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Northern Lights at Banff National Park in Winter?

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Jul 21st, 2012, 04:02 PM
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Northern Lights at Banff National Park in Winter?

I am planning a trip for either mid-January or first week of March 2013, the main goal is to see the northern lights and the original plan is to fly to Fairbanks, Alaska (from New Jersey) for a 4-day trip. But now I am looking into a week-long trip at Banff and Jasper National Parks instead, because it seems there would be more stuff to do, in addition to seeing the northern lights (and it would be shorter flight from NJ flying into Calgery). I know there is no guarantee that we would be able to see it at either place, but what are the chances of seeing it at Banff/Jasper that time of the year? Is it so low that we should not even consider it?
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Jul 21st, 2012, 04:14 PM
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The best display of Northern Lights I ever saw was on a taxi ride out from Jasper to the HI Hostel about 4 miles out of town.
This was at about 4AM and I'm sure everyone at the hostel slept through it. It was a clear night in early November.
The week before I rode the train all the way to Churchill from Winnipeg and did not see them. You will see great scenery in the Canadian Rockies whether you see the Northern Lights.
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Jul 21st, 2012, 04:41 PM
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Also, are there any tour companies that conduct winter guided tours of Banff and Jasper National Parks that you could recommend? I am not confident about our winter driving and would rather have somebody else do it.
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Jul 21st, 2012, 06:33 PM
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Brewster runs bus tours out of Jasper. The Brewster ticket desk is in the east half of the ViaRail station.
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Jul 21st, 2012, 06:57 PM
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I don't know about the Northern Lights but we skiied Banff and Lake Louise in March and the roads were clear--and we had snow.

I would definitely choose March over Jan. for the weather. Lots of sun in March and not so bitterly cold.
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Jul 21st, 2012, 11:54 PM
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Fairbanks would be a much safer bet than Banff.
Banff is not exactly very far in the North.
The wisdom of Wikipedia says that 2012 is a good year to spot some (after all, we just had the major solar wind eruptions) but the lights are most common between 70 and 80 degrees North. Banff is 51 degrees North, a bit more South even than London or Berlin.
It's not so much that the lights would never occur, PP has seen one after all. But you lower your chances as you still get much more daylights than closer to or beyond the Artic Circle. So even if there was an aurora at 8am or 3pm you would not see it or not see it well as it was already or still daylight hours.
Especially in March your chances shall be really small to have it occur during a time you were not asleep and had no daylight interfering with it.
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Jul 22nd, 2012, 12:05 AM
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P.S. If you are looking for a destination closer to the East Coast than Alaska, but still more north than Calgary, you can check out Iceland. Icelandair usually has some pretty low fares and also offers tour/hotel packages on their website.
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Jul 22nd, 2012, 06:40 AM
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Iceland is not on my wish list, per se, but Copenhagen and Oslo are. I just never considered going in the winter before, but now I will research more about going there to see the Northern Lights. Canadian Rockies is still on my list (even if not for seeing the Northern Lights), but Alaska is out for now. Thank you all for your help!
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Jul 22nd, 2012, 08:02 AM
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Someday you might want to go to Churchill Manitoba. It is a little closer than Alaska. I was there twice but doubt that I will return. http://www.churchill.worldweb.com/To...sToursViewing/
Click on the Aurora Domes tab in the link.
My trips were by rail. The trip takes 36 hours from Winnipeg.
Many people fly into Churchill from Winnipeg and other cities.
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Jul 22nd, 2012, 11:29 AM
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The Canadian Rockies are an excellent destination for wilderness and wildlife, but they're not a destination for northern lights. Banff is the same latitude as France. Jasper is the same latitude as Ireland and Germany.
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Jul 22nd, 2012, 11:30 AM
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(my point being is that Banff/Jasper are no more of a northern lights destination than Ireland and France are. Northern lights are all about the latitude. You need to go to the arctic, ideally.
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Jul 22nd, 2012, 06:07 PM
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Oh boy. Lots of misinformation here!! Yes, you can see aurora from Banff and especially from Jasper. Been there, done that. Those two locations are far enough north in North America, mainly because of the location of the MAGNETIC north pole (which is actually in Canada, although drifting towards Europe).
What you need to see the aurora borealis (northern lights) are:
(1) night-time (obviously), meaning a dark sky without light pollution
(2) a clear sky
(3) an active sun (which it is this year and probably next year too)
(4) anywhere about 50 degrees north, or further, in Canada (although there are times, when especially strong, they are seen much further south) (we see them quite often at 54 degrees north where I live).
(5) they seem to be most prevalent during the equinoxes (Sept/Oct and Feb/March), may have something to do with earth's location in orbit around the sun.

