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Photographing the Northern Lights – Part 1 – Where to Go in Canada

Going up North to see and photograph the northern lights. That was on my bucket list. It is now a yearly winter trip, and I have traded sunny destinations for some cold –very cold, places. ‘What? You’re going where?!’ I can hear the disbelief and concern in my friends’ voices. Then I show them my pictures and timelapses. ‘Oh wow…’

And the same discussion starts over and over again…

So, where is the best place to go to see northern lights? When? Can I take pictures with my camera? Can we go with you next time?

In this four-part blog series, I will go over the main considerations to plan a trip to see the northern lights in Canada. Thanks to all my friends for providing the script for this series with their questions!

Part 1 – Where to go in Canada

Auroras happen on earth’s magnetic field lines. Aurora Borealis is seen near the North pole and Aurora Australis, near the South pole. The ideal location is on the aurora belt around the poles.

The aurora borealis belt crosses over 8 countries: Canada, US (Alaska), Russia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greenland and Iceland.

Aurora Belt. Image from the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska. www.gi.alaska.edu

Aurora Belt. Image from the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska. www.gi.alaska.edu

Your chances of seeing the lights are much higher if you choose a destination on the aurora belt. In Canada, Yellowknife is very well located on the belt, easy to access anytime of the year, and caters to aurora watchers. Whitehorse and Churchill are other accessible options.

The belt or aurora zone is located between 10° and 20° latitude from the geomagnetic poles, and statistically, northern lights can been seen there about two-thirds of the year. During large geomagnetic storms triggered by solar flares, the aurora zone expands South and northern lights can be seen at lower latitudes in Canada. On active nights, Calgary and Regina report northern lights. On extremely active nights, auroras can even, but rarely, be seen in Vancouver.

When considering a destination, check flight options, accommodation availability and costs, and aurora tours or car rental if you feel confident driving at night on ice roads.

Link:

AuroraMax webcam in Yellowknife, on the Canadian Space Agency website. Watch the northern lights live in Yellowknife or a replay of the previous night.

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