Long, dark nights in wild landscapes with no light pollution. Arid climates and minimal cloud cover that provide crystal-clear views of the cosmos. A prime location under the auroral oval—the thin band around the Earth where the most intense Northern Lights activity occurs. Experienced guides who know precisely where to go for intimate, life-changing Aurora experiences.
Put all that together and it’s clear why the Northwest Territories is the best place in the world to see the Northern Lights.
Think of the bursts of shimmering green, pink and yellow as the result of solar winds tickling our planet’s magnetosphere. (Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that.)
Here’s what causes the Northern Lights.
It begins with the sun, which emits a plasma that travels out in all directions of our solar system. When this solar wind—basically a blast of charged particles—reaches Earth, it interacts with our magnetic field and concentrates over a narrow band called the auroral oval, which circles more than 100 kilometres above our planet. Here, this army of charged particles excites atoms in the outer atmosphere to produce the otherworldly light show we see. Oxygen gives off a green glow. Nitrogen lights up pink.
Since Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories sit directly underneath the auroral oval, they experience the Northern Lights more than 200 times each year. Every so often, a big solar storm ejects a huge mass of charged particles and these solar winds result in especially vibrant, vivid and mesmerizing Aurora.
The Northern Lights are such a big deal in the Northwest Territories, that we even have Aurora forecasters who monitor solar activity to predict how intense the lights will be on any given evening.
You could say the Northwest Territories has got the Northern Lights down to a science.
Photo Credit: Aurora Village
Location, location, location.
It all comes back to the aurora oval. This is where the Aurora shine most often and where they shine the brightest. Guess what? Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories sit directly under the auroral oval. If the Northern Lights are going to be anywhere, they’ll be here.
Then, the near-desert-like climate across the Northwest Territories means minimal precipitation and humidity. That’s important because you can’t see the Northern Lights through thick layers of cloud. And because true wilderness is only five minutes away from even the most densely populated Yellowknife neighbourhoods, the Aurora never have to fight with any light pollution.
For consistently clear, unimpeded views of the dancing lights, the Northwest Territories tops the list.
Photo Credit: Angela Gzowski
Obviously, you won’t see the Northern Lights on a sunny, summer day. Or a bright, sunny, summer night (think midnight sun).
But once the skies start to get dusky, faint glimmers of Aurora can be seen—heralding the magical fall Aurora season. This begins in earnest by mid-August and runs until late-September or early-October. It’s at this time that the Aurora can be seen in duplicate, shimmering high above and also reflected on a glassy lake below.
Come December, when the lakes have begun to freeze over, the winter Aurora season starts, running until early-April. The long, deeply dark and crisp nights provide the stunning backdrop to lights that defy logic and explanation.
The Northern Lights are beloved by the people of the NWT. There are festivals devoted to them. They inspire local arts, music and architecture. They add a joyful and mysterious quality to fall and winter nights in the Northwest Territories. They are the best Northern Lights in the world. Period.