6 of the Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Ontario

Increase your odds of viewing the Aurora Borealis by planning a trip to one of these adventure-filled destinations.

You’ve heard of them, you’ve likely experienced their beauty through photos, but you’ve never actually had the chance to embrace this phenomenon in person.

When flowing electrons and protons meet gasses living high in the Earth’s atmosphere, something beautiful and internationally recognizable happens. The intricate, swelling mixture of vibrant neon colours that fill the night sky with dancing lights is impossibly alluring. Whether you’ve seen footage of them or have been fortunate enough to see them with your own eyes, the Northern Lights are something everyone should experience in their lifetime.

So, can you see the Northern Lights in Ontario?

You sure can. The Aurora Borealis has been visible in all parts of the province—but to increase your odds of seeing them and to get the best show, you need to head north. From the coveted dark skies of Manitoulin Island to the historic grounds of Moose Factory, Northern Ontario destinations offer the most unhindered, front row seats for Northern Lights viewing in the province.

Northern Lights Recipe for Success

Viewing the Northern Lights is all about timing. To give yourself the best chance at seeing them, there are some general guidelines to follow.

Light Pollution: If the Northern Lights aren’t strong, the light from city centres can block them out. Therefore, travelling to a secluded destination will improve your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. Even if the Northern Lights are putting on a strong showing, they’ll be all the more spectacular without the annoying interference of light pollution from cities.

Time of Year: When planning your trip, pay attention to the seasons and how they interact with the geographic location you’re looking to visit. As a general rule, the best time of the year to see the Northern Lights in Ontario is between late September and March—but there are exceptions and the Northern Lights have been seen at all times of the year. One benefit of the shorter days in the fall and winter months is the lack of daylight, meaning there are more hours each day during which it’s possible to see the Northern Lights.

Late-night Viewing: The time of year isn’t the only thing to be aware of when pursuing the Aurora Borealis. Fill your favourite insulated mug with warm chai tea and grab your trusty camp blanket before heading out, because the best time of night to view the lights is between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Moonless, cloudless nights are ideal for viewing.

Solar Flares: Solar flares occur in our solar system when magnetic energy is released from the sun at a high rate. The result typically looks like a bright, shining sparkle on the sun that lasts anywhere from a few hours to multiple days. When these eruptions occur, an influx of charged particles are thrust into space, often resulting in powerful light displays on Earth.

CME: CME’s or Coronal Mass Ejections are similar to solar flares and involve large releases of plasma and magnetic energy from the sun. This specific type of solar storm directs charged particles into space and towards Earth. When these particles reach our atmosphere, we see the formation of the Northern Lights. You can use websites like Space Weather Live to track occurrences like CMEs and solar flares to help you map out your viewing plan.

Tools: There are other online weather-related tools like the Aurora Forecast Tracker and Clear Dark Sky that allow you to stay informed of when your chances of catching the Northern Lights might be highest. You can also use free apps like My Aurora Forecast & Alerts to track the Aurora Borealis and view updated maps of the Northern Lights in Ontario.

Where to See the Northern Lights in Ontario

When it comes to catching a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis in Ontario, location selection is everything, and depending on the time of year, there is almost always somewhere you can catch the light shows. In particular, Northern Ontario destinations are prime spots for Northern Lights viewing, abounding in dark skies and wide-open spaces.

Regardless of where you go to see the Northern Lights, you’ll need to keep a lookout north. It’s best to pick a place with a clear view of the northern sky, away from trees and buildings that might obscure your view.

The following destinations are not only some of the most optimal locations for viewing the Northern Lights and other astronomical events in Ontario, they also offer some amazing experiences.

Manitoulin Island

Does sleeping beneath the stars in a nationally recognized Dark Sky Preserve on the waters of Georgian Bay sound appealing to you? If so, Manitoulin Island is your ideal destination for checking out the Northern Lights.

Without having to travel too far off of the beaten path, Manitoulin Island offers an incredible opportunity to experience the skies of Northern Ontario. A short drive from Sudbury through the winding, sandstone-lined roads of Espanola and McGregor Bay will bring you to the famed Little Current Swing Bridge that allows cars driving on Highway 6 to access the island. Alternatively, you can make your way to the ferry terminal in the charming community of Tobermory to take the Chi-Cheemaun to the island.

