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.
When deciding where to go to see the Northern Lights, the first thing you’ll want to look for is the auroral 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.
If you want clear, unimpeded views of the dancing lights, the Northwest Territories needs to be at the top of your list.
Photo Credit: Angela Gzowski
Obviously, you won’t see the Northern Lights on a sunny, summer day.
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 you can double your viewing pleasure, by watching the Northern Lights float above you and also see them reflected in a glassy lake all around you.
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.
Really, your imagination is the limit.
Guides in the Northwest Territories will cater to your every whim.
This is what they do—and they’ve been doing it for a while. They can explain in detail how the Aurora works, if the science is still hazy to you. Dene and Inuvialuit guides will share legends and stories of the lights that have danced above their homelands since time immemorial. They can take you on ‘Aurora hunting’ excursions, where you’ll follow the lights as far as roads will take you—or by snowmobile, if roads are too limiting.
Want to capture the Aurora for posterity? Expert Northern Lights photographers can take you out on the land and teach you how to get your camera settings just right for clear, brilliant photos of the nightly cosmic phenomenon.
Feeling adventurous? See the lights by dogsled. By Bombardier. By canoe.
Clink flutes of champagne in a hot tub, as the lights shine above you at a remote wilderness lodge. Or wrap yourself up in heated seat, surrounded by a winter wonderland, and settle in for the show. Or marvel at the Aurora before retiring to an igloo for a cozy night’s sleep, more than 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.
No matter where or how you see them, the Northern Lights will stop you in your tracks. You’ll forget time as you crane your neck skyward and your jaw drops, when they suddenly appear in downtown Yellowknife. Even on the flight here, the Aurora may shimmer outside your window, welcoming you to what you will soon discover to be the premier Northern Lights destination on our planet.
Because they’re such a staple in the sky, the Northwest Territories goes absolutely gaga over the Northern Lights. There are festivals devoted to them. They inspire local arts, music and architecture.
And when you see the Northern Lights here, they will surely inspire you too.