Best time to travel to Alberta

Northern Lights

Prairies, mountains, and vast wilderness areas of Alberta suit perfectly for an aurora borealis chase

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Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen
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Alberta features over 600 lakes, Rocky Mountains, and vast prairies. This diverse landscape could be a perfect backdrop for northern lights phenomenon that can be observed in the province quite frequently. Northern lights happen when the so-called solar winds reach the Earth and get affected by its magnetic field. The phenomen is best seen over North and South Poles. The further north you travel in Alberta, the higher are your chances to see the beautiful aurora borealis.

The best time to see Northern Lights

The darkest period of the year from September to April is considered to be the best for northern lights chasing. As geomagnetic activity is always on the rise during autumn and spring equinoxes. September, October and March are peak months to see northern lights.

Wood Buffalo National Park and Fort McMurray

Wood Buffalo National Park is the northernmost preserve of Alberta, located on the border with Northwest Territories. It is also the world’s largest dark-sky preserve where artificial light is almost non-existent. All this makes it an attraction for aurora chasers who long to see greens and red lights dancing in the skies. Aurora borealis can be observed here starting from late August and early September when the nights are still warm. Lake Athabasca, located near Wood Buffalo National Park in about 140 mi (223 km) north of Fort McMurray, is the perfect destination for a northern lights chase due to the beautiful scenery and reflections in the water. Fort McMurray, located in northeast Alberta, is also known as a reliable aurora watching spot. Nestled between boreal forests and the Athabasca oil sands, Fort McMurray has lots of lakes and rivers that may create interesting reflections for your aurora photo shoot.

County of Northern Lights

Yes, Alberta has the County of Northern Lights, located in north-western part of the province. And, sure thing, you can head there to see the beautiful natural phenomenon it's called after. Try Notikewin Provincial Park or Twin Lakes Provincial Park, both located in about 1-hour drive north of Manning.

Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, Edmonton

Northern Lights, Elk Island, Alberta 2020
Northern Lights, Elk Island, Alberta

Located in just a short drive from downtown Edmonton, Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve occupies 116 sq mi(300 sq km) of forests, lakes, and prairies. It features such scenic areas as Elk Island National Park and Cooking Lake Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, both of which offer a good backdrop for aurora pictures. The preserve is holding the annual Star Party in September, attracting aurora chasers and astronomy enthusiasts.

Banff and Jasper National Parks

Northern Lights over Jasper 2020
Northern Lights over Jasper

Jasper National Park Dark Sky Preserve is one of the best aurora borealis spots in Alberta thanks to its beautiful scenery and the absence of light pollution. With 4,247 sq. mi (11,000 sq. km) of wilderness around, stargazing at Jasper can be a great experience. Head to Old Fort Point, Lake Annette, Pyramid Lake, and Maligne Lake to enjoy the magical dancing lights display. The Jasper Dark Sky Festival is held every fall. Constellations are guaranteed, aurora borealis — possible, with some luck. Banff National Park, located south of Jasper, also offers a number of good spots for Northern Lights chasers. Lake Minnewanka, Castle Junction, and Peyto Lake have proven to be excellent locations to see aurora borealis in that area. Vermillion Lakes is another very scenic spot for a perfect aurora shot.

Horseshoe Canyon

Northern Lights in Alberta - Best Season 2020

Horseshoe Canyon, located in 10 mi(17 km) west of Drumheller, is often called the Canadian Badlands. The canyon offers stunning scenery during the day. And at night it gets even better with an open view of the northern sky. If you get lucky to catch the Northern Lights in such a place, it's going to leave lifetime memories for sure.