Travel inspiration: Northern Lights in Canada’s isolated north

On cold clear winter nights in Canada’s frozen north, the sky catches fire. Ribbons of neon green dance overhead, punctuated by occasional flashes of red.

Locals say it pops and fizzes in eerie silence. It is this fireworks display, the Aurora Borealis, that I have travelled more than 12,000km to see.

There are no guarantees of course. Solar and weather conditions have to be just right, but this part of Canada’s Northern Rockies is within the North Pole’s Auroral Zone and also has virtually nothing in the way of man-made light pollution, so your chances in the winter months from September through to March, are good.

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A prime viewing destination is the Muncho Lake and the nearby Liard Hot Springs in Fort Nelson. It’s more than 1500km from Vancouver, but that distance can be covered in a matter of hours with two short, regional plane hops, followed by a 250km trip north along the Alaska Highway.

Fort Nelson was once a booming mining and gas town but now, like so much of rural Canada, it is having to reinvent itself. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, it was reaching out to tourists, launching an annual Northern Lights Festival held every March. Its tagline is “Welcome to your #bucketlist adventure” … when the world returns to normal, the town will have even more need to bolster its tourism industry and you should definitely consider adding a trip to your list.

In the interests of retaining its character and appeal, the town has been careful to preserve its pioneering heritage and wilderness lifestyle, thanks to some dedicated locals, like Marl Brown.

Now 87, he worked as a mechanic for the Canadian Army in the1950s not long after the Alaska Highway was built. He began collecting items the Army discarded, including some very large machinery, and by the seventies, he had so much stuff the town got involved and fundraised to build a museum to house his treasures.

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