Northern lights in Prince George

Where to See the Northern Lights in BC

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Northern lights in Prince George | Northern BC Tourism/Kristopher Foot

Ever seen the Northern Lights? There’s something magical about the experience—especially in British Columbia.

Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights are like wisps of mist swirling, darting, and, some say, dancing across the sky in the northern hemisphere. (Aurora is the Roman goddess of dawn; Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind.) From zigzags to rippling curtains and arcs, the display results from the sun’s electrically charged particles hitting gaseous ones as they enter Earth’s atmosphere on a solar wind, creating the fantastical colours—sometimes an array of shimmering hues, often an eerie green or translucent pink.

Remote communities with little light pollution are ideal for viewing Aurora Borealis; in BC, you need to get away from coastal clouds, heading inland and north. The best time is winter (December to March)—with cold, clear nights and more hours of darkness. Prepare to stay up late: Around midnight is showtime.

Note: This story (originally published in 2016) was updated in 2023.

The Northern Lights over highway 77 north of Fort Nelson
North of Fort Nelson | Ryan Dickie

Alaska Highway

From Mile Zero in Dawson Creek to the Liard River Hot Springs near the BC/Yukon border, communities along the storied Alaska Highway make for some of the best locations in BC from which to view the Northern Lights.

Located in northeastern BC’s Peace River Country ranchland, small-town Dawson Creek is a base camp for hiking, skiing, fishing, and birding. It also boasts numerous historic sites, plus wide-open skies ideal for watching the Aurora.

Visitors report Northern Lights sightings year round at picturesque Muncho Lake Provincial Park off the Alaska Highway; here, unusual geography, including “folded mountains,” sets the scene. Take up residence at log-hewn Northern Rockies Lodge for a few days, and, if you’re lucky, see the lights reflecting off aqua-green Muncho Lake.

Liard River Hot Springs, farther north, is a bucket-list must. Romantic in a rustic-wilderness way, these steamy natural thermal pools are Canada’s second largest. Some have not only witnessed the Northern Lights for hours here, but observed a rare red Aurora. Soak in the springs, and don’t forget your snowshoes.

Northern lights in Prince George | Northern BC Tourism/Kristopher Foot

Highway 16

Prince George, the largest city in the northern half of the province, sits at BC’s geographic centre. While the city itself bustles with life and lights, there are plenty of areas just outside of town to find clear, dark skies that make the Northern Lights pop. Check out the viewing platform alongside the Salmon River, scale challenging Teapot Mountain, or visit the Prince George Astrological Society’s observatory.

You can also take a direct flight from Vancouver northwest to Smithers, flanked by Hudson Bay Mountain. It’s a former railroad hub turned alpine-style outdoor rec mountain town with comfy lodging, a lively entertainment scene, and solid dining options. East of the rainy Coast Range, it’s also dry and cold—meaning powder for skiing and clear skies. Head outside town and find a place to set up Aurora camp. You’re sure to see wildlife: Mountain goats, bald eagles, perhaps even a bear or moose.

South of Campbell River, Vancouver Island | @brihamlynphotos

Locations Farther South

As you travel south, it becomes less likely that conditions will be right for a glimpse of the Aurora, but it’s been known to happen.

The expansive Cariboo and Chilcotin areas offer clear skies with little to no light pollution. From grasslands that go on forever to rugged peaks standing guard over high-elevations lakes, there are first-rate viewing locations throughout the region.

The pristine Canadian Rockies are another great place to look skyward with your camera at the ready for the Northern Lights, and communities north of Okanagan Lake are occasionally treated to a spectacular show. While it doesn’t happen often, Vancouver Island residents and even lucky Vancouverites have seen a soft green glow on the horizon.

Wherever you go, bring your sense of adventure—and patience—plus a wide-angle lens and tripod. There’s no knowing whether Aurora will show, and that’s what makes it all the more special when it happens.

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