Visiting Yellowknife

Understanding Different Aurora/Northern Lights Tours

Yellowknife Aurora Tour

The question of which type of aurora tour to book has come up a few times in our inbox.

“Should we book one that chases or hunts for the Aurora, or one where you go to a dedicated location, such as a cabin or tent?”

First, let’s clear the air

On clear nights you will – pretty much – see the Aurora wherever you are around Yellowknife. Even within the city on good nights. This is also regardless of if you are moving around or at a stationary viewing location. Something like a cabin, tent, resort or lodge.

Yellowknife, and it’s surrounding area, is under the Aurora Oval. This guarantees us a sighting of the Aurora/Northern Lights if the skies are clear. This on average is about 240 nights a year.

What affects your visibility of the Aurora/Northern Lights

City lights – Light pollution is minimal but still there. Luckily, it is easy to get away from. Most tour operators are aware of this and will get you away from the city lights of Yellowknife.

Other People and Tours – It can be annoying and frustrating when other people are in your line of sight. There can be headlights from other vehicles or flashlights coming and going. They don’t prevent you from seeing the Aurora, but you do want a distraction-free experience.

Landscapes – Hills and trees can also obstruct your view. Yellowknife isn’t known for having large of either but in some spots, they can be in the way. Such as if you are on the shore of a lake with a large cliff beside it. Or in a treed in Territorial Day Use Area.

Clouds – It is worth stating if there is heavy cloud cover in the sky you won’t be able to see the Aurora. If there is only partial cloud cover you can often still see the Aurora. The best remedy for cloud cover is to wait it out – even if you stay in one spot – or try again another night. If you or your tour guide are a super weather genius, you might know how to read weather patterns. Enough to predict where the clouds will start clearing first.

Let’s now look at the different types of aurora tour experiences you can have in Yellowknife.

Aurora Chasing or Hunting

Aurora Chasing or Hunting is the concept that for the duration of your tour you will move around. Generally in the tour vehicle, be it a big bus or small passenger vehicle.

You will read on many tour websites that you will hunt for elusive Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. Or you will chase them down as if they are running away from you. While this is a great – and thrilling – concept, it is not entirely true.

As we mentioned above, you can see the Northern Lights on any given dark and semi-clear sky night. As long as you avoid those particular obstructions above. When they are out, they are out. No need to chase them.

So why move around on the hunt or chase?

To avoid those particular obstructions. To avoid other people. To avoid other tour companies. To avoid land obstructions if the Aurora is strong in a particular direction. Or to pass the time if the Aurora is not yet active or visible.

The goal of your guide is too make sure you have the best possible chance of seeing the aurora. So you are chasing or hunting for the best possible opportunity and situation to view the aurora.

Yellowknife Aurora Tour

Aurora Experience or Destination

There are many tours that offer you the opportunity to travel out to a secluded lodge, village, resort, cabin or tent. Where you will then stay for the duration of your tour. These tours can be big operations where there are a couple other hundred guests. Or as small as 4 people in a cozy warm prospector tent.

These tours are for those who don’t want to be getting in and out of a vehicle all night and would prefer one location.

These tour operators have established their location to be ideal for aurora viewing. Many have trails and vantage points setup for aurora viewing no matter the part of the sky they are active in.

While you wait there is often other – dare I say northern – activities available. Such as snowshoeing or bannock making, with hot drinks and card games.

Will you miss the Aurora/northern lights on a tour like this? No. Again, your guide will most likely ensure you have a 360º view of the sky and you will see any aurora activity if it is there.

Which is better?

Your personal preferences will determine which is better for you. And even then you may want to know more about each tour and your guide before deciding.

Consider details such as:

  • Do you want to move around during your tour?
  • Do you want to go to one location that is warm and cozy?
  • Do you want a bathroom or outhouse nearby?
  • Do you want to be in a small intimate group?
  • Do you want to be on tour with many other people?
  • Do you want the option of other activity and food?
  • Do you want your guide to speak a specific language?
  • Do you want your guide to be knowledgeable about aurora science?
  • Do you want your guide to be a lifelong local or of indigenous heritage?

These are all determining factors you’ll want to consider before booking an Aurora/northern lights tour in Yellowknife.

If you need help picking which tour operators to inquire with, send us an email and we’ll narrow it down for you.

New to Yelowknife

About the author

Kyle Thomas

Kyle grew up in Yellowknife and is a local entrepreneur, bread maker, and Yellowknife-ophile who is addicted to learning as much as he can about the community and sharing it with anyone who'll listen. In 2009 he developed YkOnline.ca. A website all about living, working and thriving in Yellowknife for residents, newcomers, and visitors.

3 Comments

  • Hi Kyle,
    Thank you for your info on the viewing of the Northern Lights. I will probably never view them due to my age (90) but l do read all your articles. My Grand Daughter worked for over a year at the local paper L’Aquilon and this is how l came to discover Yellowknife by subscribing to Yellowknife On Line.
    Keep up the hreat work you are doing.
    Geoffrey Inniss
    Longueuil Quebec

  • […] From a broad overview, it appears many larger tour operators with Aurora Tours still operate until the middle of April. However, your tour might start later or you might have to wait longer into the night to see the aurora borealis. In addition to that, some operators might finish early in the season so it might be harder to find a tour to take. We have a guide to different types of Aurora/Northern Lights tours here. […]

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