Sharp colors undulate like a multi-hued curtain in the wind. They multiply and morph, soaring over us like an exploding rainbow. Our group of parka-clad amateur photographers can’t help but holler and cheer. I aim my camera excitedly at the shimmering purples, pinks, reds and greens.
The setting: just outside of Fort McMurray, four hours north of Edmonton, in a clearing of boreal forest on a crisp winter night. The scene: we feel as if we have our own private viewing, as the phenomenon known as the aurora borealis puts on a memorable midnight show.
Well-Equipped Viewing Sites
The area surrounding Fort McMurray lies within the southern portion of the zone of maximum occurrence, so it’s one of the best places to view the northern lights. Fifteen of us are here with Alta-Can Aurora Tours, which has been showing off the aurora to visitors for more than 20 years. Alta-Can’s well-equipped sites offer a large 360-degree viewing area, heated indoor rest facilities and unlimited warm beverages and snacks throughout the night.
Professional Photographer Tips
Alta-Can’s professional photographer helped me mount my digital camera on a tripod and suggested I might get a better shot looking to the northeast. I learned the aurora usually starts in the northeast and moves over the northern sky to the west. It can sometimes be gone in minutes, so I was ready to act fast.
Northern Alberta’s Prime Aurora Viewing Location
Viewing Alberta's northern lights near Fort McMurray has a wow factor because of several advantages, including the prime location:
- Because you’re that much closer to the North Pole, the richness and variety of colours can outperform what you’ll see in more southern parts of the province where sightings occur.
- The area has generally warmer temperatures and more clear nights between September and mid-May than other aurora destinations in Canada.
- Alta-Can Tours promises that guests have a 90 per cent chance of seeing aurora activity during a three-night stay.
- Darkness in the area lasts longer than some of the other northern lights destinations during the spring, so it can be viewed later into the year.
That’s lucky for us, because after this excursion, we plan to return for a tour in the spring. Alta-Can is the only aurora tour in the world that offers spring viewing tours.