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What is the Best Time to See Northern Lights CANADA?

Best Time to See Northern Lights Canada

When planning an aurora chasing trip to Canada, make sure you choose the right season, month and time of night to catch the lights. In this guide, we explain the best time to see northern lights Canada, so you can plan accordingly.

While choosing the right accommodation location to see the northern lights in Canada is vital, equally important is picking the right time to go. In this guide we help you choose the right season and month to travel to Canada to view the aurora borealis. We also help you work out the best time of night to see the northern lights in Canada, and even the best years to travel according to astronomers which offer the most brilliant and intense aurora displays.

Best Season & Months to View Northern Lights in Canada

Many people assume that the aurora borealis is only visible during the wintertime. However, the northern lights are actually visible throughout the entire year. During the peak of a solar cycle, it may even be possible to view the northern lights during the summer months, but this is a rare occurrence. The best time to view the aurora borealis is during the late fall through winter months due to the shorter lengths of each day.

FALL – Viewing Northern Lights in the Fall/Autumn

After the fall equinox, the length of the day begins to shorten. Beginning in late August to early October, you may be able to view the auroras while the outdoor temperatures are still relatively enjoyable. When visiting Canada during the fall months, the chances of an unexpected snowstorm rolling in are relatively slim. This means that you can comfortably hunt for the auroras while wearing a light sweater or jacket. However, in order to increase your chances of catching a glimpse of the elusive lights during the fall, you should head further north.

WINTER – Viewing Northern Lights in the Winter

During the peak of a solar cycle, it’s possible to view the aurora borealis during the winter from just about any rural location in Canada. While the odds of viewing the phantom lights, increases substantially the further north you go, there are plenty of excellent viewing spots located just outside of many major cities throughout the country. Keep in mind that by mid-November, the first snow flurries have already fallen and the temperatures across the country will have dropped substantially. As a result, you may want to make sure that you put on several layers just to keep warm.

Best Time to See Northern Lights Canada – Monthly Planner

SeasonMonthAurora Viewing
WinterJanuary
✓ GOOD
Dark, long nights offer good opportunity for viewing the aurora. However, there is a high chance of snow clouds that could block the view. Very cold outdoors, so dress accordingly.
WinterFebruary
✓ GOOD
Dark, long nights offer good opportunity for viewing the aurora. Snow storms are lessening, however there is still the chance of snow clouds that could block the view. Very cold outdoors, so dress accordingly.
Winter/SpringMarch
EXCELLENT
Days getting warmer. Snow melt may make outdoor hikes soggy and unpleasant, so make sure to wear appropriate footwear. One of the best times of year to view aurora.
SpringAprilOK early in the month. Avoid end of month when days are starting to get longer.
SpringMayShorter nights mean there are fewer opportunities and less darkness to view the aurora.
Spring/SummerJuneVery few opportunities to view aurora due to short night hours and less total darkness. Avoid this time of year.
SummerJulyVery few opportunities to view aurora due to short night hours and less total darkness. Avoid this time of year.
SummerAugustOK late in month. Avoid beginning of month when days are still quite long.
Summer/AutumnSeptember
✓ EXCELLENT
Mild outdoor temperature, and nights are getting longer. One of the best times of year to view aurora.
AutumnOctober
EXCELLENT
Mild outdoor temperature, and nights are getting longer. One of the best times of year to view aurora.
AutumnNovember
✓ GOOD
Dark, long nights mean good opportunity for seeing the aurora. However, there is a high chance of snow clouds from mid-November, coinciding with the cold weather setting in.
Autumn/WinterDecember
✓ GOOD
Dark, long nights offer good opportunity for viewing the aurora. Snow storms are lessening, however there is still the chance of snow clouds that could block the view. Very cold outdoors, so dress accordingly.

Best Time to See the Northern Lights Canada

Timing is everything when it comes to capturing a glimpse of the northern lights, and that includes choosing the right time of night to walk out and start looking up. To view the aurora, you need lots of darkness, to act as a backdrop against the delicate light of the aurora, hence why choosing seasons and months with longer nights is important. As fall segues into winter, the days get shorter. In the farthest reaches of the northern territories, some parts of the landscape are shrouded in darkness for more than 20 hours each day.

