Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada’s Polar Bear Playground
Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Plan Your Aurora Hunting Adventure
Seeing the northern lights is an experience like no other, but to catch the magical glow, planning is key. Though the lights are unpredictable, you can maximize your chances by researching prime viewing locales, booking tours with knowledgeable guides, and allowing flexibility in your itinerary.
Northern lights chasers plan trips when solar activity is heightened, as the aurora borealis is triggered by solar flares. Late fall through early spring offer long nights with peak chances. Fairbanks, Alaska sees them on over 200 nights a year! Be ready to pounce when the forecast looks good. Aurora hunting is known to spur spontaneous adventures no matter the hour.
Choose a destination within the auroral oval, the zone with the highest probability of sightings. Northern Canada, Alaska, Iceland, northern Scandinavia, and Russia sit directly under the oval. Fairbanks, Yellowknife, Whitehorse, Reykjavik, Tromso, and Murmansk are noted hubs.
Once you've picked a promising place, connect with experienced guides. They monitor solar activity and local weather to determine ideal viewing spots each night. Know where the lights are dancing and race over in time to see them. Tours by bus, snowmobile, dogsled, or boat are thrilling ways to chase the lights.
Don't lock in too tight an itinerary. The aurora is ephemeral - building, dancing and disappearing - and tours often operate on short notice. Aurora diehards have dashed out of hotels at 2am because of a promising text from their guide! Be ready to join the hunt on a moment's notice.
Patience pays off when it comes to photographing the northern lights. Use a sturdy tripod, remote shutter trigger and manual camera settings to capture the magic. Adjust ISO, aperture and shutter speed to let in enough light from the dancing skies.
While waiting for the lights, don't miss the Arctic's other wonders. Spotting bears, whales, reindeer and more amidst snow-drenched forests and glaciers adds to the magic. Surprisingly, winter offers prime wildlife viewing opportunities. Just be sure to keep a respectful distance.
Your evenings may spark spontaneousurora chases, so opt for guides and tours that provide cold weather gear. Thermal layers, parkas, snow pants, hats, gloves and sturdy winter boots will keep you comfortable on the hunt. Hand and foot warmers come in handy too.
Many northern cultures share legends of the mystical lights. The Inuit see them as spirits playing ball with a walrus head, while some Cree associate them with dancing ancestors. Learning indigenous tales adds richness to the experience.
Once you've witnessed the auroras thrill, find time to appreciate the wonder in stillness. Soaking in the lights while relaxing in a lakeside hot tub or gazing at them through a cozy cabin window creates a profound connection.
What else is in this post?
- Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Plan Your Aurora Hunting Adventure
- Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Best Times and Locations to See the Aurora Borealis
- Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Photographing the Magical Night Sky Displays
- Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Fun Arctic Wildlife Spotting Opportunities
- Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Staying Safe and Warm While Aurora Chasing
- Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Indigenous Peoples Share Legends of the Northern Lights
- Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Aurora Viewing Activities Both Thrilling and Relaxing
- Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Unique Northern Lights Themed Accommodations
Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Best Times and Locations to See the Aurora Borealis
Under the dancing glow of the northern lights, a magical world unfolds. Determining the ideal locations and timing to experience the majestic aurora borealis lights up any winter adventure with awe and excitement. Advance planning helps set the stage for this bucket list spectacle.
Prime northern lights viewing happens within the auroral oval circling the north magnetic pole where solar particle activity is most concentrated. This oval rings through Alaska, northern Canada, Iceland, northern Scandinavia, and Russia. Any locale within or near the oval offers front row seats when the ethereal lights ignite the night skies.
Noted aurora hubs beckon: Fairbanks, Alaska sees the northern lights on over 200 nights annually. Yellowknife, the capital of Canada's Northwest Territories, earns the title "Aurora Capital of North America." Whitehorse in the Yukon thrills chasers with its expansive dark skies. Northern European hotspots like Abisko, Sweden and Tromsø, Norway almost guarantee opportunities to glimpse the Auroras during peak season.
