Spotting the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) is high on just about everybody’s bucket list. Learning how to view the Northern Lights in Canada is surprisingly simple, and while they’re not the easiest natural phenomenon to come across, be warned they will require some late nights. With the right surroundings, some careful planning, and a touch of luck on your side, you’ll be able to greatly increase your chances at spotting the famous green and blue glows of the Northern Lights.
Find A Canadian Dark Sky Preserve
The old saying that the further north you go, the easier it is to spot them, isn’t always true. Some people travel all the way to Iceland or Norway in hopes of spotting the famed aurora borealis. However with careful planning you can view them right here in Canada. In fact, one of the best locations to increase your chances of viewing the northern lights in Canada is by visiting a dark sky preserve.
A dark sky preserve is a park or area where a strict “no man-made lighting” rule prevails. This greatly decreases light pollution, which allows for much clearer skies, perfect for star gazing or trying to spot the northern lights. Dark Sky Preserves tend to be secluded parks, far away from large cities to avoid any sky glow caused from street lights, businesses, houses, etc.
Most dark sky preverves in Canada are located in National and Provincial Parks. Check them out below:
Nova Scotia Dark Sky Preserve
New Brunswick Dark Sky Preserves
Ontario Dark Sky Preserves
- Bruce Peninsula National Park (2009)
- Fathom Five National Marine Park (2009)
- Point Pelee National Park (2006)
Saskatchewan Dark Sky Preserve
- Grasslands National Park (2009)
Alberta Dark Sky Preserves
Get Northern Lights Forecast Alerts
No matter how perfect the location, without some strong solar activity you might end up finding yourself with just a good view of the milky way. But there’s a couple of great options for getting alerts on upcoming Northern Lights activity. These alerts have actually allowed my wife and I to view the Northern Lights as far south as a farmers field just 20km outside of Regina SK.
You can go the old fashion email alert option. Or you can find one of the many free apps on Google Play / App Store to get push notifications.
Northern Lights Email Alerts
AuroraWatch.ca has a superb alert system. They’ll email you when there is a strong chance of viewing the northern lights. You can subscribe to their Yellow alerts or their Red alerts.
- Red alerts are issued when there is more than a ~70% probability of auroral displays occurring.
- Yellow alerts provide the same information as red alerts, but include notices of smaller events with a probability of ~50% and up.
Note: Their Northern Lights alerts are determined from their magnetometer data.
Northern Lights Phone Apps
If you’re wanting to be alerted on your phone when aurora activity is high, check out these apps.
Best months to view the Northern Lights
The best months to view the Aurora Borealis tend to be mid to late August through to mid April. During the early summer months the night skies don’t tend to be as dark, even when solar activity is strong. The best time to see the northern lights is an hour or two after midnight. The darker the sky, the better!
If you’re going out in winter, make sure you dress for the weather. The winter time can be one of the best times to view the Northern Lights. The reflections of the snow, the cool crisp air, and the typically clear skies can make for one of the best times to view Aurora Borealis in all its glory.
Making the trek out during winter can make for a perfect date night. Late night under the stars, hot chocolate or rooibos tea, cuddling up in your winter gear. You’ll be forever remembered as Lance Romance. Or if you’re heading out solo, as long as you have the right photography gear, you can also capture some breathtaking photos and timelapses. Plan ahead, keep warm, and enjoy one of one of the most beautiful shows on earth!