Where To See Northern Lights In Canada: Northeastern Ontario Edition
Did you know you can see the northern lights in Canada almost any time of year? Northern lights, sometimes referred to as aurora borealis or polar lights, are a natural, awe-inspiring phenomenon in which colourful lights in shades of blue, purple and green illuminate and dance across the dark night sky. The captivating event causes thousands of skywatchers and travellers to flock to the small handful of places in the world where these lights can be seen.
It’s a common misconception that you need to travel far and wide to get a glimpse of the aurora borealis. With two Dark Sky Preserves, and hundreds of kilometres of big sky wilderness, Northeastern Ontario has become a destination northern lights getaway. You can even view the northern lights in the fall months in this specific region of Ontario making it a travel hot spot for travellers looking for a fun weekend trip in September or October.
If you’re wondering where to see northern lights in Canada, here's our guide to the best times and places to experience them in Northeastern Ontario, and tips for getting the most of this unique, surreal experience.
The Best Time of Year to See the Northern Lights in Canada
Believe it or not, it’s possible to see the northern lights almost anywhere in Canada, and during all four seasons of the year. The precise time of night when the sun fully sets will differ depending on where you are in Ontario but, in the northeast, you can rely on the hours of 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. to be the clearest and most optimal hours for viewing the lights. The darker it is outside, the higher your chance of seeing brilliant green, blue, and purple hues across the sky.
The best time of year to view the northern lights is between the months of November to March. In the winter time, the sun sets earlier, so there’s a surplus of darkness in any given 24-hour period. It’s also easier to see the northern lights when sky conditions are clear and free of clouds, which aligns best with colder Canadian months. In Northeastern Ontario, however, the northern lights are visible in the autumn months as well.
September and October are popular months for viewing the aurora borealis. There are plenty of scenic locations in Northeastern Ontario specifically that provide a stellar light show and have plenty of other fun activities to do before the sun sets, so planning a fun trip any time from fall to winter is a breeze.
Where Can You See The Northern Lights In Canada?
1. North Bay
Northeastern Ontario is a destination hot spot for viewing the northern lights. North Bay is one option, where there are many fun, exciting excursions and endeavors to be enjoyed while the sun’s still up. Visitors flock to ski at North Bay Nordic Ski Club or to snowshoe across one of the many stunning outdoor trails, like Duchesnay Falls Trails. When the sun sets in North Bay, head out to a park or one of the many conservation areas to absorb all the beauty the aurora borealis has to offer.
To make the most of the northern lights in Northeastern Ontario during the summer months (it’s closed during winter), visit The Boat North Bay. This landmark nightlife location is a must-see for any visitor—enjoy dinner, cocktails, and live entertainment all aboard a historical, steel-hulled passenger ship. If there’s snow on the ground, head to Cecil’s Brewhouse and Kitchen, dig into some hearty pub grub, and sip on some of Northeastern Ontario’s delicious craft beer.
For optimal northern lights viewing, head further up north toward Cochrane and spend the night gazing into the colourful sky. Cochrane’s a wonderful place to appreciate the beauty of the northern lights, and it’s also the perfect halfway point toward an even more incredible viewing location. Spend the night in Cochrane (we recommend Best Western Swan Castle Inn) and, in the morning, hop on The Ontario Northland Polar Bear Express up to Moosonee, often referred to as the Gateway to the Arctic.
Moosonee is one of the northernmost towns in the Northeastern Ontario region and a fun destination to travel to by train. The Polar Bear Express is historically both a passenger and cargo train, and offers expansive, captivating views as it chugs along the tracks. Moosonee is far enough away from ambient light pollution that the northern lights are a year-round staple in the sky. Come nightfall, look for the lights on the docks along the Moose River near James Bay and marvel at their magnificence.
To make the trip even more memorable, extend your stay in Moosonee. If you’re on a bit of a budget, sleep under the stars in a pristine Northeastern Ontario campsite at Tidewater Provincial Park (open from June to September each year) on Moose River. For a little more comfort and a local experience, stay the night at Moosonee Lilypad or The Sunflower Guesthouse. Or, if you’re going to splurge a bit, stay in the town’s first hotel: Super 8 by Wyndham Moosonee. This comfortable hotel is super central, so accessing the water taxi to moose island to see the lights is quick and easy!
For those looking to make the most of your trip, here's our complete guide to Moosonee and Moose Factory Island.
4. Manitoulin Island
Manitoulin Island is another destination for viewing the northern lights; this time, in a dedicated nature preserve where you can appreciate this natural wonder among the wilderness. The DarkSky Preserve at Manitoulin Eco Park is settled deep within a forest, perfectly situated for a 360-degree view of the dark night sky. By cutting out light pollution, this preserve conserves and maintains ideal conditions for appreciating all the colours in the sky.
Marvel at incredibly captivating stars alongside the northern lights—for the best experience, set up camp and spend the night right at the preserve. DarkSky also hosts educational, nature-inspired events year round and celebrates meteor showers and other astronomical occurrences with fun hikes and celebrations.
In Killarney, Killarney Provincial Park has its own Dark Sky Preserve as well, where visitors can observe the beauty of the night sky without any light pollution. This public observatory makes it easy for visitors to marvel at the northern lights with either a high-powered telescope or just the naked eye, and an expert team of astronomers is always on standby to answer any questions.
As soon as the snow falls, Killarney is transformed into a pristine winter playground for visitors of all ages. Make the most of your stargazing weekend with this guide to the winter wonders of Killarney!
When it comes to natural wonders like the northern lights, Northeastern Ontario has them in spades. To find out more about what this breathtaking destination has in store for you, read our Northeastern Ontario Travel Guide.