For those that live in the city and have never seen the northern lights, it is hard to imagine the dancing streaks of colour that you see high in the sky at night in Ontario's Sunset Country and across Northern Ontario. Pictures just can't do it justice. The lights are never the same twice, and seeing them can be a deeply spiritual experience. Arriving at that moment, however, takes some planning and a little luck.
Having that unforgettable experience also means picking your spot. Below are three different accounts of places and ways you can experience the Aurora Borealis. I'll start with my own experience.
1. Driving down the highway
My personal most memorable northern lights experience happened one year in October. We were heading down Highway 599 from Pickle Lake to Ignace. As soon as we got on the road headed south the skies lit up. Up to this point, I had only seen shades of green and purple light up the sky. That night, though, they were red and yellow. The northern lights danced in the sky for the whole 3-hour trip. Lucky for me I was the passenger and spent the whole time looking out the window. It truly was a magical moment. I kept expecting it to end, but the show just went on and on. Who knew that one of the best shows of my life would be free and along the highway? So, as you drive through Sunset Country at night be sure to keep an eye out for the northern lights. If you see them, I'd suggest getting out for a bit and enjoying the show.
2. At a wilderness resort
The key, of course, to seeing the lights is getting to where the sky is dark enough. It's a perfect excuse for a camping trip. The following description of looking out the window of your cabin and seeing the lights was submitted by the owners of Fireside Lodge:
"The sun has set and day turns into night, the moon shining on the lake in the view from our cabin window. The silhouette of pines stretches across the skyline, and the darkness glitters with stars. It's time for lights out, but are they? After our cabin goes dark, one more look out the window confirms that in fact, the 'lights' are on!
"There is a glow of green in the sky, slowly spreading and growing to larger proportions. We are being treated to a spectacular view of the Aurora Borealis, better known as the Northern Lights. Streaks of deeper hue shoot up forming curtains of color as the dance begins. The luminous formations are ever-changing, we watch in awe. As they are never the same, the show is always different and we can't take our eyes off of it, afraid to miss one moment.
We point here and there, excited with each new change. Sometimes the show is subtle, the lights moving gently like waves. Other times the dramatic swirls and shapes will create an extraordinary exhibit of rhythm and glow. The color is not always the most often seen green. We have seen shades of blue, purple, and the most dramatic ever, red. The brilliance outside our window cannot be copied or repeated; it is an original every time.
"The Northern Lights have dimmed, the show is over. It was worth staying up late as we rest our heads and visually relive the phenomena we just witnessed. The wilderness provides endless adventure and wonderment, and it is just outside our window."
3. Underneath the clear sky on a wilderness canoe trip
If you can time it right, I think there is no better place to see the Lights than from the water. This description comes to use from a local canoe guide:
"As I was heading into Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in a float plane with a canoe attached, I was not thinking about the northern lights, but rather I was amazed at all the lakes and forests that lay beneath me. Being dropped off on a remote lake in the pristine northern Ontario wilderness should have tipped me off that I might see the Aurora Borealis, but again my mind was elsewhere. After paddling and fishing for the better part of the day, we set up camp just near the edge of the water.
We all were relaxing and having a drink talking about the things we saw that day. We decided to make an early night of it as we were quite tired. Around midnight I thought I heard something outside and peeked out to see what could be snooping around. I didn't see any animals, however, I did see the most wonderful colours in the sky. I immediately woke my friends to come outside. For the next half an hour we were mesmerized by all the action in the sky. I'm not sure anyone even said a word, we simply took it all in. What a wonderful memory."