This blog post was written before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when physical distancing and other COVID health and safety protocols were not in effect. The businesses and communities featured in this article may be once again welcoming visitors but please double check as some are only open with limited operations and others have not yet reopened.
I’d chased the northern lights for years before I saw them: clouds in Iceland, rain in the Yukon, and just plain bad luck in Norway meant that those magical dancing lights in the sky remained an elusive dream for more than four decades for me. I finally saw them when I was least expecting it; in Churchill, Manitoba in the summertime, but there they were and it felt like a miracle— as though the sky was sighing in colour.
The aurora borealis work on an 11-year solar cycle: there’s a great explanation here, but essentially the more solar flare energy is released, the more chance there is of seeing the lights. We’re currently into the downswing of the cycle, which reaches the low-point in 2020 and will then climb to its peak again in 2025. But, according to Canada’s first Aurora Hunter, Joe Bailey of North Star Adventures, those rules do not apply in Yellowknife! So if you’re longing to see the northern lights, he says your best bet is to head to the Northwest Territories.
“Yellowknife is right in the middle of the zone in the heart of the precambrian shield, I believe that the magnetic properties here are stronger. The lights are a function of the pole, after all. I heard about weak years and prepared for them before, but the truth is that they are often better; every year we see amazing aurora here in Yellowknife, it’s only lower latitudes which suffer from the weak years.
We get amazing aurora in Yellowknife; the lights are predominantly green, but sometimes we see lights so pink that they’re fuchsia. When it gets warmer we see blue lights; we call April our ‘blue aurora month’. Really the best chance to see the lights is here in Yellowknife; you may have beautiful mountains and oceans in other parts of the world, but they can make for unstable weather patterns and more cloud.
I call myself the Aurora Hunter because I wanted to incorporate my Aboriginal culture into what I’m doing here; I’m part of the Akaitcho territory tribe, which is part of the Dene nation. When I started this business other people had aurora camps set up, but I didn’t have the money to build a camp: so I figured I know the land, and I know the weather, I hunt caribou and buffalo, and so I’ll be the Aurora Hunter! I take people out in my van and we hunt down the best places to see the lights.”
Combine your aurora hunting alongside Joe, with a cultural tour to learn about Dene culture and hear how the guides keep traditions alive in the modern world. Learn how to set traps and snares for food and fur, cut wood, help make a fire and listen to traditional stories in a teepee.
Three other ways to see the northern lights in Yellowknife
- See the lights from above and below between August and September with Narwal Northern Adventures, when you book an trip to paddle up the Yellowknife River in a 29-foot voyageur canoe.
- Spend an evening with Bobby Drygeese of B. Dene Adventures for northern lights story-telling, Dene history and legends, drumming, and samples of traditional foods in a heated cabin on the shore of Great Slave Lake.
- Watch for the lights in wood fire-heated teepees at the Aurora Village.