The Call of the Aurora
Have you ever imagined yourself looking up into a dark sky awash in ribbons of green, purple, and blue light? When you drive from western Canada to Alaska, you will be travelling through some of the best places to see the magical aurora borealis. From Alberta’s official dark sky preserves to Interior Alaska’s location under an “auroral oval,” this region is a hub of aurora activity in fall, winter, and spring.
Aurora season runs from mid-August to mid-April, but fall is one of the best times to see the northern lights before it turns cold. Choose an Alaska Highway driving route (the Inside Passage, Rocky Mountain or Gold Rush routes) for a chance to view the northern lights along your road trip.
The Gold Rush route makes its way into Fairbanks, a vibrant city in Interior Alaska positioned under an “auroral oval” – a ring shaped region where aurora activity is concentrated. As Alaska’s go-to destination for northern lights viewing, there is no end of late-night tours and overnight lodges that specialize in the aurora here. It’s possible to see the aurora while ice fishing or dog mushing or snowmobiling or even soaking in hot springs. Many tours offer guidance on how to best photograph the aurora too. Just keep an eye on the Aurora Tracker for the northern lights forecast.
Of course, in a state as expansive as Alaska, the northern lights can be seen all over, and Denali National Park and Preserve or the small town of Talkeetna further down the Gold Rush route can be excellent viewing locations. Multi-day dog mushing tours in Denali offer extraordinary adventures — and ideal aurora viewing opportunities — for those looking for an immersive experience.
The Yukon stands out for its accessibility to escape light pollution, even from cities like Dawson City or Whitehorse, for optimal viewing experiences. All three Alaska Highway routes run through the Whitehorse area, and travelers can simply take the scenic route toward Fish Lake or Chadburn Lake Road in the evening to find their seats for Mother Nature’s light show. Guided tours also offer options to see the aurora from a dog mushing tour or hot springs or from heated cabins or teepees.
One spot stands above the rest near Dawson City along the Gold Rush route, and that’s the Midnight Dome. This incredible vantage point offers a panoramic view of the region, including the Yukon River and Klondike Valleys. While visitors can hike up in the day, drive the winding road all the way to the top at night.
Whether driving the Gold Rush or Rockies route, northern British Columbia is a prime area for catching a celestial light show. As the roads head north and east away from the coast, there’s less cloud cover and light pollution. Liard River Hot Springs is Canada’s second largest natural thermal pools — and also a steamy spot to stay warm while waiting for the aurora to appear. Just follow the boardwalk to the Alpha pool and relax. Muncho Lake Provincial Park is another picturesque setting for the northern lights, especially if you can catch them reflecting off the lake’s surface. But aim to arrive at the secluded park before nightfall to check out Folded Mountain and the jade-colored lake. Dawson Creek is also a great basecamp for adventures, including aurora viewing.
Many travelers heading to Alberta for northern lights viewing are familiar with Fort McMurray, but some outstanding viewing opportunities lie just off the Alaska Highway routes too. Along the Rockies route, Jasper National Park is the second largest official dark sky preserve in the world, and offers a chance to view the northern lights while snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies. Or find a spot near Pyramid Lake to see the lights bounce off the water.
Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also home to several prime viewing spots. Lake Minnewanka is one of the best — bring cross-country skis or snowshoes to hit the Cascade Trail while waiting for the aurora. Peyto Lake Lookout offers a stunning panoramic view any time of day or night, but fill the sky with northern lights and it can’t be beat.