Aurora Adventure in Canada
Canada has some of the world’s best aurora-viewing spots – none better than Yellowknife, capital of the remote Northwest Territories, says Elspeth Callender.
There’s a whole lot of beautiful emptiness in Canada’s massive and remote Northwest Territories – a region that covers roughly 1.3 million square kilometres (about 17 Tasmanias) and has a population of just 44,000. Despite its isolation, the territory’s capital, Yellowknife – known affectionately by locals as The Knife or The Blade – is loved for its diverse population, friendliness, extraordinary surrounds and quirky culture.
One of the best things is its location: at 68 degrees magnetic north, it’s one of the world’s sweet spots for witnessing the aurora borealis or Northern Lights, thanks to clear winter weather, limited light pollution, its latitude and the relatively flat topography. Over three consecutive nights in or near Yellowknife, you’ll have a 95 per cent chance of seeing the Northern Lights. And the deeper into winter it is, the higher the likelihood.
Yellowknife lies 400 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle on the banks of Canada’s deepest lake, Great Slave. The city supports around 20,000 people, a quarter of whom are Dene, Inuvialuit and Métis people.When viewed from above during summer, the flattish lake-riddled landscape could be the age-worn hide of a lone wolf or rogue bear. Typical daytime temperatures at the height of summer are in the mid-20s and night-time only lasts a handful of hours. In mid-winter, snow blankets the land and weighs on the branches of the stunted spruce. The land is soaked in a subdued peachy light as the sun makes its low, tired-arm arc in the sky before another long night of temperatures as low as -30°C. See the Northern Lights in winter on APT's 12 Day Intimate Rockies & Northern Lights tour.
Gold was discovered in 1898 but most prospectors were focused on the Klondike in the neighbouring Yukon Territory. So it wasn’t until the 1930s that floatplanes, boats and gold miners began flocking to what would become Yellowknife. Commercial gold mining has since given way to diamonds, yet individuals prospect for the yellow stuff. The Dene name for Yellowknife, Somba K’e, means “where the money is”.
Yellowknife still fancies itself a place of mercenaries, missionaries and misfits, and you can still find remnants of frontier life. Just a few minutes from a city centre dominated by practical administrative buildings, its Old Town speaks of another time and attitude. It’s where you’ll see houseboats and floatplanes and classic local restaurants like Bullock’s Bistro and Wildcat Cafe.
But don’t think Yellowknife is stuck in the past. The city welcomes people from all over the world as visitors and residents. A rainbow crosswalk leads to City Hall.
Throughout the colder months, there are few nights when you can’t see the Northern Lights, even from the middle of the city. Statistically, the aurora borealis can be seen from Yellowknife an incredible 240 nights of the year.
There’s particularly good viewing at Aurora Village, a 30-minute drive from the city centre. Aurora Village is Indigenous owned and, since it opened in 2000, has become Yellowknife’s premier aurora-viewing property. There are onsite heated tepees dotted around the lake to warm up in before sitting on a hilltop looking for lights. It’s the only place in the world with custom-built heated viewing seats that swivel 360 degrees. Experience the magic of Aurora Village on day nine of our 20 Day Intimate Rockies, Northern Lights & Alaska Cruise.
Need To Know
Spend three nights in Yellowknife on APT's 15 Day Winter in the Rockies and Northern Lights tour to enjoy an aurora adventure in Canada, and a whole lot more. Find out what's in store below.
Stay – bask in Canada’s alpine scenery from the bliss of a Lakeview room at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and a Mountain View room at Fairmont Banff Springs. Then soak up the Rockies' splendour overnight, from a cosy Sleeper Plus Class cabin with VIA Rail.
See – board a helicopter flight around Abraham Lake in Rockies’ back country, before a snowshoeing trip. See the lake’s frozen methane bubbles trapped beneath the icy surface. In Banff, experience an ice hockey match, including a pre-game briefing with the team coach.
Do – in Yellowknife, choose from a range of local activities, including ice-fishing, dog sledding and snowmobiling. Take the reins again with a dog-sledding experience in Banff or hike through the ice-sculpted terrain of Johnston Canyon.
Taste – enjoy a Signature Experience private soiree in a luxury cabin at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, with dinner and live music. Plus sit down to Freedom of Choice dining in Banff and Lake Louise, and a farewell dinner in a private ViTeepee tent beneath incredible night skies.