On the island, there are countless hikes, cafes and even a brewery you can stop in at for a pint. However, Manitoulin Island’s pièce de résistance is the Manitoulin Eco Park, complete with various accommodation options—some of which are available to book year-round— and access to unparalleled dark skies.

Manatoulin’s Eco Park gained the designation of a commercial Dark Sky Preserve from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and offers year-round stargazing events, exceptional views of the Northern Lights and camping. In the winter, you can stay in their DarkSky Stargazing Cabin for a cozier experience within the Preserve.

You can sign up for their popular astronomy nights or stargazing hikes between June and September, or explore the wonders of the island and Eco Park yourself.

Quetico Provincial Park

Are you looking to see the Ontario Northern Lights above snow-covered interior lakes? Pack your cross-country skis and winter sleeping bag and go camping at Quetico Provincial Park this winter.

Located roughly two hours west of Thunder Bay, Quetico Provincial Park encompasses a sprawling area made up of 2,000 lakes lined with spruce and pine. Inside the Park, you’ll find frozen waterfalls, scenic cliffs and endless crisp Ontario wilderness to explore. Set up camp in the Park’s frontcountry Dawson Trail Campground or snowshoe into the backcountry.

In 2021, Quetico was recognized as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association, meaning they preserve and protect a dark site through responsible lighting policies and public education. The Park’s commitment to unpolluted dark skies makes it a perfect place to see the Northern Lights in Ontario, while resting on a blanket of sparkling snow.

Winter camping offers a fantastic view of the Aurora Borealis, as the bright ground seems to further accentuate the moving lights in the sky. If you are new to winter camping, make sure to do your research—say, by reading our Ultimate Guide to Winter Camping Ontario—before heading out in the cold. For those looking to sleep in comfort while camping in cold weather, some Ontario outfitters like Lure of the North in Espanola offer hot tent rentals.

Aside from Quetico having one of the purest vantage points of the night sky, you can snowshoe or cross-country ski on groomed trails, and even rent a cozy cabin within the Park. Braving the cold for this unique camping adventure will make capturing the Northern Lights an even more memorable experience.

northern lights near moosonee, ontario
The lights shows in Moose Factory are some of the best in the province. Source: Sage Price // @sage.m.price

Moose Factory & Moosonee

Are you interested in journeying to one of the oldest trading posts in Canada, only accessible by plane or train? If so, plan an adventure to the farthest reaches of Northern Ontario next summer.

National Geographic included Moose Factory on a list of some of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Ontario, and there are a handful of reasons to make the trip here. Aside from the unobstructed views of the night sky, you can visit one of the first-ever Hudson’s Bay Trading Company outposts. This former early HBC location is now a national historic site dedicated to preserving the original Hudon’s Bay Company buildings from the outpost that was established in 1673.

The best way to get to Moose Factory and Moosonee is to take the Polar Bear Express. The train runs year-round from Cochrane to Moosonee and is an excellent way to get a close-up view of the Northern Ontario wilderness.

Once you’ve arrived in Moosonee, you can stock up on anything you might need at the Northern Store before checking in to the Super 8 Motel or one of the small rental properties in the area, like the Suite Riverview. For a wilder experience, take a water taxi to Tidewater Provincial Park and camp on one of the designated backcountry campsites.

During your stay, you can visit outfitters like Moose River Tours to travel to the mouth of James Bay, bird-watching sanctuaries and abundant fishing holes. For an even more historic experience, you can participate in the Northern Spirit Voyageur Canoe Adventure and hear stories of the past while travelling in 34-foot canoes and visiting a fur trading post from the 1800s.

The benefit of travelling so far to see the Northern Lights is that a short hike in any direction will place you directly in a prime viewing location. A lack of light pollution and infrastructure coupled with a richness of history will make catching the Northern Lights here an unforgettable experience.

Polar Bear Provincial Park

In case remote Northern Ontario towns aren’t far enough removed for you, plan a trip to one of the vastest wilderness areas in all of Canada.

Known for its unforgiving Arctic tundra terrain, lack of human activity and, well, polar bears, Polar Bear Provincial Park sits high up on Hudson Bay and spans roughly 24,000 square kilometres.