Planning travels during the longer nights of the northern hemisphere's late autumn to early spring months stacks the deck in your favor. Statistically, March, April and October through December produce the most frequent and spectacular Aurora Borealis performances. In Fairbanks, prime viewing runs from late August into April. Iceland's peak season is October through March. Abisko enjoys optimal sightings December through March.
Equally important is tracking solar activity leading up to your trip. The more intense the solar flares and coronal mass ejections from the sun, the greater chance of seeing the northern lights. Checking space weather forecasts from NOAA and other sources gives insight into upcoming viewing conditions. A Kp-index of 5 or higher indicates potential for dazzling Auroral displays.
Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Photographing the Magical Night Sky Displays
Capturing the magical dance of the northern lights on camera seems to be a bucket list desire for travelers venturing to see them in person. As an ephemeral natural wonder appearing suddenly then vanishing just as quickly, photographers need specialized skills and gear to immortalize the experience. Patience and persistence are key.
The auroras' ethereal glow and vibrant colors beg to be photographed, yet capturing their beauty can be tricky. With the right camera settings, equipment, and techniques you can bring home spectacular images of one of nature’s most spellbinding performances.
A sturdy tripod provides a must-have foundation for crisp northern lights photos. With long exposure times, any camera shake will blur the image. A remote shutter release allows taking shots without touching the camera, avoiding jostling it. Manual mode gives control over aperture, ISO and shutter speed.
As a low light subject, high ISO settings ranging from 800 to 6400 amplify the incoming light during long exposures. Lenses with wide maximum apertures of f/2.8 or lower help here too. Adjust shutter speeds from 5 seconds for subtle Aurora swirls to 20-25 seconds for brilliant displays with defined bands of light.
Composing shots using the rule of thirds highlights the lights against interesting foregrounds. Position them on a third rather than center of the frame. Foreground elements like trees, lakes, cabins and mountains add interest. Photographing directly under the lights works too, especially in locations with minimal light pollution.
Experiment with creative techniques like light painting where people walk through the scene with flashlights to “paint” with light. Try zooming your lens during exposures to create brilliant streaks through the starry skies. Focus stacking combines multiple in-focus shots for maximum depth of field when including foregrounds.
Patience truly pays off in capturing awe-inspiring images of the mercurial lights. Veterans often spend hours in frigid temperatures awaiting the perfect shot. Dress warmly in winter clothing and keep camera batteries inside your coat when not shooting to maximize their life in cold weather.
Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Fun Arctic Wildlife Spotting Opportunities
While the shimmering northern lights may lure you north, the Arctic’s abundant wildlife promises thrilling adventures between auroral performances. Polar bears, whales, reindeer, arctic foxes and more thrive amidst the icy tundra, snow-drenched forests and frigid waters encircling the North Pole. Surprisingly, the long, dark winter provides prime wildlife viewing opportunities, granting a front row seat to nature’s most charismatic cold-climate creatures.
Dog sledding through twilight forests presents chances of catching the icy eyeshine of an arctic fox or pack of wolves. A lumbering moose may meander past your dogsled under the flickering glow of the Aurora Borealis. Snuggling under the blankets of your sled as your husky team trots along is a quintessential Arctic experience.
Many northern lights tours pair Aurora hunting with whale watching adventures. Spotting the plume of spray from a bowhead, beluga or orca whale then racing over on a sleek catamaran gets the heart pumping. Dress warmly though, as several hours on the frosty open waters can be chilling.
The shaggy muskox grazes the Arctic tundra and can be spotted on guided hikes around Yellowknife and other subarctic locales. Its long coat provides insulation against temperatures dipping below -40F. Tracking these horned beasts through binoculars as ribbons of green lights ripple above never gets old.
Of course, seeing a polar bear wild in its icy habitat represents the holy grail for many northern travelers. Churchill, Manitoba calls itself the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” as over 1,000 migrate through each fall waiting for the bay to freeze over. Climbing aboard a customized Polar Rover with guides schooled in bear safety brings you face to face with the largest land carnivore. Their power and grace amid the stark winter landscape is mesmerizing.
Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Staying Safe and Warm While Aurora Chasing
When embarking on an aurora-chasing adventure in the frigid Arctic, proper preparation is paramount. Temperatures can plunge below -40 F once the sun dips below the horizon, so having the right cold weather gear and safety know-how is critical. Your northern lights expedition may spur spontaneous late-night ventures into the backcountry far from civilization, so being self-reliant, vigilant and packing properly helps ensure your outing doesn’t take a dangerous turn.
Starting with clothing, layering is key. High-performance base layers that wick moisture, mid-weight insulating layers and weatherproof outer shells work in tandem to keep your core warm. Being able to add or shed layers prevents overheating or cooling off too much. Jackets and pants designed specifically for extreme cold use heavy-duty synthetic insulation like PrimaLoft that retains warmth even when wet.
Arctic-graded parkas, often filled with goose or duck down, provide toasty protection against biting winds. Bib-style snow pants keep your legs and core warmer than regular pants by eliminating gaps where cold air can penetrate. Wool socks and insulated winter boots complete the ensemble. Bring extra hand and chemical foot warmers in case of emergency and store them near your body to keep them from freezing up.
Once dressed for the elements, don’t forget the accessories. Thermal gloves under waterproof outer mittens or gloves allow performing tasks like adjusting camera settings while keeping hands warm. Insulated and lined hats cover vulnerable ears and trap body heat. Balaclavas protect the head and neck area from chill winds. Goggles prevent eye moisture from freezing and snow blindness.
Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia in case issues arise far from assistance. Keep an eye out for numbness, shivering, slurred speech, drowsiness and other symptoms. Stay hydrated and fueled up. Bring emergency supplies like hand warmers, a headlamp, compass, lighter, whistle and sleeping bag even for short outings in case you become stranded or injured.
When riding snowmobiles, dog sleds or other vehicles, take a hands-on safety briefing beforehand. Ride conservatively without hotdogging to avoid accidents on unfamiliar machines. Follow all instructions and restrictions provided by your guides. They know the terrain and proper protocols to keep you safe. Check weather and avalanche forecasts regularly. Consider a satellite communication device like an inReach to call for emergency help from remote locations if needed.
Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Indigenous Peoples Share Legends of the Northern Lights
For millennia, indigenous cultures across the Arctic have shared legends that explain the dazzling celestial light shows that illuminate their skies. Gaining insights into their traditional stories and spiritual beliefs surrounding the northern lights creates a profound connection for modern day travelers seeking their own dance with the aurora borealis.
The northern lights hold deep cultural significance for many First Nations peoples of northern Canada. The Cree traditionally saw the lights as ancestors playing ball with walrus skulls and dancing in the skies. Their stories speak of spirits journeying down the Milky Way then returning to the spirit world, creating shimmering streaks across the night sky in the process.
For the Inuit, the aurora borealis carries mystical associations as well. Their legends tell of the lights being torches or fire in the sky that showed the spirits the way to heaven. Seeing the northern lights was considered an ominous sign foretelling winds, famine, or hardship. Other tales link the lights to children who died at birth, rising up to dance joyfully in the heavens.
Across the Bering Strait, northern lights lore spans indigenous cultures in Alaska and eastern Siberia too. The Iñupiat people viewed the aurora as an omen, while the Chukchi of Siberia saw them as a magical battle where the lights themselves were the spirits of fallen warriors. Stories passed down through generations capture their cultural reverence for this dazzling natural phenomenon.
In Finnish Lapland, the indigenous Sami people traditionally believed the lights were a route that the souls of the dead traveled to reach the afterlife. Herding reindeer, the Sami learned to forecast weather from the colors and shapes of the aurora. Certain forms foretold stormy or calm times ahead, guiding their seasonal migrations.
Iceland’s folk tales tell of the lights being a glowing bridge used by departed souls to cross from this world into the next. Other stories link the lights to mischievous foxes whose fur gives off the auroral glow as they dash about the winter skies of the far north.
Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Aurora Viewing Activities Both Thrilling and Relaxing
Whether you prefer action-packed adventures or more low-key experiences, prime Aurora viewing activities run the gamut from thrilling to tranquil. Once the mysterious glow begins shimmering overhead, having the flexibility to immerse yourself in the experience your way makes all the difference.
