Eyes to the Sky: Canada’s Northern Lights

It’s often called Mother Nature’s light show; a natural phenomenon that lights up the night sky with spectacular colours.

The Northern Lights can be seen from Newfoundland to Nunavut, and from the heart of Yukon to the farthest northern reaches of Québec.

Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, seems magical, like something conjured up by playful fairies waving sparkling wands in the night. The scientific explanation for the unforgettable light show, however, is electrons and protons colliding with gases as far up as 500 kilometres above the Earth’s surface creating flashes of colourful light that span the spectrum from green to blue to purple and yellow. Billions of flashes can occur in rapid succession, and so it seems the lights are dancing across the sky.

Best seen in the far northern hemisphere, Aurora-spotting is a great excuse to plan a trip to Canada since northern parts of the vast country have the highest probability of seeing the lights. Experienced tour operators in Yukon’s Whitehorse and Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories even boast a 90 per cent light-peeping success rate.

Prime Aurora season coincides with the winter months – experts say the best time to visit is from late-September to late-March – and the cooler weather opens the door to unforgettable experiences. Rug up and enjoy the lights in the great outdoors: fly-fishing under the starry sky in far northern Québec is certainly worth writing home about. Or let the Aurora light your way on a cross-country ski adventure in Yukon. You need darkness to see the lights, and here, miles from the nearest big city, you’ll find it.

The Northern Lights can shine so bright, they have lit the way for dog-sledders and snowmobilers in remote northern regions of Canada for generations. For many indigenous Inuit, the connection to the Aurora is spiritual and profound. They believe that if you listen carefully, the lights sing to you, a song as old as time. Listen with them in silence in Nunavut and you’ll walk away with a new appreciation for the mysteries of nature.

If you crave creature comforts with your adventure, cosy up in a charming lodge in the Northwest Territories and light-peep through the windows, or stare up at the sky, whiskey in hand, from the warmth of an outdoor hot tub.

While the temptation will be great to snap a million pictures, the fast-moving and often quite subtle Northern Lights demand your full attention. But if you’re serious about taking photos, professional photographers recommend an SLR camera, good-quality film and a slow shutter speed. A tripod is a good idea.

Mother Nature being an unpredictable dame, it’s not easy to know in advance when the lights will be at their best and brightest. Give yourself at least a few days on the ground in northern Canada and keep an eye on and for up-to-the-minute tracking of the lights’ progress.

Accommodation options range from Yukon wilderness cabins near Whitehorse, such as Sundog Retreat, to upscale lodges such as Inn on the Lake, which has featured in Martha Stewart Living magazine. The cabins at Tagish Wilderness Lodge in Yukon are accessible only by boat, floatplane, skiplane or dog-sled, and at luxury Yellowknife eco-lodge, Blachford Lake Lodge, a true wilderness immersion experience awaits.

Presented by Destination Canada.

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