Witnessing the northern lights dance across the sky is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list experience. The magical aurora borealis can be elusive, but in the Yukon, when the forecast calls for a clear, cloudless sky, the opportunity to see this incredible display arises.
Canada’s Land of the Midnight Sun offers the best viewing opportunities, with dark skies and minimal light pollution through the winter months. And right now, the auroras are even more vibrant and frequent due to the solar maximum, a natural peak in solar activity that occurs only once every 11 years.
But there’s much more to this beautiful northern territory than its spectacular skies. With a rich art and culture scene, thrilling outdoor activities, stunning scenery and charming communities, the Yukon is the ultimate well-rounded destination to begin your quest to see this astonishing natural phenomenon.
The thrill of the pursuit
While you spend your nights hunting for the northern lights, there are countless ways to pack your days full of adventure. Winter is an amazing time to visit the Yukon—locals don’t let snow and cold temperatures stop them from getting active outside.
Get your adrenaline pumping by dogsledding with a team of huskies, or rent a fat bike and cruise along one of many single-track trails. Embark on a snowshoe hike to explore the snowy scenery and enjoy a truly northern pastime by ice fishing on a frozen lake. You can also go for a thrilling snowmobile ride across frozen lakes, by mountains and along forest trails. In Whitehorse, there are over 85 kilometres of groomed world-class cross-country ski trails.
During the winter solstice on Dec. 21—the shortest day of the year—aactive adventurers can join a hardy group of runners and hikers who venture up Grey Mountain in Whitehorse. Animal lovers can watch native species, including lynx, moose, elk, bison, mountain goats and muskox, frolic in the snow at the massive Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Rent a kicksled on-site for a fun way to navigate its winding trail system.
The opportunities for unforgettable winter adventures are endless.
Vibrant local culture
The vast territory isn’t just an outdoor hub, it’s also home to a rich creative scene. If you’re planning a visit before Christmas, check out beautiful locally made jewelry, artwork and pottery at holiday markets in Whitehorse, or visit galleries such as Arts Underground, Yukon Arts Centre and Yukon Artists @ Work.
Winter festivals are another way locals like to spend the season. In February, the capital hosts Rendezvous, a week-long celebration of the Yukon’s colourful personalities and history, complete with a snow-carving contest, can-can dance performances, and axe-throwing and chainsaw-chucking competitions.
The same month, Whitehorse also welcomes the Available Light Film Festival , which is the largest film festival north of the 60th parallel. For culture buffs, it’s a great opportunity to catch fascinating feature films, shorts and documentaries. Then, in March, Thaw di Gras Spring Carnival in Dawson City offers a weekend packed with activities, including a chili cook-off, a lip-sync competition and an adult tricycle race hosted inside a bar.
While you’re out exploring, fuel your adventures with a delicious meal at a local restaurant, Yukon-roasted coffee and baked goods at a café, or a pint at a brewery. For luxe rejuvenation, visit the Eclipse Nordic Hot Springs and take part in a ritual that combines the Nordic hot-cold-relax cycle with the benefits of a Japanese onsen-style mineral water soak. Then, cozy up in front of the wood stove while you eagerly await a glimpse of the aurora borealis.
When the sun sets, several Yukon tourism operators offer guided viewing opportunities to see the northern lights. There are also plenty of lodge options close to Whitehorse and beyond the city, which offer a more secluded, off-the-beaten-track experience.
For those who prefer to create their own adventure, the Whitehorse Visitor Information Centre is a vital first stop before aurora hunting—it’s important to be prepared and informed before heading out alone. When driving outside of city centres, which only takes a couple minutes in the Yukon, always remain alert and be careful, as there’s spotty cell service if you find yourself lost or in a jam.
Check the forecast (auroraforecast.com) to find the best viewing time during your visit and find a spot where the sky is dark, with no light pollution. For optimal aurora visibility, it’s best to avoid evenings when the moon is full. Be sure to dress warmly, and bring some tea or hot chocolate in a thermos. Next, gaze up at the sky and prepare to be amazed.
Winter is a special time in the Yukon. The days are short and cold, but the snow-covered landscape sparkles in the sunlight. This is a season for both exciting adventure and serene relaxation. With all the Yukon has to offer, you’ll find the perfect complement to your quest to see the northern lights in all their glory.