Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada
Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Seeking Out Yellowknife's Nightly Light Show
Perched on the edge of the Arctic Circle, the capital city of Canada's Northwest Territories is one of the best places on Earth to experience the ethereal glow of the northern lights. During long winter nights when skies are clear and solar activity ramps up, Yellowknife becomes a front-row seat for the aurora borealis' magical performance.
"I've seen the northern lights all over the world, but Yellowknife is truly phenomenal," says photographer Joshua Snow, who leads photography workshops focused on the lights. "You have about a 90% chance of seeing them on any given night during auroral season. And the viewing is absolutely stunning."
What makes Yellowknife's skies so spectacular is the combination of frequent solar storms and limited light pollution. The city enacted strict lighting ordinances to reduce glare and enhance opportunities for astronomers - and aurora seekers - to enjoy the heavens.
Visitors have several prime northern lights viewing areas to choose from. Frame Lake Trail is a local favorite, with unobstructed panoramas over the frozen waters. Or watch the lights shimmer above Old Town's historic buildings from the Pilot's Monument overlook.
Just outside the city, Yellowknife Headframe Park overlooks the now-closed Con Mine. The headframe structure frames the lights, creating unforgettable photo ops. And Yellowknife River is a top pick for dog sledding under the northern lights.
No matter where you go, dress warmly in layers and winter boots. Temps can dip below -30 degrees Fahrenheit during Yellowknife's long winter night. Pack hand and foot warmers, chemical heat packs, and an insulated flask of hot cocoa.
Joining a northern lights tour takes the guesswork out of timing. Knowledgeable guides track solar activity and weather to determine prime viewing locations each night. Tours often include transportation, photography tips, and hot beverages.
For the ultimate immersive experience, book an overnight Aurora Village cabin, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Yellowknife Bay. You can watch the spectacular show in cozy comfort. Just be sure to keep the curtains open before bed.
What else is in this post?
- Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Seeking Out Yellowknife's Nightly Light Show
- Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Dog Sledding Under the Aurora Near Whitehorse
- Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Camping Outside Jasper for Optimal Viewing Conditions
- Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Experiencing Yukon's First Nations Legends about the Lights
- Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Sailing Through Nunavut's Otherworldly Night Sky
- Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Observing from a Remote Labrador Lodge's Hot Tub
- Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Joining a Northern Lights Photography Workshop in Churchill
- Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Booking an Aurora Viewing Flight Over the Rockies
Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Dog Sledding Under the Aurora Near Whitehorse
Far from city lights, the Yukon's winter wilderness becomes a celestial theater for the shimmering northern lights. Dog sledding into boreal forests outside Whitehorse is one of the most thrilling ways to experience nature's mesmerizing light show.
"The sheer anticipation of not knowing where and when the northern lights will erupt keeps us on the edge of our sleds," says musher Skye Gauley of Sky High Wilderness Adventures. "Then watching the lights dance directly above, with nothing but silence and snow, is so profound."
Twilight dog sled tours pair transportation by sled with guided aurora viewing. Blankets and hot drinks keep you warm as you venture across frozen marshlands. Sled dogs only pause their enthusiastic trot when necks crane to watch the sky sparkle and swirl.
For Michelle Valberg, an award-winning northern lights photographer, dog sledding offered a life-changing view. "The awe that comes over a sledger when the northern lights explode directly overhead is uncontrollable," she says. "The child-like laughter, unbridled joy of the moment, is so fun to capture in photos."
Part of the thrill is the otherworldly setting where red and jade lights glimmer above stark silhouettes of spruce trees. The cold air carries the sound of sled runners crunching over snowdrifts. Huskies lope along, breathing frosty plumes.
"When the northern lights storm the sky, you feel so small beneath the vast universe," says Gauley. "The northern lights humble you but also remind you of the subtle beauty in life. It becomes meditative."
Though the lights are elusive, choosing a new moon night and timing your tour between 10 pm and 2 am maximizes viewing chances. Keep eyes peeled overhead as rivers curve through woodlands and the sled dogs' breaths trail behind like smoke signals.
Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Camping Outside Jasper for Optimal Viewing Conditions
With its rugged, wild beauty and dark night skies, Jasper National Park in Alberta is revered among aurora seekers. "Jasper has an incredibly high frequency of northern lights displays," says photographer Colin Bartol, who often leads dedicated photography workshops in the park. "Our success rate is around 85 to 90 percent."
Bartol recommends camping just outside Jasper's town site, as ambient light can reduce visibility. His favorite spot is the Wabasso Campground on the Icefields Parkway, roughly halfway between Jasper and Lake Louise. Situated away from any town glow, its location between the mountains provides panoramic sightlines.
"At Wabasso, you have a 330-degree view to catch the lights dancing and swirling overhead," Bartol explains. "Pitch your tent facing north, then just wait for the show to start." The campground has an open meadow perfect for setting up a tripod and camera to capture the ephemeral lights.
Night skies darken around 8 pm in midwinter. Savvy aurora chasers stay up until 2 or 3 am when solar storms are often strongest. Dress for hours in subzero temperatures while avoiding exhaling moisture that can fog camera lenses. Handwarmers and thermal pads make it easier to stay outside watching the ever-changing light spectacle.
"I'll never forget when the northern lights erupted with shifting shapes and colors reflecting off a nearby frozen lake," Bartol recalls. "The stars of Orion shone brightly above red and green hues rippling across the sky. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever witnessed."
Travel blogger Breanne Wilson and her partner parked their campervan at Wabasso to stargaze and attempt northern lights photography for the first time. "Initially, we only saw a faint white streak across the northern sky. But around 11 pm, that streak exploded into an enormous swirl of green and purple undulating lights with defined streaks," she says. "We were absolutely awestruck."
Wilson recommends downloading a northern lights forecast app to monitor activity and cloud cover. Dress in heavy layers, bring hand and foot warmers, and set up before nightfall. Focus your eyes about 30 degrees from the actual lights to better see colors. And just enjoy the mesmerizing movement.
Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Experiencing Yukon's First Nations Legends about the Lights
The ethereal glow of the northern lights has captivated people for millennia, sparking myths and legends among indigenous cultures across the north. In Canada's Yukon territory, Northern Tutchone, Southern Tutchone, Tagish, and Tlingit peoples interpreted the dancing lights as animal spirits playing games and warrior battles in the sky. These vivid tales bring Yukon's nights to life.
"Hearing First Nations stories as the northern lights shimmer and swirl overhead lets you see the aurora through their eyes," says Keitha Clark, an indigenous tourism guide in Whitehorse. She shares how her ancestors imagined the lights were caribou, dusting snow into the air with their hooves as they migrated across the heavens.
Other legends tell of the Spirits of the North and South meeting to play a fierce ballgame, with the lights sparked by spears clashing in battle. In many tales, whistling or shouting at the lights was thought to anger the spirits and bring bad luck. Respect and appreciation for nature is integral to First Nations' worldviews.
These stories evoke a sense of wonder, magic, and humility when witnessing the aurora's dazzling performance. "Looking up at the northern lights, as our elders' legends swirl through your mind, forges a profound connection to indigenous culture and heritage," explains Clark. "It's about understanding another way of knowing - one that is grounded in deep reverence for the natural world."
While meteorologists can explain the science of solar winds and geomagnetic fields creating the lights, Yukon's First Nations imbue the phenomenon with greater meaning. Their stories speak to the interconnectedness and fragility of our environment.
Tour companies like Northern Tales offer indigenous-led northern lights experiences that share traditional worldviews. Guides like Clark recite ancient myths as the sky ignites, bringing the legends vividly to life. These tours often incorporate drumming, throat singing, or stories around a crackling fire in remote camps.
"Hearing the stories from the people who created them is an unforgettable way to gain insight into Yukon First Nations culture," says photographer Michelle Valberg, who partners with indigenous guides. "It creates a deep memory and profound appreciation for this natural wonder."
Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Sailing Through Nunavut's Otherworldly Night Sky
Far above the Arctic Circle, Nunavut's long dark winter nights become the stage for a celestial spectacle - the magical glow of the aurora borealis dancing across vast night skies. Sailing through remote fjords beneath the ever-changing lights is an otherworldly experience found nowhere else on Earth.
"Nunavut offers phenomenal northern lights viewing that you just can't get anywhere else," says Martin Bergmann, an Arctic ecologist who leads marine expeditions. "You have incredibly dark skies with no light pollution, combined with more active geomagnetic fields. It's the perfect place to see the most vibrant aurora displays."
What makes Nunavut so unique is its remoteness. With a population around 40,000 in a territory larger than Mexico, there are endless stretches of wilderness. Historic Inuit hamlets and outposts dot the coastlines, connected only by sea and ice roads.
Basecamp Borden on Baffin Island offers the rare opportunity for travelers to sail a historically refurbished schooner through icy channels, watching for humpback whales by day and the magical lights by night. Excursions aboard the 18-passenger boat bring you to glacial fjords far from any city glow.
"Suddenly the entire sky lit up with shimmering curtains of purple, pink and green lights undulating overhead," recalls passenger Robin Hamill. "The lights reflected off the water and icebergs around us, creating a surreal scene. It was one of the most incredible travel moments of my life."
A highlight is anchoring the schooner in a protected cove, turning off all the lights and waiting for the aurora's curtain to rise. As solar winds whip across the poles, gray skies transform into an ever-shifting light show. Hues of emerald, violet and crimson ebb and flow like the tide.
"We'd sit together on the deck, bundled in blankets, faces upturned watching the sky come alive," Hamill says. "Occasionally a shooting star would streak by. The magnitude and beauty was absolutely breathtaking."
The Arctic air carries a tranquility only found in such a remote landscape. Sound seems to travel differently through the cold. pulsing lights trace patterns overhead in silence, igniting a profound sense of wonder.
While the science explaining geomagnetic storms can demystify the phenomenon, the sheer splendor of Nunavut's northern lights evokes something spiritual. Inuit oral histories portray the radiant lights as spirits of animals or ancestors dancing in the heavens.
Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Observing from a Remote Labrador Lodge's Hot Tub
Soaking in steaming waters while surrounded by frigid air engenders a delicious sensory contradiction. Add the dazzling dance of the northern lights overhead, and the experience becomes downright decadent. Watching the aurora shimmer and swirl from a secluded hot tub offers one of the most memorable ways to witness this celestial wonder.
Torngat Mountains Base Camp and Research Station perches on a rocky peninsula along Labrador’s remote northern coast. This pop-up eco-lodge erected each summer provides adventurers with exceptional Aurora Borealis viewing opportunities. The facility’s outdoor hot tubs allow guests to observe the spellbinding light show in absolute comfort.
“Stepping outside at night, I sank into the hot tub’s enveloping warmth while winter Constellations glittered brilliantly in the crisp air above,” recalls travel writer Lola Akinmade Åkerström. “Then suddenly, a giant green screen materialized, slowly undulating and swirling, making its celestial appearance across the night sky.”
With hours of darkness and limited light pollution, the lodge provides prime conditions for admiring the aurora at its most dazzling. Located far from urban centers, Labrador’s nighttime skies spring to life when solar winds collide with gases in the upper atmosphere.
“We'd soak in the hot tub, necks craned toward the heavens, waiting for the first flicker of green,” Åkerström says. “Then suddenly the entire sky began to move, shimmering with eerie patterns and colors. It honestly took my breath away.”
While photographing the ephemeral phenomenon presents challenges, observing the aurora with the naked eye from a hot tub allows you to simply soak in the experience. Letting your mind wander as emeralds and violets swirl overhead forges a powerful connection to nature’s majesty.
“From the comfort of deliciously warm water, we became transfixed by the northern lights flowing across the sky like magical lava,” describes astrophotographer Darlene Sumner. “Their ever-changing shapes and colors were mirrored on the dark sea before us. The whole scene felt otherworldly.”
Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Joining a Northern Lights Photography Workshop in Churchill
Though challenging to capture, the ephemeral glow of the aurora borealis offers photographers an unparalleled subject. Joining a dedicated northern lights photo workshop helps amateur shutterbugs master techniques needed to shoot the mesmerizing night skies. The remote outpost of Churchill in northern Manitoba provides prime viewing and inspiration.
"Churchill has become something of a mecca for northern lights chasers," says professional photographer Joshua Snow, who leads photo expeditions there. "Its location under the Auroral Oval means great visibility. And the striking terrain like frozen Hudson Bay and icobreaker ships create dynamic compositions."
Snow describes racing in heated tundra buggies across the stark sea ice beneath the glow: "Suddenly red and green curtains of light begin swirling and dancing overhead. Workshop participants photograph nonstop, applying all the skills we've covered, utterly enthralled."
Workshop tuition usually covers guides, transportation, meals and accommodations. Days are spent reviewing equipment, manual camera settings, and composition techniques. Then nocturnal excursions let you put new skills into practice.
"The instructor made complicated concepts like ISO, shutter speed, and aperture easy to grasp," says novice Kim Weiss. "Once we were actually under the swirling lights, his tips on bracketing exposures to capture the ephemeral show were invaluable."
Weiss was able to capture majestic portraits of glistening auroras shimmering above snowy forests and iced-over rivers. "Since our workshop, I've gotten so many incredible northern lights images that I'd have never dreamed of getting without the guidance."
"It's amazing to collaborate with others who share this passion," Weiss explains. "We all want to grow our skills. And Churchill's stark beauty combined with the camaraderie creates such a rich, rewarding experience."
Glow with the Flow: 5 Spellbinding Ways to Chase the Northern Lights in Canada - Booking an Aurora Viewing Flight Over the Rockies
For many, the quintessential Canadian Rockies experience involves gazing up at the sensational glow of the northern lights. While there are terrific land-based options like Jasper and Banff, another unique way to chase the aurora is booking a flight above the mountains specifically for optimal viewing.
"A northern lights airplane tour lets you quickly get above any cloud cover and light pollution, bringing you straight into the heart of the action," explains pilot Mark Gyug of Rockies Heli Canada. His company operates winter flights departing from Calgary and Canmore on board an AS350 B2 helicopter with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Floating over the jagged, snow-covered peaks with no ambient light allows the colors to really pop. Passengers are provided withTransportation and Safety Board and Transport Canada-approved flight suits, ear muffs and glasses for comfort while soaring into the upper atmosphere. An onboard Aurora App even sends alerts if solar activity spikes.
"Suddenly you get the call from the pilot that the lights are firing up," Gyug says. "Everyone glues themselves to the windows as dazzling curtains of green begin swirling and dancing across the sky." Flying through the radiant colors proves breathtaking.
Rocky Mountaineer train company offers another unique option – combining a relaxing overnight train trip from Vancouver with an aurora-viewing charter flight over the Rockies. After ascending in a customized aircraft beside a mountain waterfall, passengers witnessed a jaw-dropping red and purple light show in the skies above.
"It was an absolutely magical experience to see the Rockies and northern lights together from this amazing perspective," shares guest Juanita Marais, still awestruck months later. "Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime adventure."
While normal flights reach around 30,000 feet, these specially-equipped aircraft can climb to optimum aurora altitudes. "We ascend to around 13 km in elevation," explains pilot Michael Cohen. "Up there, you're literally immersed inside the auroral oval swirling all around you. It's like flying through a kaleidoscope."
Timing is everything with these aerial light safaris. Takeoff is usually planned between 9 pm and midnight when geomagnetic activity tends to spike. That's when the colors are most intense. Having a pilot experienced at "chasing the lights" ensures you're at optimal altitude and locations.
While Mother Nature does what she wants, flight companies boast high success rates. Still, viewing isn't guaranteed. Flexible tickets that allow rescheduling if skies are cloudy are smart. Patience and persistence are rewarded when that first shimmering line appears in the night sky. Then suddenly, oohs and aaahs fill the cabin!