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Insider’s Guide To The Largest Dark Sky Preserves In Canada

HDR image of a man standing on a rock looking at the northern lights

Looking up at the northern lights

Canada has some of the best opportunities in the world to see the northern lights. Why? Because we sit directly under the aurora belt and are lucky to have multiple dark sky preserves in our national parks to block out light to ensure no artificial lighting is visible to ensure the best possible viewing of the night sky.

Read along to find out everything you need to know about dark sky preserves and photographing the northern lights below.

How to see the northern lights

The northern lights can be seen with the naked eye. It is best to view the lights in a dark sky preserve or far away from populated areas to decrease light pollution. The best time to view the northern lights is around 10:30 pm till 2 am so be sure to pour yourself some coffee and plan to stay up late. We promise it’s worth it!

Parks Canada dark sky preserves

Bruce Peninsula National Park

Elk Island National Park

Fort Walsh National Historic Site

Fundy National Park

Grasslands National Park

Jasper National Park

Kouchibouguac National Park

Kejimkujik National Park

Point Pelee National Park

Wood Buffalo National Park

How to photograph the northern lights

It’s easy. All you need is a camera and lens that has manual functions and a tripod. You will need to play around with the settings for different circumstances but generally, you will want to set your camera to a 20-second shutter, highest aperture you can achieve and an ISO of about 1600. Make sure your focus is set to manual and that you focus on the stars where you are trying to capture the Aurora Borealis. Pro Tip: Set your camera to two-second self-timer so you don’t shake your camera when you hit the button to take the photo. For more information on how to shoot the northern lights check out this video.

Events to attend

To celebrate dark skies head to the annual Grasslands National Park Astronomy Beyond the Big Dipper event May 27, 2017 in the East Block, recently named the best observing site and darkest skies in Canada, the Annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival October 13 – 22, 2017, or the Thebacha & Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival, August 17 – 20, 2017. These events not only bring together amazing groups of like-minded people, but they are also filled with activities like international speakers and night sky observations. In the past, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival has hosted international speakers such as Col. Chris Hadfield, Bill Nye, George Takei and Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Jeremy Hansen. The Thebacha & Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival has featured retired Canadian astronauts Dr. Roberta Bondar and Julie Payette as well as CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe. The speakers for 2017 have not been announced so stay tuned to find out who they bring to Jasper and Wood Buffalo next!

Where to stay

It’s best to plan on trying to see the Aurora Borealis for a few nights in a row that way you can guarantee some lights. If you want to camp under the stars visit the parks Parks Canada site to learn how to reserve a campsite and plan for future trips to the amazing Parks Canada dark sky preserves.

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