This post was originally published on the Travel Alberta website.
Imagine looking up to see neon green light spiraling slowly across the starlit sky. Soon other colours join and together they grow into a bright, pulsating chorus of light. Dazzling dashes of red and blue streak across the sky, waving, melting away then regrouping. You’re not dreaming. You’re witnessing one of the world’s most surreal natural spectacles – the Northern Lights.
Indigenous legends and lore
Many legends surround the aurora. Indigenous Peoples explain the phenomenon very differently. Some Inuit believe the Northern Lights are spirits holding torches to guide the steps of newcomers. Others think that the auroras represent the souls of the dead playing a game of soccer in the sky. The Cree believe the Northern Lights occur when spirits are dancing.
Whenever I gaze at the lights moving and changing colour before my eyes, these stories really come to life.
Accessible aurora viewing
Because Canada is so far north, there are a lot of places to view the Northern Lights in the winter months. Many of the best are right here in Alberta. Home to the world’s largest dark sky preserves – Wood Buffalo National Park to the north and Jasper National Park to the west – and an abundance of pristine wilderness areas, Alberta is ideal for observing and photographing this captivating cosmic ballet.
Plan on some early winter camping, rent snowshoes or cross-country skis, and head to where the prime time viewing is at its best. Sometimes all you need to do is drive out of the city until you’re away from the ambient light.
Situated under the southern edge of the auroral oval in northern Alberta, Fort McMurray is one of the world’s most outstanding spots for viewing the Northern Lights. You can book tours through Brewster Vacations Canada and Alta-Can Aurora Tours.
The world's second largest dark sky preserve at 11,000 square kilometres, Jasper National Park is unique in that it has a town in the centre of it. But you don’t have to go far from town for fabulous stargazing and a potential surprise appearance of the Northern Lights.
Just 45 minutes east of Edmonton, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Recreational Area and Elk Island National Park play host to a combined dark sky preserve of 284+ square kilometres. Against the darkest sky, you’ll get the brightest colours. Ribbons of rippling green, shoots of hot pink, and neon yellow will tango with the twinkling stars.
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
Alberta lies far enough north that the aurora can sometimes be seen all the way down to the southern end of the province in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Given its elevation and lack of urban light pollution, the area is a dark sky preserve as well.
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