With long winter nights, dry crisp air, and close proximity to the magnetic north pole, Canada’s Northwest Territories are one of the best places in the world to witness the northern lights.
Making up Canada’s second-largest Province, the Northwest Territories start above the 60th parallel. To give you a sense of perspective, part of the territory lies inside the Arctic Circle.
The capital city of the Northwest Territories is Yellowknife and, for a place that only has a population of just under 20,000 people, there’s a lot to see and do here, making it a perfect winter destination.
But first, you need to decide on how you’re going to get there. No matter where you start your Canadian adventure from, it’s a long way to Yellowknife. A couple of days driving – at the very least – and to be truthful, although there are lots of activities in and around the city, the drive up north is uneventful in terms of attractions. Yellowknife has a domestic airport, so catching a flight might be more worth your while.
If you do decide to drive, make sure your vehicle is equipped with winter tires. Keep your eyes out for herds of bison or caribou on the side or in the middle of the road. Plus, it’s a good idea to make sure both your headlights are working before you set off.
Don’t leave without extra supplies of food and water, emergency blankets, and a decent car battery. You don’t want to be stranded anywhere for too long in the fickle temperatures (often reaching -40°), because it might be a while before you see another car driving by.
Consider spending at least three days in Yellowknife to maximize your chances of seeing the northern lights. Thanks to its close proximity to the Arctic Circle, they are out on most nights. You don’t need a big aurora storm for the greens, pinks and red hues to be visible, just cloudless skies! I spent three nights in Yellowknife and saw the aurora every single time I ventured out at night.
Apart from the chance of seeing aurora borealis, Yellowknife is known as the adventure capital of the north, providing a multitude of attractions from snowmobiling and kite skiing to dog sledding and the world-famous ice castle.
The ice castle in Yellowknife is erected every year for the Snowking’s Winter Festival in March. Everything is made out of ice: ice bars, ice dancefloors, ice slides, ice sculptures, and even an ironic ice fireplace. A fun place for people of every age.
The northern lights are visible from Yellowknife, but for the best experience, it’s a good idea to venture further north, away from the city lights. To get there, you’ll drive on top of a frozen lake.
The lakes around Yellowknife freeze a few meters thick in the extremely low temperatures, and for the duration of winter ice roads are constructed and speed limit signs are erected, shortening travel time for many locals who live on the shorelines.
The earliest open in December and remain in use until April, which is perfect, because this time of the year is also best for aurora viewings. The nights are long and the air is dry, so you don’t have to worry about cloud coverage.
If seeing the northern lights is high up on your bucket list, then a visit to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada during the winter will almost guarantee memories that will last a lifetime.
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