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Author: Debbie Olsen

Debbie is a writer, researcher, traveller, mom, wife, foodie, gardener, housekeeper, photographer, and occasional hormone-crazed maniac. She has contributed to eight Fodor’s guide books about Alberta and writes regular columns for the Calgary Herald and the Red Deer Advocate.

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Jasper Lake / Ryan Bray

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Alberta shines in winter. Without darkness there can be no light and clear dark night skies allow lights to shine brilliantly. The longer nights of our coldest season are the best time to experience the spectacular artistry of holiday light displays and the magical sparkle of nature’s luminescence.   

Light up the Night festivals 

Taking in the beauty and artistry of holiday light displays is a wonderful way to start the Christmas season. Winter light festivals can be found in communities all over the province, but you can take in two festivals in one weekend in central Alberta. Lacombe Light up the Night (Nov 23-27) and the Spirit of Sylvan Yuletide Festival (Nov 25-26) feature tree lightings, Santa Claus parades, entertainment, and fireworks.  

Drive-by or walk-by light displays 

Stroll through Western Canada’s largest walk-through lights display, ride a festival train and warm up with hot chocolate and a toasty bonfire at Airdrie’s Festival of Lights (Dec 1-31). From Dec 3-23, the Alberta Legislature is decked out in thousands of lights including a 60-foot spruce decorated with more than 5,000 lights, and features an outdoor skating rink and daily live musical performances.  In Edmonton’s West End, Candy Cane Lane features individual homes decorated with colourful light displays and decorations.  

Lit up attractions 

Special light displays make winter visits to Alberta’s outdoor attractions exciting. Calgary Zoolights (Nov 25-Jan 8) features more than 1.5 million lights, 200 displays, choreographed light installations, ice skating and other fun-filled activities. Thousands of candles light the pathways of the Devonian Botanic Garden’s Kurimoto Japanese Garden near Edmonton during Luminaria (Dec 2-4). There’s a Snowlight Maze for children, strolling singers, a Wish-Upon-A-Star Tree, hot food and beverages. Enjoy a Winter Night Lights sleigh ride through beautiful snow-covered forest paths lit with 20,000 colourful lights at Heritage Ranch near Red Deer. In Lethbridge, the Nika Yuko Japanese Garden is hosting its first Winter Light Festival (Dec 2 - Feb 2).  

Starry, starry night 

Alberta is home to four official dark sky preserves including the world’s largest (Wood Buffalo National Park) and second largest (Jasper National Park). These sanctuaries provide the best opportunities to observe the beauty of a starry night sky uncorrupted by light pollution. Enjoy these spectacular skies by winter camping or joining a guided Canadian Rockies night snowshoe tour. A visit to the University of Calgary’s Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, near Priddis is ideal for winter stargazers who prefer to stay indoors.   

Dancing Lights of the North 

There is something magical about the shimmering lights of the aurora borealis and Alberta has many great places for observing and photographing this incredible cosmic phenomenon. Sometimes all you have to do is take a drive outside the city to see the northern lights. The University of Alberta offers a free probability monitor and email alert service to identify those times when the likelihood of seeing the aurora is greatest in the Edmonton area. In Fort McMurray, you can book guided aurora viewing tours through Brewster Travel Canada, Alta-Can Aurora Tours and Alberta Sky Aurora Tours. 

Activity Highlights
  • Northern Lights Viewing
  • White Christmas
  • Sleigh Rides
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