Experiencing True North, Strong and Free in Yellowknife was one of the most memorable trip to date. If you ever plan on venturing out to see the Northern Lights (aurora borealis), you should. Here are my tips for traveling to see this natural phenomenon.
Will I see it and when is the best time?
The million dollar question, will I see the Northern Lights? The answer is it’s entirely uncertain. Our group was lucky enough to see the lights for the 2 nights that we were there. The first night was extremely faint and we learnt a lot about preparation for our second night which I will talk about later! The visibility of the lights is based on the magnetic fields and you can check out Northern Lights Forecast prior to your trip. To visibly see the lights, you need the radar to be at a 5+ , otherwise it’s not visible to the naked eye.
The best time to see this is at it’s darkest hour in the winter. Our group went in March and we went outside at around 11:30 pm which (based on our research) was the best time to see this.
How does it look like?
The lights move very slow, what you see in images are long shutter captures (similar to above) to capture them dancing in the sky. The time lapse videos you see are also sped up at a much faster rate so it appears to be dancing. The streaks of light is true and by using a long shutter, it ups the exposure as well (Not a protographer here! Mind the common lingo). None the less, this is a definite memorable scene to witness in real life and though it was nearly 3 years ago, the vision is still very vivid in my mind.
Alright, perhaps at this point, I sold you on why you should go!
What should I pack?
It. is. damn. cold. I am talking about -48 degrees C with wind chill. We hid in our van for a bit while we were waiting for the lights to appear. My recommendation is to pack the following:
- Base layer – the ones you use for ski-trips
- Fleece pants / joggers – layers and layers
- Thick soled boots (waterproof at best)
- Canada Goose or something comparable
- Tons of heat packs, we brought 100+ to share amongst 6 people and we lasted only 30 minutes. Tip: Place heat packs inside your shoes near your toes, they are the first to freeze causing frost bite.
Not to scare you, but you will need it. Don’t be a champ and wander out there with your ski-jacket. Ski jackets are designed for ventilation when exercising not for retaining heat so you need something insanely warm. Bring boots. We are not talking about UGGS. As warm and comfy as they are you will not last in Yellowknife. I would strongly recommend getting Sorels for the weather.
Question: So did you buy all of this just for the trip?
Answer: Nope! I used to live in Ottawa for a year so I had to deal with -20 degrees weather however, for Yellowknife I had to wear my base layers and cashmeres and anything else that could keep me warm. Layering is key! If you don’t have the attire, you can also rent them as well. There are a number of places that offer rentals delivered to your door.
How do you get around and what’s the best location for viewing?
We rented a car at the airport to get around. Be sure NOT to drive into a path that has not been driven on. Extremely dangerous because, we got trapped and underestimated the depth of the snow. Basically, we were on a thick fluff of snow.
The best location to view the lights is on a frozen lake. We drove onto a frozen lake and that was by far one of the coolest (haha…coolest) experience I’ve had. The entire lake was all to ourselves because locals are tired of it and tours bring you out to further places.
So should I go?
Absolutely! This is a definite positive experience for me. One of those bucket list things that we all have. Be prepared that you may not see the lights but if you don’t there are other things to do as well like dog sledding, ice fishing and check out Bullock’s Bistro. Hands down BEST steak I’ve ever had. They also have arctic char as well. The food is a bit pricey in Yellowknife but then again, you are up north!
If you have any questions, leave a comment down below and keep on exploring!