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The Best Places and Times of Year to See the Northern Lights

The northern lights in Canada
Getty Images

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might have heard that a few weeks ago the northern lights (AKA aurora borealis) were visible across most of Canada. While this might not seem surprising to you, the northern lights are typically found in hard to reach places. This comes off the heels of another cosmic anomaly: the total solar eclipse (hope your eyes don’t hurt). It’s sad to think that most people believe they won’t be able to see the aurora in their lifetime but we’re here to say otherwise. If you’re down for some adventure travel deep into calming nature, read on to see our guide for the best places and times to see the northern lights.


Related: Silent Travel is the New 2024 Wellness Trend

What Are the Northern Lights?

The aurora is a natural light display that typically appears in the most northern regions of the globe: Canada, Norway, Iceland, etc. Without getting too scientific, basically it’s the result of solar wind interacting with the Earth’s magnetic “sphere.” The change in particles and precipitation eventually end up becoming a gorgeous light show of reds, greens and blues. In Cree and Ojibway culture, the aurora is viewed as a sign from their ancestors. The aurora is a reminder to celebrate life and understanding that we are all bound by creation.

Related: The History of the Tikinagan, an Indigenous Baby Carrier


Where Can I See the Northern Lights in Canada?

Canadians are very lucky in that we’re able to view the aurora from a ton of different areas in Canada. The most common assumption is that the aurora is only visible in the territories, however that is far from the truth. Places like Winnipeg, Cold Lake, Manitoulin Island and Jasper National Park have a higher likelihood of seeing the lights due to location and minimal light pollution. Unfortunately, coastal cities like Vancouver and St. John’s are less likely to see the aurora due to the high percentage of overcast conditions. As for Toronto, well — there’s a laundry list of reasons why seeing the aurora would not be possible… but we still have hope!

Places outside of the territories most likely to see the northern lights:

  • Jasper, AB
  • Cold Lake, AB
  • Banff National Park, AB
  • Torngat Mountains National Park, NFL
  • Moosonee, ON
  • Manitoulin Island, ON
  • Churchill, MB
  • Winnipeg, MB

Most notably, the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut provide optimal scenery to view the aurora — if you can handle the cold. Thankfully, there is an abundance of outdoor seasonal experiences you can enjoy hosted by local Indigenous peoples. Each experience offers a unique POV on the aurora whether you’re cozying up in teepees or trekking by dog sled. For the full list of Indigenous-hosted northern lights activities in 2024, visit Travel+Leisure.

When Is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights?

In terms of timing, seeing the aurora can vary. While it’s most common to want to see the lights in the winter, it’s actually possible to view them during all seasons of the year. For Ontarians and Albertans, the best time to see the aurora is during the fall when there is minimal cloud cover and cooler temperatures. For East Coasters, visiting Newfoundland and Labrador is ideal in the summer and is totally unique due to the natural landscape of that province. If you’re looking to visit the territories, each season has its own unique charm but of course, the winter would be the best time to capitalize on the incredible outdoor activities.

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