Seeing the Northern Lights should be on everyone’s bucket list. Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights showcase a colourful array of glowing lights across the night sky. This fantastical feat of nature can only be seen in certain places and at certain times of the year, so consider yourself lucky if you get to experience them in your lifetime. There are a number of locations across Canada where you can see the Northern Lights, and we are going to be discussing the top 5 spots in Ontario to experience them. Whether you’re hiking or biking across Canada, it’s worth it for a little detour to see this phenomena. If you own real estate in Ontario, it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pack up for the weekend and go see this incredible natural phenomenon.
When Is The Best Time To See the Northern Lights?
The summer isn’t the best season to view the Northern Lights if you’re looking in Ontario. Summer brings long days and short nights, which aren’t optimal for Aurora Borealis viewing. However, when fall and winter approach, nights become longer and your chances of seeing the lights increase significantly. October through late March are known to be the best times to see the northern lights.
Note that cold and clear nights are crucial to getting the best view of the Aurora Borealis, so the cloudy days in December and January may be more finicky than other months. Aim to search for the lights between 11pm and 3am on a clear night, and you’ll likely get pretty lucky. For the best places to find dark, clear skies in Ontario, keep reading below.
As the only Dark Sky Preserve in northern Ontario, Manitoulin Island is the prime location to spot the Northern Lights. Manitoulin Island has no light pollution, giving you crystal clear access to see the Aurora Borealis in action. It’s located off the beaten path in Lake Huron and is considered a hidden gem of Ontario, so it’s rarely busy or packed with people. However, you will find more people on the island throughout the summer months than in the fall and winter (which will serve you well considering when you’ll be travelling to see them).
To get to the island, you can either drive across the Little Current Swing Bridge on HWY 6 from Sudbury or take the Chi Cheemaun Ferry from the mainland. Note that it takes about an hour and a half to get from one end of the island to the other, so plan accordingly.
Lake Superior Provincial Park
Another excellent location to find a dark sky for northern lights viewing is the Dark Sky Preserve at Lake Superior Provincial Park. Not only does the park provide beautiful views and unique wildlife viewing during the day, but nighttime brings one of the most spectacular views of the northern lights found on Earth. There are several campsites and beaches along the coastline of Lake Superior, so head out to one of them to watch a spectacular sunset before gazing at the beauty of the northern lights.
Some popular spots to stargaze and view the northern lights within Lake Superior Provincial Park include the Agawa Bay Campground Observation Area and the Rabbit Blanket Lake Campground. To stay overnight, you will need a permit that you can get from the visitors centre toward the park entrance. In addition, you will also need a vehicle permit to keep your car on the grounds overnight.
Cree Village Ecolodge
Directly along the Moose River in Northern Ontario, the Cree Village Eco Lodge sits right by James Bay. Accessible only by air or train, Cree Village offers a unique cultural experience before viewing some of the most beautiful natural wonders the sky has to offer. While at the lodge, you’ll enjoy authentic Cree-fusion cuisine and luxury accommodations. Yet, the lodge’s location is so remote that you are likely to see the northern lights in the sky on any given night right outside your room!
If you are set on visiting the Village in the peak of winter, you’ll likely need to access Moosonee by plane since the train tracks can easily become iced over. Once you are at the Moosonee Airport, you can typically take a helicopter to the Eco Lodge or take a taxi over the ice road. If you visit at a time where the train is running, the best option is to take it from Cochrane to Moosonee.
Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve
Just northwest of Gravenhurst, Ontario, Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve offers the best viewing of the northern lights that Southern Ontario has to offer. The Reserve is just two hours from most homes in Toronto, so it’s a rare northern lights adventure that stays closer to home. With no light pollution, you’ll need a flashlight or your phone to light the way to some of the campgrounds, so we recommend hiking out there during the day and staying well into the night to get the best views of the Aurora Borealis.
The Reserve is located right off District Road 13 between Washago and Gravenhurst. Pay close attention to your GPS, as the entrance sign can be difficult to spot at night.
This historic small town often gets overlooked by travelers, but it offers the largest wildlife preserve in the world. When visiting this charming town, you can explore shops and large greenspaces throughout the day, and head to Borden Lake at night to wait for the exquisite northern lights to surface. Chapleau Lodge is located directly on the lake and offers a fully immersive experience with fishing, boating, kayaking, and (of course) spotting the Aurora Borealis.
The Top 5 Places to See the Northern Lights in Ontario
Grab your camping gear, binoculars, and star maps and get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime experience at any one of these Ontario spots. It’s important to keep in mind that the lights don’t appear on just any night, so check the weather and be mindful of the season you are visiting. For whichever viewing spot you choose, we recommend calling some local hotels or lodges in the area to ask whether your preferred dates are within range of seeing the lights. Regardless, at any one of these locations, you are sure to see some of the most spectacular sky views that Canada, and the world, have to offer.
After seeing the Northern Lights, there are tons of other activities you can do. Check out the best hiking places in Ontario as well as the best places to go kayaking in Ontario.