Length of the night

The longer the night is, the more hours you have to hunt for the elusive lights. This is why winter is always the best time of year to view the auroras. The night doesn’t simply begin the moment the sun sets over the horizon. In fact, the setting sun still pollutes the sky with light for several hours after the sun has set, and before it rises each morning. For this reason, is always best to wait until after midnight to go hunting for the lights. This is especially important the further north you travel, where the sun sets and rises over a longer period of time, compared with the equator.

Wait until after twilight

The length of the twilight plays an integral role in the ability to view the auroras. Long after the sun has fallen below the distant horizon, sunlight still scatters through the atmosphere. There are 3 different levels of twilight, and each affects the visibility of the auroras differently. Civic twilight occurs the moment the sun sets beyond the horizon and continues until the sun is 6° below the visible horizon. This is followed by nautical twilight which continues until the sun has fallen to 12° below the visible horizon. Astronomical twilight, which ends once the sun is 18° or more below the visible horizon, marks the best time to begin your hunt for the elusive lights (approx. 2-3 hours after sunset).

Weather Conditions for Viewing Aurora

There are several important factors to take into consideration when hunting for the aurora borealis. The first and most important factor is whether the skies are clear or overcast. The second, and probably the most misunderstood factor, is the existence of light pollution. We discuss these in more detail in our article on choosing the best time to see northern lights, but below is a summary.

Overcast Skies

During the summer months, the skies are generally clear except for the occasional wisps of cirrus clouds that form throughout the day. From time to time huge cumulonimbus clouds may roll in, bringing heavy rains with them. However, during the winter months, stratus clouds increase substantially, resulting in overcast skies. Overcast skies can dampen the mood of any great northern lights expedition, as they render it impossible to view the night skies above. Ways you can avoid cloud cover from ruining your aurora vacation is to allow a substantial length of time in the region (4-7 days) and to avoid mid-Winter when snow storms are more likely to sweep over.

Light Pollution

Regardless of how clear the skies are, it still may be next to impossible to view the aurora borealis when there is too much light pollution. Similar to how twilight inhibits the viewing of the northern lights, light pollution from even a small town can obscure the night sky. Think about the last time that you were driving through the countryside on the highway, and you could see the glow of city lights in the distance. The light of the aurora borealis is quite delicate, and all of those other lights can wreak havoc on your ability to view the auroras. This is why it’s always best to drive for at least an hour outside of the city limits in order to see them clearly.

Best Years to See the Northern Lights Canada

While midnight is the best time of day, and winter is the best time of year to see northern lights Canada, waiting until the peak of a solar cycle also improves the chances that you will catch a glimpse of the elusive auroras. Activity on the surface of the sun increases and peaks out every 11 years. At the peak of this solar cycle, the size and number of sunspots, coronal loops, and solar flares that are ejected from the surface of the sun increases substantially. When this solar radiation comes in contact with the planet’s upper atmosphere it charges and illuminates the night sky with varying colors of dancing lights.

An 11-Year Cycle

To the scientific community, the current solar cycles are often referred to as being part of the Modern Maximum. Every 11 years, the cycle peaks out with an increased amount of solar activity, before returning back to less active levels. Although it is still possible to view the elusive lights at any point in the cycle, whenever there is increased solar activity during the peak of the solar cycle, the auroras can be seen as far south as Tennessee or Spain although this is only is exceptionally rare cases.

Solar Cycle 25

The scientific community began recording the existence of solar activity back in 1755. As a result, there is an abundance of information regarding solar cycles 1 through 24. Solar cycle 25 began in December 2019 and is expected to continue until 2030. Many astronomers had predicted that cycle 25 will be even stronger than the previous cycle which allowed people to view the elusive lights from the Pyrenees. So far, cycle 25 has more than exceeded expectations, and the peak of this solar cycle is expected to take place in July of 2025.

Final Tips on Best Time to See Northern Lights Canada

We hope this guide to the best time to see the northern lights Canada has given you good insight into when to plan your aurora vacation and what time of night to start searching. However, it is not just about timing, although timing is very important.

Canada is a very large country, stretching from north to south, and not all locations are good for spotting the aurora. While the northern lights may be spotted in the southernmost points of Canada during a solar peak or geomagnetic storms, in most cases it is best to head to the more northern parts of the country. Yellowknife, Whitehorse, Churchill and Iqaluit are all popular spots for aurora borealis viewing in Canada. We discuss this and more in our article on the best places for seeing northern lights in Canada, which we suggest you read next.

Happy aurora chasing!

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