Northern Lights Edmonton – Viewing the Aurora Borealis
The Northern Lights are magical and those who live in Edmonton, Alberta do not need to travel far outside the city to see them. Canada’s northern latitude and low light pollution make it an ideal place for viewing the legendary aurora borealis. This natural phenomenon is somewhat unpredictable, but there are things you can do to increase your chances of successful aurora viewing. Here’s what you need to know to see and photograph the northern lights in Edmonton.
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Science Behind an Aurora
The colorful dancing lights of an aurora are created when charged particles from the sun become trapped in the earth’s magnetic field. This happens more commonly at the earth’s magnetic poles. The phenomenon is called aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere and aurora australis in the southern hemisphere. If you want to see the aurora borealis or northern lights, you will be more successful at northern latitudes inside the aurora oval. The auroral oval is basically a large ring above the earth’s geomagnetic north pole where auroral activity is greatest. Winter is the best season to see an aurora, due to clearer skies and longer, darker nights.
Related: If you like aurora viewing, consider an aurora tour in the Yukon – a place further inside the auroral oval. Read our post, Yukon Northern Lights – The 5 W’s.
Legends of the Lights
Seeing the dancing lights of an aurora is magical and it sparks the imagination. Indigenous people have many explanations for the miracle of the lights that dance in the sky. My favorite legend comes from the Southern Tutchone who live in the Canadian Yukon. They believe the lights are their ancestors dancing in the spirit world to let them know they are happy there. There are several Inuit legends about the lights. Some Inuit believe the lights are the spirits of their ancestors playing a game of soccer. Other Inuit believe the lights are fires lit by their ancestors to light the way for the souls of the dead. Similarly, the Vikings believed the dancing lights were reflections of the Valkyries’ armor that led spirits of warriors to Odin.
Aurora Watch – Edmonton Northern Lights and Alberta-Wide
Aurora activity is a natural phenomenon, but there is science behind it. That makes it possible to predict when it is more likely to happen. One of the best websites to predict Edmonton northern lights is called Aurora Watch. The website provides a real-time monitor of geomagnetic activity in the Edmonton area and throughout other parts of Alberta. You can see the odds of aurora activity on any given night and view an aurora forecast. You can also sign up for a free email alert service that lets you know when there is a good probability of auroral activity. (Be aware that sometimes the emails are sent out in the middle of the night.)
Northern Lights Edmonton – Amazing Time Lapse Video
Check out this amazing time lapse video of the night sky and the northern lights by our friends at Dixon Pictures. They shot this on their family farm about 80 minutes drive northwest of Edmonton.
Chasing Starlight and Darkness – Alberta’s Dark Sky Preserves
You must get away from light pollution to see the stars and view an aurora. Getting outside the city is essential. Fortunately, there are five designated Dark Sky Preserves in Alberta. The Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve near Edmonton was the first and it includes Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area and Elk Island National Park. Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan is also a Dark Sky Preserve. Just east of Lac La Biche, Lakeland Provincial Park is Alberta’s newest dark sky preserve. The world’s largest dark sky preserve is Wood Buffalo National Park and the second largest is Jasper National Park.
Related: Check out this cool time lapse of all of Alberta’s dark sky preserves by astrophotographer Jack Fusco and adventure photographer Jeff Bartlett.
Northern Lights Edmonton – Where to See the Northern Lights
Dark skies are essential for the best stargazing and aurora viewing, so you have to get outside the city – far away from streetlights, neon signs and house lights. Some of the best northern lights viewing spots lie east of the City of Edmonton in the the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve. Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area and Elk Island National Park are top spots close to the city that are inside the dark sky preserve. Elk Island National Park is a 30-minute drive east of Edmonton. Jasper National Park is about a four hour drive west of Edmonton and Fort McMurray is about a four-and-a-half hour drive north of Edmonton. Both are great spots for northern lights viewing. Barring that, just try to get out of the city to a place in the countryside far enough away from city lights and you’ll have better viewing.
How to Photograph the Northern Lights
It takes patience and skill to capture an aurora shot that pops. You also need to have some essential equipment. You need a camera with a manual setting, a tripod, a wide-angle lens and extra camera batteries. A red light headlamp that has a dimming feature can also be helpful when you are setting up. A wireless camera remote can help to avoid the blurring caused by camera shake. Here are the basics:
- Turn off the flash and set the camera and the lens to manual.