Hope this helps.
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Jul 23rd, 2012, 02:55 AM
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The most spectacular appearance of the northern lights I have ever seen was an August night on the shores of Shuswap Lake in British Columbia (at about the same latitude as Banff). This was not merely the lights dancing on the horizon, but the entire sky filled with them. I'm not suggesting that this was a normal event, but it was absolutely magical.

I've also seen them as far south as just north of Torono (about 44N). That said, the further north you go, the more likely you are to see them.
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Jul 23rd, 2012, 07:28 AM
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Thanks for the additional info. I looked into northern lights tours in Norway, and it seems the time and the cost required to get out of Oslo in order to see it, would be the same as going to Fairbanks for me. So Banff/Jasper is back on the plan as first option.
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Jul 23rd, 2012, 08:09 AM
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Check on flights to Churchill. http://www.calmair.com/
The latitude of Churchill is 58.7N.
If the flight costs too much you can use the train option that I used.
The other option would be to drive the Alaska Highway as far as Yellow Knife Yukon Terr.
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Aug 1st, 2012, 11:01 AM
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I was in Churchill for 9 days in November, which by the way I highly recommend for viewing polar bears ( before they are gone due to climate change). Perfect place for viewing Aurora however, we had a blizzard for most of the time, sky completely clouded over and you couldn't see anything. Be prepared, sometimes you will and sometimes you won't. The bible of the traveler: be prepared for whatever and enjoy whatever!
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Aug 1st, 2012, 08:06 PM
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<>

Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories is nowhere near Yukon or the Alaska highway. You might be thinking of Whitehorse, capital of Yukon.
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Oct 5th, 2013, 01:31 PM
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I am not sure that Brewster offers tours out of Jasper in the winter... there is usually enough business to fill one of their big buses. There are plenty of smaller, local tour companies that offer day trips, like Jasper Tour Company (highly recommended - Joe Urie is a great guide), the Jasper Adventure Centre, Sundog Tours etc.

Aurora borealis are often seen here in Jasper; I have seen them from my back doorstep right here in town dozens of times. They were out the other night... aurorawatch.com predicted 97% chance of occurance... but it was totally clouded over here. I saw some stunning photos of them though in the Banff and Canmore areas, where it was clear that night.

The one caveat about seeing them in winter is that when you get those clear nights when they will be visible, it is often also very cold! Mid January can be VERY cold - if you are here in the middle of a cold snap as we sometimes get, it can drop to -35 or -40 overnight. March is usually quite a lot warmer and less chance of bitterly cold weather.

Check on the moon phase too ... friends of mine recently went to Yellowknife to see the aurora, and didn't realize it was the full moon. They did see some northern lights, but they were sort of drowned out by the moonlight.

Jasper National Park is one of the world's largest dark sky preserve and you don't have to get too far out of town for completely dark skies. Even in town, the light pollution is fairly minimal - as long as you are not standing right in light, you will have no problem seeing the Milky Way or aurora, if it is clear out.
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Oct 5th, 2013, 01:33 PM
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Ooops, typo - the first paragraph in my post above should say that there is "usually NOT enough business to fill one of their big buses."
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Oct 8th, 2013, 07:27 PM
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krp329, this thread is over a year old and resurrected to post an advertisement
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