Guide to seeing the Northern Lights in Banff and the Rockies 

Witnessing the magical Northern Lights swirl above snow-capped mountains in the Canadian Rockies is an unforgettable experience. The Northern Lights, also known as aurora borealis, appear when charged particles from the sun collide with the gases in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. This collision creates colourful ribbons of light in the night sky of the Northern hemisphere. 

Northern Lights in the sky above Vermillion Lakes in Banff

During fall and winter, this spectacular natural phenomenon can be seen in Banff and Jasper national parks. These parks in the Canadian Rockies have little light pollution, which makes them great aurora viewing destinations. Read this guide for more information on Banff Northern Lights.

Popular Northern Lights tours in Canada

Yukon Aurora and Rockies Winter Rail 

This winter trip includes three days in the Canadian Rockies, a cozy overnight train journey between Jasper and Vancouver, and three evenings of guided aurora viewing in Whitehorse, the Yukon. Since Whitehorse sits under the auroral oval, it’s one of the best places for Northern Lights viewing in Canada. During the day, enjoy winter activities such as snowshoeing, ice walking, and dogsledding.  

Trip length (number of nights): 9

Aurora viewing evenings: 3 

Yellowknife Aurora and Rockies Fall Colours 

Discover the beauty of Banff National Park in the fall, then see the vibrant colours of the aurora in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. Yellowknife is located under the auroral oval, so aurora activity is observed up to 240 nights per year. Admire ancient glaciers, turquoise lakes, and towering mountains in the Rockies. Day activity options include hiking, lake tours, and wildlife viewing. 

Trip length (number of nights): 8 

Aurora viewing evenings: 3 

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When, Where, and How to See the Northern Lights in Banff

Wondering when to see Northern Lights in Banff? Like other destinations in Canada, the best time of year to see Northern Lights in Banff is during the fall and winter months (October to April). While it’s possible to catch aurora displays throughout the year, it is harder during the summer months when there are long days and short nights.  

The Northern Lights are most likely visible when there are clear, dark skies. Winter has extended hours of darkness, which is ideal, though Banff receives a lot of snowfall in these months. Precipitation and cloud coverage can obscure the view and make it tricky to spot the colours and shapes of the Northern Lights. The best winter viewing nights are no precipitation is in the forecast.  

The fall season is a fantastic time to view the Northern Lights. The weather is pleasant, with warmer temperatures than winter and less snowfall. There are clear skies and fewer visitors during these months. Hiking trails are still open during September and October, so you can explore the beautiful landscapes of the Rockies in the daytime.  

Some of Canada’s best aurora viewing destinations, like Yellowknife and Whitehorse, can have 24 hours of daylight in the summer. This is a natural phenomenon known as the midnight sun. During these times, you would be unable to see the aurora despite being in a prime location. While Banff does not experience the midnight sun, the area does have extended daylight hours during summer.

How to find the Northern Lights

Find Dark Skies 

While there is aurora activity year-round, the Northern Lights are only visible in dark skies. It’s a good idea to plan your viewing during the darkest hours of the night for the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

Artificial light, such as light from streetlamps and buildings, can impact the visibility of the Northern Lights. This light pollution brightens the night sky, preventing it from reaching the natural level of darkness. For aurora viewing, it’s best to get as far away from light pollution as possible and find darker skies.

Solar Activity and Aurora Forecasts  

The Northern Lights occur when charged solar particles collide with the gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. If the sun is more active, there are more intense aurora displays. The period of peak solar activity during the sun’s 11-year cycle is known as the solar maximum. Planning a Northern Lights trip during the solar maximum gives you the best chance to view the aurora!

Several organizations that track space weather and geomagnetic activity and provide short-term aurora forecasts. Sometimes, they use a Kp index to indicate the level of geomagnetic activity. This usually goes from Kp 1 to Kp 9. The higher the Kp number, the higher the level of activity. For example, a Kp 2 means the aurora will be far north and not very active. A Kp 9 means the aurora will be bright and active and appear in more places.

You can view aurora forecasts on websites, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Space Weather Prediction Centre, as well as mobile apps, like My Aurora Forecast. 

Weather and Lunar Cycle  

Another factor to consider is the lunar cycle. A full moon could affect the visibility of the Northern Lights, but only if there is a weak aurora display directly in front of the moon. Some photographers and aurora hunters enjoy the moon’s presence when viewing the Northern Lights as it adds an interesting element to their photos.

Top Aurora Viewing Locations in and around Banff

Northern Lights shining above trees and snowy landscape in Churchill

There are some amazing locations in Banff National Park for viewing the Northern Lights. Because of the low light pollution, places outside of the main town are best. 

Vermillion Lakes is a 5-minute drive from the town and is a top place for aurora viewing in Banff. If you’re lucky, you could see the Northern Lights appear above Mount Rundle, one of Banff’s most famous mountains. 

Only a 10-minute drive from town, Lake Minnewanka is a popular location for Northern Lights viewing. It is the largest lake in the Canadian Rockies and is away from light pollution, making it a popular place for stargazing. Two Jack Lake and Cascade Ponds are close to Lake Minnewanka, so they are good alternative viewing spots. 

