Chasing Northern Lights in the Yukon
By Ariane Arpin-Delorme
Whether it’s for the love of the great wild spaces (this is the place where we find the most glaciers on the planet, which is more than 2000), in order to practice outdoor activities, to taste the vitality of the "farm to table" culinary scene (local products) or "forest to table" (wild food), or to discovery of traditional arts (this province has twice as many artists per capita than the Canadian average), or to meet the First Nations who are involved in local arts like nowhere else in the country… the mythical Yukon has attracted me for a very long time. I finally had the chance to set foot there in February 2020, just before the pandemic struck full force! I "fell in love" on several occasions with Yukoners who had moved to live there for the long term and I have been surprised at the importance of the Francophonie. So many significant encounters!
Craze for the Northern Lights
Having "hunted" for them in several places around the world, I’m obviously very intrigued. In northern Canada, as in the entire region that encircles the earth's magnetic poles, it’s not uncommon to see the sky ablaze after dark. This natural phenomenon finally presented itself to me during my first trip in the Yukon, where the bluish depth of the yukoner sky practically free of light pollution remains the ideal scene to host the mystical dance of the aurora.
At a time when science can explain most of life's mysteries, nature's most coveted light show remains one of the few moments of wonder we are given to experience. In short, the Northern Lights are created by solar winds charged with electrons entering the magnetosphere. In other words, this luminous phenomenon is caused by charged particles that collide with the Earth's magnetic field. The Earth's poles, acting like magnets, attract these particles which then collide with the atoms that make up the top layer of the atmosphere. The Northern Lights offer a sumptuous animation made of shades of green, blue, purple and red.
When to see them?
The Northern Lights are visible from mid-August to mid-April. However, the winter season offers the best chance of seeing them, as the sky is relatively unclouded and the nights are much longer. This is why we usually associate the Northern Lights with the cold, when in reality the temperature matters much less than the conditions created by winter.
Keep your eyes peeled between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. to enjoy an intense activity that usually only lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. However, you might be lucky and enjoy their presence for 1 hour. Finally, it’s not uncommon for them to disappear only to reappear later the same night.
A few places you can easily gaze on them
It’s possible to see the Northern Lights even in town. That said, as these celestial ballets take place in an upper atmosphere and so as not to miss anything of the show, do not hesitate to go out in the region to avoid light pollution. There is no shortage of quiet places, where you can sit in the front row to observe them.
Take the scenic route to Fish Lake or the Chadburn Lake Road.
My experience: In partnership with the Yukon Astronomical Society, I was also able to study the sky via their huge telescope, while subsequently enjoying a warm indoor presentation on this almost magical phenomenon. So, if the aurora is not there, you can still admire the sky, its stars and the planets. I learned so much!
Takhini Hot Springs
Imagine yourself in a 47°C mineral water bath under the dancing skies. Takhini Hot Springs near Whitehorse is a well-kept secret.
My experience: I took a dip in the hot springs at the very "local" resort organized for this exact purpose. I caught a glimpse of the Northern Lights spectacle and had the chance to revel in this must-see.
Tips to avoid coming home empty-handed, with a heavy heart and frozen nose
- Get out of town;
- Flee from the light;
- Simply raise your eyes to the sky (no equipment such as 3D glasses or binoculars are necessary);
- Favor a sky without clouds and stars: foreshadowing of a breathtaking spectacle;
- Choose the right time of night, between 10 pm and 3 am;
- Consult the forecasts on the Aurora Forecast website or via the application My Aurora Forecast;
- Avoid evenings with a full moon if possible;
- Choose a guided tour to benefit from interesting explanations and good tips - there is no shortage of tours available in Whitehorse;
- Don't be afraid of the cold! Take advantage of a tour package that includes the rental of warm winter clothes.
And you, where have you chase the Northern Lights in the Yukon or elsewhere?
I realized, however, that one shouldn't choose to visit the Yukon primarily to see the Northern Lights, but for everything else the country has to offer. If it appears it will be the icing on the cake.
I dream of revisiting the Yukon again, this time during the summer season and hike the mountains, where 17 of the 20 highest peaks in Canada are to be found. As well as to learn more about its "golden" history of Dawson.
Thank you very much to the Association franco-yukonnaise (AFY) for this extraordinary opportunity!