavik, Quebec
- Torngat Mountains National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador (NL)
What Month Is Best to See the Northern Lights in Canada?
The northern lights are almost impossible to see during daylight. The autumn and winter months, when the nights are longer, give visitors the best chance of seeing the aurora.
The phenomenon is most easily visible between September and March.
Most visitors will want to avoid coming so far north during the coldest months. December and January can see temperatures drop as low as -40°C (-40°F).
September to November and February to March are arguably the best times to see the aurora borealis since the nights are relatively long but the weather, while still very cold, is not as extreme.
It is worth bearing in mind that the best time to see the northern lights is not necessarily the best time to visit Canada as a whole. It largely depends on what else the visitor wants to see.
How to See the Northern Lights in Canada
Overseas visitors who want to come to Canada to see the northern lights must first obtain the appropriate documentation to enter the country.
Travelers from most countries will either need a visa or the Canadian electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)—a visa waiver system.
The electronic travel authorization is quick and simple to obtain compared to a consular visa. Visitors must complete a Canada eTA application form online, which involves entering basic information about the applicant and their travel plans.
Being able to apply online means that the applicant does not have to travel to a Canadian embassy, stand in line, and then be interviewed, as with a consular visa.
Check the nationalities that can apply to the Canada eTA to see if you are eligible to apply.