Look up into the night’s sky in Canada’s Yukon Territory and there’s a chance you’ll see the Aurora Borealis lighting up the night’s sky with shimmering shades of green, blue, red and yellow. The Yukon Northern Lights are legendary and a good reason to visit the Yukon in winter.
Of all the things to do in Canada, if seeing the Northern Lights is high up on your bucket list, the Yukon is a good place to go for a Northern Lights vacation.
- Yukon Northern Lights
- What is The Aurora Borealis
- How to see the Northern Lights in Yukon
- Seeing the Northern Lights from Whitehorse
- Seeing the Northern Lights while staying at a lodge
- Yukon Northern Lights Lodges
- Other reasons to choose the Yukon
Yukon Northern Lights
What is The Aurora Borealis
The shimmering Aurora lights are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere.
These Northern Lights light up the sky with an otherworldly glow and appear as patches, scattered light clouds, arcs, rippling curtains and shooting rays.
Usually seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres, seeing the Aurora Borealis is on the bucket list for many travellers.
We’re rugged up in warm winter rentals – thick red padded jackets, waterproof pants and big storm trooper boots – sipping hot chocolate in the Aurora-viewing tent of Yukon adventure company Northern Tales.
The tent we’re huddled in is away from the city lights of Whitehorse and reconstructed in the tradition of the historic tents once used by gold seekers and trappers.
Inside there’s a wood-fired barrel stove, timber benches, food and hot drinks to warm us up.
Outside, the sky shimmers with a glimpse of an Aurora Borealis barely visible to the naked eye.
To the human eye, the stars are a million twinkling diamonds on an indigo canvas.
My camera, however, has recorded a strip of green arced across the sky like a part of a rainbow.
It’s my first attempt at photographing the Aurora Borealis and fortunately, our guide has some good advice as well as sturdy tripods for guests to use.
The night starts off slowly, with a few distant patches of purple and green appearing in the sky.
Later, the lights morph into an arc across the sky and as we’re packing up to leave, a rippling green curtain falls from the sky right above our heads.
How to see the Northern Lights in Yukon
You can see the Yukon Northern Lights by staying in Whitehorse and joining an Aurora-viewing tour or check into a lodge or cabin away from from the city.
The Northern Lights is a phenomenon of nature that does not follow a timetable, so patience is required.
If you don’t have the time to see the Northern Lights or if you’re not visiting the Yukon at the right time of the year, visit the Northern Lights Centre at Watson Lake for displays, shows and information about them. The centre has a theatre and a gift shop.
The best time of year to see Northern Lights in Yukon is from October to April.
Seeing the Northern Lights from Whitehorse
Staying in a hotel in Whitehorse and joining an organised Aurora-spotting tour at night is the easiest option and the least costly.
Northern Lights from Whitehorse – Pros
- Least costly option as there’s a range of accommodation in Whitehorse, including budget options. Hotels in Whitehorse are not ultra-luxurious but there are some that offer comfortable rooms with Wi-Fi and mod cons. Coast High Country Inn, Westmark Hotel and Best Western Gold Rush Inn are comfortable choices.
- Staying in Whitehorse offers access to a choice of cafes, restaurants and shops. Head to G&P Steakhouse for a decent steak or The Wheelhouse Restaurant for local fish. Other popular eating spots are Café Balsam and Burnt Toast Café.
- There are plenty of things to do in Whitehorse including visiting museums like the SS Klondike and the MacBride Museum where you can learn about the hardships faced by the early settlers and the gold mining fever that swept the region.
- Northern Lights tours are easily accessible and there are several companies operating out of Whitehorse.
Northern Lights from Whitehorse – Cons
- Going on a tour provides a small (about four hours from around 11 pm to 2 am) window to spot the Northern Lights. You might see a faint glow or you might get an impressive show. Seeing the Northern Lights is not guaranteed and you may have to go out on several tours to get a good showing.
Whitehorse Northern Lights Tours
If your main reason is to see the Aurora Borealis, it’s a good idea to join an Aurora viewing tour run by a specialised tour company.
Tour companies will pick you up from your Whitehorse hotel and take you to their Aurora-viewing sites far enough out of the city where the sky is dark and not affected by the city lights.
These Aurora-viewing sites have heated tents or cabins (with toilet facilities), where you can warm up while waiting for the Aurora to appear.
Hot drinks and snacks are usually provided too.
They also offer advice and tips on how to photograph the Northern Lights as well as tripods you can borrow on the night.
Tour companies that operate out of Whitehorse are Northern Tales, Arctic Range Adventure and Nature Tours of Yukon.
Seeing the Northern Lights while staying at a lodge
Staying in a lodge is a chance to get away from the city and experience the remoteness of the Yukon wilderness.
Being away from the city and staying in a lodge is a quintessential Yukon experience that will give you a good feel for the soul of this unique and beautiful Canadian territory.
The Northern Lights is a natural phenomenon that doesn’t follow a schedule.
