Looking to add one of nature’s most picturesque displays to your photo album? The Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights, polar lights, or southern lights, make for the perfect bucket list item. Caused by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun entering earth’s atmosphere, this dancing light display can be seen in high-latitude regions, above magnetic poles in the southern and northern hemispheres. Those looking to get a glimpse of the lights often believe they need to travel to some of Canada’s most northern regions, including the Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories. Visitors to the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta will be happy to know that catching a glimpse of these elusive lights is much closer than expected. In some cases, it involves a simple drive outside of city limits. If you plan on tracking down the northern lights on your next trip out west, be sure to plan for extra time on the road, and some added patience as well.

The cities of Vancouver and Calgary are well-positioned for short drives out to a few of the best spots to see the northern lights in western Canada. Unleash your inner night owl and be ready to head out between 10 PM and 2 AM on a cold, clear night, without a full moon. Chances of seeing a northern light display are usually best in the winter months but can also extend slightly before and after. Seeing them is not guaranteed, with warnings sometimes coming as little as 30 minutes before an occurrence, so be sure to check an aurora borealis forecast near you before heading out. As you plan your next trip to western Canada, consider checking out some of these notable locations for an opportunity to catch the northern lights.

British Columbia

A Northern Lights Display Near Vancouver: Porteau Cove Provincial Park 

Known for its scenic views, beautiful sunsets, and pebbly beach area, Porteau Cove Provincial Park is the perfect spot to witness the northern lights near Vancouver. Located on the Sea to Sky Highway, it is also just a twenty-minute drive from Squamish, B.C.

Although this secluded beach area is close to Vancouver, it is still far enough away that it remains free of city light pollution. Staying in the Vancouver or Squamish area? Keep an eye on aurora borealis warnings for Porteau Cove Provincial Park. If you see a notification, there is a good chance you will be able to get there in time to catch the jewel-toned skies dance the night away.

Approximate distance from Squamish: 21 KM

Approximate distance from Vancouver: 45 KM

Experience Dancing Lights on the Sunshine Coast: Sakinaw Lake 

A boater’s paradise in the warmer months, Sakinaw Lake is located along British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, about 40 kilometers north of Sechelt and 112 kilometers from Vancouver. Surrounded by dense forests, including Douglas fir and Sitka spruce, the surrounding mountains make for the perfect backdrop to any time spent on or by the lake. 

For visitors looking to see the northern lights in British Columbia, Sakinaw Lake makes for a great place to catch a clear night sky, including a potential aurora borealis sighting.

Approximate distance from Vancouver: 112 KM

Approximate distance from Victoria: 233 KM


A Banff National Park Northern Lights Experience: Lake Minnewanka 

Just a fifteen-minute drive outside of the Town of Banff, and about an hour and a half from Calgary is Lake Minnewanka. This large glacier-fed lake offers visitors the opportunity to sightsee its beautiful landscape by canoe and hiking trails in warmer months and by cross-country ski and snowshoe in the fall and winter. 

From September through May, and when the atmospheric conditions align, Lake Minnewanka provides visitors a great opportunity to catch the northern lights in Alberta, under crisp nighttime skies.

Approximate distance from Banff: 11 KM

Approximate distance from Calgary: 129 KM

Catch an Unobstructed Light Show at one of Alberta’s Dark Sky Preserve Areas: Pyramid Lake 

Pyramid Lake is located within Jasper National Park, the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. This kidney-shaped lake empties into the Athabasca River and lies at the bottom of Pyramid Mountain, which overlooks the entire town of Jasper. Located a mere 5‑kilometers from Jasper’s town center, Pyramid Lake is one of twenty small bodies of water that are remnants of retreating glaciers, all a part of what is better known as the Pyramid Bench area.

The province of Alberta offers up some of the world’s largest dark sky preserves, which includes Jasper National Park. Thanks to ideal conditions created by the absence of artificial illumination, a Jasper National Park northern lights experience is a must visit” on your trip.

Approximate distance from Banff: 294 KM

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