- Set the F-stop on the lowest number you can.
- Adjust the ISO to 1600 (as a starting point)
- Set the shutter speed to 20 seconds (as a starting point)
- Put your camera on the tripod.
- Focus the lens – set it to infinity and manually focus on the brightest star you can see.
- Take test shots and adjust the shutter speed and ISO until you get clear shots of the night sky. Wait for the aurora and adjust your settings again as necessary.
Related: If you love photography, you’ll enjoy our article Jasper in Winter – 12 Stunning Photos. Jasper National Park is the world’s second largest dark sky preserve and a great spot for night photography.
I would like to know when can see Northen light again
It would be fantastic if you could predict exactly when the northern lights are going to show themselves. They were great two nights ago. You can sign up for a free alert service from aurorawatch.ca. They’ll send you out an alert whenever there is a good chance of seeing the aurora borealis. I’m signed up for the red alert notification. That means there’s greater than a 70 percent chance of seeing northern lights. It’s always good to get somewhere where there are dark skies to view it, but two nights ago we saw them right in the city. I hope this helps. -Debbie
Would like alerts upto 31st October 2022 as I am in Canada & propose to get to Edmonton mid October 2022 to view the Aurora Borelias.
Hi There, You can sign up for free alerts on the aurora watch website (aurorawatch.ca). Then you can just stop the alerts when you leave Canada. I hope you get to see an aurora while you’re in Canada. Edmonton is not as prime of a spot as Yellowknife, but we do see auroras several times per year. Thanks, Debbie
I plan to elk island park but please can you provide a few GPS location with water front ?
Hi Tony, I think the GPS coordinates for Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park are: 53.6779° N, 112.8481° W. If you’re using google maps, you can put Astotin Lake Campground in and it should take you near the lakeshore. I hope that helps. Best of luck viewing the northern lights. -Debbie
I’m visiting Canada from USA. We would like to see this magnificent Aurora borealis. We’re near Edmonton
We’re a group of 6
I hope you get to see the Aurora Borealis while you’re here. You can visit aurorawatch.ca to know when the conditions are right for them to appear. Best of luck!
Excuse me, how I get a free email alert service that lets me know when there is a good probability of auroral activity.?
Hi Lin, Go to aurorawatch.ca. On the right hand side of the home page is a button that you click to sign up for email alerts. I’ve been using it for years and it’s great. Happy aurora hunting! -Debbie
Do you know of any lodging in a Dark Sky preserve area? We are older with arthritis and would like to see the aurora but we have the usual aches and pains, arthritis and other symptoms that come with the privledge of aging. Would love to find a hotel or cabin with use of kitchen and porch or large window facing north. We see plenty of lodging in Edmonton but would like something where we can be away from the city lights, relax and be warm while hopefully waiting to witness an aurora. Thanks
That’s a challenging question. Elk Island National Park is a dark sky preserve area and there are oTentik glamping tents there. You could book one of those and you’d be inside the dark sky area where viewing is better. I should mention that the aurora is unpredictable. If it’s a cloudy evening or if the aurora isn’t dancing, you might not see it. But when it dances, it is a site to behold. If you want to see the Northern lights you might want to plan an aurora trip to a destination inside the Auroral Oval like Yellowknife, NWT or the Yukon where the displays are more frequent. They have aurora tours there where you can stay toasty warm in a heated yurt or cabin and come out when the lights are dancing. They also have accommodations with glass windows that let you view the aurora in bed. I hope this helps. And I sincerely hope you get to see an aurora. All the best, Debbie
I will be in Edmonton next week and would love to see the Aurora. Would you care to share some guided tours where i can book to see it. Thanks
I don’t know of any guided tours in Edmonton. There are guided Aurora tours in the Yukon and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, but not in Edmonton. The Yukon and NWT are inside the auroral oval, which is a region with visible auroras more often than Edmonton. You can see auroras in the Edmonton area, but you need to get outside the city or in a place with less light pollution. Check the aurorawatch.ca website and it will give you an idea of times when you have a better chance of seeing the northern lights in Edmonton. I hope that helps and I hope you get to see an aurora show when you visit.
All the best,