There are several popular viewing spots along the Bow Valley Parkway. One is Castle Junction, which is where the Banff-Windermere Highway and the Bow Valley Parkway meet. On a clear day or night, you can see Castle Mountain from this location. 

If you have time to explore locations further away from Banff town, Peyto Lake and Bow Lake are recommended places on the Icefields Parkway for aurora viewing. These are both a one-hour drive from town and further north.  

Sunshine Village ski resort is another possible Northern Lights viewing location. In 2021, the resort even had an Aurora Cam set up, which live-streamed any aurora activity in the area. (This is not currently available to watch). 

Tips for Northern Lights Viewing

Green Northern Lights in the sky above a teepee at Aurora Village

Here are some of our favourite tips for Northern Lights viewing in Canada. 

1. Wrap up warm 

Aurora viewing can require being out until the early hours of the morning. The best time of day to see the Northern Lights is between 11pm and 3am. If you are planning a Northern Lights trip in Canada, it is important to dress in layers so you can keep warm while waiting for the aurora.

We recommend packing a range of base layers, mid-layers, and outer layers, especially if you travel during winter. Base layers include thick socks, long-sleeved tops, and thermal leggings to go under snow pants. Mid-layers include fleeces and sweaters. Outer layers include waterproof insulated pants, boots, and jackets. You will also need gloves, a scarf, and a hat. 

2. Bring hot drinks and snacks 

You might get peckish while waiting for the aurora to appear. Before you head out, pack some food and drink, as this will help you stay awake and keep warm in the cold. If you join a guided Northern Lights viewing experience, hot drinks and snacks are often provided. 

3. Be patient  

Nature is unpredictable, and an appearance of the aurora is never guaranteed. You can use aurora forecasts as a guide, but it’s often hard to know the exact time the Northern Lights will be visible in the night sky. Sometimes what looks like a weak aurora will develop into a more vibrant display. Be patient — it will be worth the wait!

Tips for Photographing the Northern Lights in Banff

Of course, you will want to photograph the Northern Lights in Banff! For the best photo composition, frame your shot with the lights above the mountains. 

You can take photos on everything from a smartphone to a professional camera. As the Northern Lights are constantly moving, it’s best to bring a tripod and use specific settings on your device. A tripod helps keep your camera steady while photographing the aurora borealis in Banff. 

Adjust the manual settings on your camera so you are set up for long exposures. Recommended Northern Lights camera settings include a low aperture and a high ISO value, but you can experiment with different shutter speeds to see what works best for your device. 

If you have a smartphone, there are some apps which can help you take great photos at night. For example, NightCap Camera  (Apple iOS) is designed to take fantastic images in low light.

Where to See Northern Lights in other parts of the Rockies

Aurora in starry sky above Pyramid Lake in Jasper National Park

If you are visiting the Canadian Rockies and want to maximize your chances of seeing the aurora, you should head to Jasper National Park. This is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and the second-largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world. A dark sky preserve is an area where you cannot see any artificial light. Lake Annette, Old Fort Point, Pyramid Lake and Maligne Lake are the top Northern Lights viewing spots in Jasper.  

To learn more about auroras and astronomy, visit Jasper Planetarium and look at the stars through powerful telescopes. You can also attend the Jasper Dark Sky Festival which takes place in October each year. The festival program includes telescope sessions, guest speakers, live music, night hikes and tours, guided stargazing, and more. 

While not in the Canadian Rockies, Wood Buffalo National Park is a top location for aurora viewing in Alberta. It’s the largest national park in Canada and spans the Alberta-Northwest Territories border. The park is the world’s largest dark sky preserve and is perfect for stargazing. 

Accommodations for Northern Lights Enthusiasts

Accommodation options for your Northern Lights trip in Canada include downtown hotels and remote lodges. Emerald Lake Lodge, Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Fairmont Banff Springs, and Banff Caribou Lodge are examples of accommodations in the Canadian Rockies.  

In other Canadian Northern Lights destinations, you can stay at properties that have designated aurora viewing areas, like the Northern Lights Resort and Spa or the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.


Travel to the Canadian Rockies in winter or fall for a chance to see the awe-inspiring Northern Lights! Watch as waves of colour dance in the night sky above snow-capped mountains and frozen lakes — it’s simply breathtaking.  

To increase the likelihood of you seeing the lights while in Canada, consider a trip up north to Churchill, Yellowknife, or Whitehorse. These are some of the best places in the world for Northern Lights viewing, as all three destinations sit under the auroral oval, the high-activity ring of the Northern Lights. The local travel experts at can help you plan the perfect Northern Lights vacation. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you see Northern Lights in Banff?

It’s possible to see the Northern Lights in Banff, Alberta. Banff is a good location for viewing the aurora borealis, especially during periods of heightened solar activity. Seeing the Northern Lights depends on several factors, including clear skies, low light pollution, and strong solar activity.

When can you see the Northern Lights in Banff?

The best time to see Northern Lights in Banff is October and April. Banff’s dark skies away from the town centre can offer good viewing opportunities, particularly in fall and winter when the nights are longer.

Are there any cultural or indigenous aspects related to the Northern Lights in this region?

Many Indigenous peoples have sacred beliefs about the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights are often seen to be spirits or ancestors.

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