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I.C.Y.M.I.: Dark Sky Preserves in Alberta - Northern Lights!

COOL WINTER GUIDE: Stories and information for all things winter in Alberta. One of the world’s most unique and dazzling phenomena is the canopy of fluctuating hues that are called the northern lights (aurora borealis).
8 - Northern Lights

Thanks to Alberta’s geographic position in proximity to the arctic, the skies are aglow with the spectacle of the northern lights at the right time of year.

Every year, sky-gazers go to dark sky preserves for midnight viewings of the northern lights, usually between the months of September and May when the day’s darkness lasts the longest. The best time to see the northern lights is midnight, and there are a few popular places where people gather to get the best view, free from the light pollution of cities and larger towns. These are called dark sky preserves, and here are a few ones to check out.

Jasper National Park

Jasper is the second-largest dark sky preserve in the world, and the most accessible. Jasper’s sprawling area of 11,000 square kilometres provides an endless array of ideal viewing places of the night sky, the most popular sites being Lake Annette, Pyramid Lake and Island, and Maligne Lake.

Jasper also has its own dedicated night sky festival in October, which includes addresses by celebrity speakers and events where guests can learn about subjects like geomagnetic events and astronomy.

Wood Buffalo National Park

Ranking as the world’s largest dark sky preserve, Wood Buffalo National Park is situated far north in Alberta, near the southern border of the Northwest Territories. Designated a dark sky preserve in 2013, Wood Buffalo National Park is also a wildlife reserve for nocturnal animals such as bats and several species of owls.

Like Jasper, Wood Buffalo is a large, sprawling area where virtually anywhere is ideal to set up camp within view of the northern lights, or rental cabins are available in Pine Lake as an alternative.

Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve

Situated just east of Edmonton near Fort Saskatchewan, Beaver Hills is a 300 square kilometre dark sky preserve around both Cooking Lake - Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area and Elk Island National Park. Well known for its many hiking trails, Beaver Hills sits beyond the radius of light pollution coming from the cities, making it an ideal spot for stargazers and recreationists who want a clear panoramic view of the star-dotted sky or the northern lights.

Alberta is one of the greatest places on earth to view the northern lights, and thanks to federally-protected dark sky preserves that spread over large swaths of the province, there is plenty of room to gaze upward during the prime time in the cold months.

Ian Nolan is a freelance writer and a contributor to Great West Media. This story was written for the 2020/21 Cool Winter Guide advertising feature. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.

This article was originally published on January 10, 2021.

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