Staying in a Yukon Northern Lights Lodge – Pros
- Being away from the city lights, especially if you plan to stay for a few days, means there’s a pretty good chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
- You can stay up all night watching the sky from the warmth and comfort of your lodge then run outside to take photographs at the right time.
Seeing the Yukon Northern Lights from a lodge – cons
- At most lodges, photographing the Northern Lights is a do-it-yourself experience and finding the best spot to take photographs is usually up to you. This will require a bit of organisation so go prepared with a tripod and download instructions on how to set up your camera as well as tips on how to photograph the Northern Lights.
Yukon Northern Lights Lodges
Here are some cosy Yukon cabins and lodges.
1- Inn on the Lake
Inn on the Lake is a top of the range luxury lodge with a dash of old-world charm at the edge of March Lake, 40 minutes from Whitehorse.
It’s a fabulous place to base yourself for a Yukon Northern Lights getaway, with rooms in rooms, apartments and the charming Fireweed Cottage.
2- Boreale Ranch
Boreale Ranch near Carcross is a contemporary lodge in the wilderness 40 minutes from Whitehorse.
The floor-to-ceiling blackboard menu is as impressive as the view through the lodge’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
3- Northern Lights Resort and Spa
Northern Lights Resort and Spa is on the Alaska Highway 20 minutes south of Whitehorse. Accommodation is in individual cosy log cabins.
There’s an outdoor Jacuzzi and a spa with a Finnish sauna, infrared sauna, gym and massage room.
4- Tagish Wilderness Lodge
Tagish Wilderness Lodge is a floatplane flight away on Tagish Lake.
The lodge is rustic and offers good food as part of the tariff.
Meals are prepared with herbs from the boreal forest and vegetables from the garden.
5- Takhini River Lodge
Takhini River Lodge is a B&B on Takhini River Road 40 minutes from Whitehorse.
There are four rooms, a high dining table and floor-to-ceiling windows with a deck that has an amazing mountain view.
6- Tincup Wilderness Lodge
Located near Kluane National Park and surrounded by natural landscape, Tincup Wilderness Lodge is an escape to the wilderness.
Getting to the lodge by floatplane is itself an adventure to remember.
7- Dalton Trail Lodge
Dalton Trail Lodge is a fishing lodge at the edge of Kluane National Park. Activities include ATV trips into the mountains, hiking in the park and wildlife spotting.
8- In Connu Lodge
In Connu Lodge is a high-end fishing lodge in south-east Yukon.
9- Francis Lake Wilderness Lodge
Francis Lake Wilderness Lodge is a wilderness getaway that offers dog sledding, trekking and cross-country skiing
10- Sky High Wilderness Ranch
Sky High Wilderness Ranch offers dog sledding and back-country adventures. Accommodation is in a five-bedroom lodge or cabins with no electricity or running water.
11- Little Atlin Lodge
Little Atlin Lodge has rustic cabins with hot and cold running water but no electricity.
12- Sundog Retreat
Sundog Retreat is a multi-cabin retreat with self-contained cabin and spa facilities. The spa cabin has an outdoor hot tub, indoor sauna, exercise space and a yoga/meditation room.
13- Bombay Peggys
Bombay Peggys is the place locals like to go in Dawson City. The restored brothel is a charming abode with Victorian furnishings and a great martini menu.
Other reasons to choose the Yukon
Other reasons to choose the Yukon for your Northern Lights holidays is the Yukon draws visitors to the wilderness, winter and wonderful scenery.
If you’ve read and loved Call of the Wild (I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read the book!) then the Yukon might well be on your bucket list.
The Canadian territory bordered by British Columbia, Northwest Territories and Alaska is overflowing with stunning wilderness landscapes.
There are cosy lodges, friendly people, fun outdoor activities and, of course, the magical Yukon Northern Lights.
Seeing the Aurora Borealis is probably a good enough reason to put the Yukon on your bucket list but there are plenty of other things to do in Yukon.
For more exciting attractions in Yukon read:
On this trip, we learn the skills of dog mushing and I ride my own dog sled pulled by four huskies through the wintery landscape at Sky High Wilderness Ranch without falling off!
Another time, we keep warm while soaking in 100-year-old Takhini Hot Pools, which is rich in minerals.
A scenic flight over the Yukon’s glaciers and the Chilkoot Pass reveals a majestic landscape of snow-covered mountains and lakes resembling a scene from a fantasy movie.
The land is full of wildlife and the easiest way to see them all is at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, which is home to 10 species of northern Canadian mammals including woodland caribou, thinhorn sheep, moose, wood bison, arctic fox and muskox.
The Yukon is also steeped in culture and at Carcross, we meet Master Carver Keith Smarch who reveals insights into the First Nations people, their history and beliefs.
I’d visit the Yukon to see any of these things but the biggest lure of all is the chance of experiencing the Northern Lights.
Another place to see the Northern Lights is Iceland in winter.