For those craving an adrenaline rush, few experiences compare to hurtling across the frozen tundra by dogsled with the Aurora Borealis streaking wildly overhead. Invigorated by the crisp air whipping your face as the huskies lead you deep into the boreal forest, you’ll be far from any light pollution under nature’s dazzling celestial light show. Dogsledding brings you intimately into the landscape, accelerating your pulse while fully engaging the senses.
Snowmobiling through the backcountry offers a similar rush. Blazing along on your own powerful machine rather than buckled into a sled gives you command of your Aurora hunt. Winding along frozen lakes and rivers with the snow billowing behind you as the lights dance across the sky makes you feel truly immersed in the arctic. Stopping to turn off the machine and simply gaze upwards in silence creates a profound moment of wonder far from the hum of civilization.
For those favoring a cozier experience, lounging lakeside in a thermal-heated suite while witnessing the Aurora’s ethereal performance can be equally mesmerizing. Combining ultimate comfort with front row seats to nature’s theater brings the phenomenon right to you on your own terms. Sipping hot chocolate cradled in a blanket while watching the skies come alive in a kaleidoscope of colors feels dreamlike.
Seeking even deeper relaxation? Schedule an Aurora-inspired spa treatment like a Swedish massage by glow of the northern lights. As your knots melt away gazing out floor-to-ceiling windows, the treatment takes on an ethereal ambience. Enjoy the visual splendor from the steamy warmth of lakeside hot tubs or saunas as well.
For a balance of activity and leisure, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through candle-lit trails culminating at a remote cabin bathed in the magical glow creates lasting memories. Stopping to build a bonfire under the dancing lights while savoring the tranquility of the sleeping forest proves profoundly moving.
Northern Nights: Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada's Polar Bear Playground - Unique Northern Lights Themed Accommodations
After nights spent chasing the Aurora Borealis across the frozen tundra, retreating to a cozy, northern lights-themed lodge or cabin adds to the magic. From Glacier View Lodges' Aurora Winter Nights packages in Alaska's Denali National Park to the Northern Lights Village nestled within Finnish Lapland's spruce forests,lodging options now cater to aurora enthusiasts.
Lapland Hotels' glass-domed Arctic TreeHouse Hotel near Rovaniemi, Finland cocoons guests in a private world illuminated by the dazzling lights. Its cozy, modern treehouse suites feature panoramic ceilings and windows framing unobstructed views of the heavens. Relaxing in the hot tub or lounging by the fire in your private Aurora capsule makes you feel part of the show. The hotel's Aurora alarm even alerts you when solar activity spikes so you can stumble out and witness nature's brilliance instantly.
At Deplar Farm in Iceland's Troll Peninsula, rustic-chic suites evoke the agricultural heritage of the site while framing breathtaking panoramas of the Aurora Borealis. After awing at the lights blanketing the skies, unwind lakeside in your own private geothermal pool gazing upward as the colors dance overhead.
Seeking ultra-remote access to the lights? North Wilderness Sailing's Arctic cruises aboard a historical schooner explore wild fjords and stop at deserted bays nightly for optimal viewing and Northern Lights photography opportunities. You can even sleep on deck in sleeping bags for unobstructed skyward views.
The Arctic TreeHouse Hotel in Rovaniemi lures Aurora fans to overnight in individual glass igloos frosting the wintry boreal forest. Gazing at the heavens shimmering overhead as you tuck into a glass igloo's cozy bed creates lifelong memories. Visitors especially love watching the lights from the warmth of their igloo's private sauna.
At Sheldon Chalet tucked within Alaska's Denali National Park, five luxury chalets poised at the end of Ruth Glacier serve as luxe observatories for dazzling celestial displays. Collecting in the main house for dinner sourced from local ingredients, then retiring to your cabin's plush bed as the lights flicker into view outside the expansive windows makes you truly feel cradled by nature in this remote wilderness setting.
Seeking a more rusticAurora experience? Strike north to Canada's Yellowknife, renowned as the "Aurora Capital of North America." Bluefish Services' remote island camp accessible only by crossing the frozen Great Slave Lake when conditions allow provides exceptional viewing and rustic wigwam-style tent cabins. Watching the shimmering sky lights reflecting over the icy lake surrounds you with profound winter stillness.