If you’re seeking the type of Ontario Northern Lights adventure that rivals climbing a mountain, Polar Bear Provincial Park might be the challenge you’ve been waiting for. In order to get to the Park, you’ll need to arrange air travel with an experienced group of local guides. Wild Wind Tours offers a range of guided expeditions, air transport, canoe trips and polar bear watching tours for those looking to explore this sub-Arctic region of Ontario.

The Aurora Borealis displays in this region are absolutely stunning as the landscape is incredibly flat and completely untouched by humanity. And, being so far north, you are far more likely to experience them. Polar Bear Provincial Park is not for the faint of heart and requires ample planning before visiting, but it will provide adventurous visitors with an experience unlike anything else.

Sioux Lookout

Embark on the ultimate road trip to soak up Northern Ontario’s rugged beauty—and have a chance to view the Northern Lights. Located four hours northwest of Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout’s distance from major city centres makes it an ideal road trip destination. Sure, you could fly, but if you live in Southern Ontario, you’ll miss taking a tour of the entire province and visiting all the gems along the way.

Driving the Trans-Canada Highway will carry you through some of Ontario’s most underrated landscapes and seldom-visited towns. Swim in the cool waters of Pancake Bay on Lake Superior, just north of Sault Ste. Marie, before trying an apple fritter at the Voyageurs’ Lodge. Take on one of the famed hikes at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Stay at unique accommodations like the Rock Island Lodge and Serendipity Gardens Cafe.

Once you’ve reached Sioux Lookout, you can stay at the beautiful Red Pine Lodge or at one of the Winoga Lodge outposts. The cabins with docks on small lakes, complete with woodstoves and cozy bedrooms, are reached by plane or boat and offer clear views of the night sky surrounding Sioux Lookout. Winoga Lodge also offers an array of guided hunting and fishing experiences. Car camping at Ojibway Provincial Park, just outside town, is another great option.

Local landscape photographers have taken to driving outside Sioux Lookout to capture the beauty of the Northern Lights and choosing to follow in their footsteps will not disappoint.

Get a bird’s eye view of Sioux Lookout on the Sioux Mountain Trail Hike and stop in for a coffee at the Hub Collective Cafe before making your way back home.

northern lights over the shore of Lake Superior in Pukaskwa National Park
It doesn’t get much more rugged or remote than Pukaskwa. Source: Jason O’Young // @jasonoyoung

Pukaskwa National Park

If you’re looking for a wealth of opportunities for adventure on one of the world’s most pristine bodies of water, Pukaskwa National Park is the place to plan your next camping trip.

Situated on the wild shores of Lake Superior, Pukaskwa offers stunning views of the night sky from rocky coastal beaches and campsites. Head to the Park’s Hattie Cove Campground and pitch a tent or book an oTENTik. Once darkness has fallen, strap on your headlamp and take the Beach Trail out to Middle Beach where you’ll get great views of the northern sky over Lake Superior. Then it’s simply time to wait and see if the Northern Lights appear.

For those seeking more adventure and the potential to see the Aurora Borealis in peak wilderness, Pukaskwa is home to a series of backcountry campsites spread out along the coast and only accessible by foot or paddle. Book a campsite between August and October for ideal Northern Lights conditions and read our Guide to Hiking the Pukaskwa Coastal Trail to prepare for a multiday backpacking trip. Or, plan a paddling trip, tracing the same coastline.

If both backpacking and paddling feel a bit outside your skill set, you can still view the rugged Lake Superior coast by booking a boat tour with North Shore Adventures. No matter how you choose to spend your days while visiting Pukaskwa National Park, rest assured come night you will be in one of the most beautiful places in Ontario for viewing the Northern Lights shining above the vast waters of Lake Superior.

Plan a Trip to View the Northern Lights in Ontario

When it comes to seeing the Northern Lights, like most natural phenomena, patience is imperative. Though you may have hiked, driven, flown, or ridden a train a long way, seeing the Northern Lights is never a guarantee. But the journey towards immersing yourself in the radiance of the Aurora Borealis is all a part of the adventure.

About Marshall Veroni

Marshall Veroni is a poet, songwriter and outdoor enthusiast who has spent most of his free time travelling Canada in one way or another. With a background in creative writing, he is dedicated to immersing himself in small-town Ontario to cover outdoor adventures, music, the arts, food and travel. 

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