Compiled by the Road Trip Manitoba team
Last updated on October 11, 2023
It’s one of the most beautiful phenomena you can witness in nature: Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. Thankfully, Manitoba is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, and we are spoiled for choice when it comes to viewing spots. While the Northern Lights can sometimes be viewed as far south in Manitoba as Winnipeg, your best bet to see the lights at their most brilliant and brightest is to head north; Northern Manitoba definitely has the best spots for viewing the Aurora Borealis. Keep reading for our best tips on when and where to see the Northern Lights in Manitoba.
How to See the Northern Lights in Manitoba
What are the Northern Lights?
In order to see the Northern Lights, you need a combination of a clear night sky, solar wind, and the right combination of gases.
While auroras in the southern hemisphere are called Aurora Australis (or the Southern Lights), here in Manitoba, we only see Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights). The Northern Lights occur when charged particles from the sun (such as electrons and protons) collide with the gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, and those collisions create little flashes of colourful lights. All of those billions of flashes happening in sequence combine to make a beautiful display of colour, often making it seem as though the lights are dancing across the dark sky.
Because the Northern Lights occur near the Earth’s northern magnetic field, they are considered polar lights. While we often think of the Northern Lights as green, they can actually be many colours, including red and blue.
A fun fact? Astronomer Galileo Galilei coined the term “Aurora Borealis” in 1619, but the earliest recording of the Northern Lights is thought to be in a cave painting in France that dates back 30,000 years. It’s cool to think that the Northern Lights have been captivating humans for centuries in Canada and beyond!
When is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Manitoba?
We’re lucky here in Manitoba, as there can be auroral activity in almost every month of the year.
If you’re looking for the most spectacular displays of the Northern Lights, however, the winter is definitely the best time to see them in Manitoba because of the extended dark hours. In general, the best time of night to see the lights is from around 8 p.m. until 2 a.m.
Churchill has over 300 days a year when the lights are visible, but the long nights and frigid weather of January, February, and March make for the best viewing.
How to Find the Northern Lights
There are a few options to find and plan your northern lights viewing options in Manitoba.
To find out the probability of seeing the northern lights from your current locations, download the ‘My Aurora Forecast‘ app (IOS and Android). It will give you a forecast and the likelihood of viewing the aurora borealis based on your location, taking into account the activity and cloud coverage. You can also set alerts to notify you when the lights are most active in your area. If you’re game for a 2 am wake-up call to hustle you outside to see them, this app will give you a notification. **Pro tip – remember to turn your alarm off if you don’t want an early morning shock.
Another good resource is the Manitoba Aurora Borealis Enthusiasts Facebook page, as it is regularly updated with activity around the province. People also upload their images often of northern lights sightings.
Where to See the Northern Lights in Manitoba
Without a doubt, Churchill is the best place to see the Northern Lights in Manitoba (and the best spot to see polar bears in Canada). In fact, Churchill is often cited as one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in all of Canada, not just Manitoba. As the northern town sits under an auroral oval, the lights on display here are unbelievable. While you won’t see any polar bears or belugas if you visit Churchill from December to July, any Northern Lights enthusiast would tell you to visit in January, February, or March for the most incredible Aurora Borealis possible.
That being said, the Northern Lights season in Churchill is the most active from August to April, but there’s a good chance you’ll see them even if you don’t visit in winter. Make sure to check out the Churchill Northern Studies Centre for information, updates, and even a live forecast of the lights.
Although, a word of caution when going aurora hunting in Churchill. Be extremely aware when venturing out in the night. Polar bears can roam the town at times and are obviously a threat. Always remember that you are food to them.
It’s fairly straightforward to get from Winnipeg to Churchill, even in winter, and there are plenty of things to do in Churchill all year round. You can also book Northern Lights packages with multiple tourist companies in Churchill.
Seeing the northern lights in Winnipeg city limits is rare but not impossible. With all the light pollution that the city emits, this will certainly lessen the chance you have to see them. Your best shot at seeing the aurora near the city is to head outside of town, and north and east are the best options. Oak Hammock Marsh, which is a 15 – 20 minute drive, is a great option to head to when the forecast is good for Aurora. The sight lines here are very good with limited trees as the site is strictly controlled for migratory birds.
Other good viewing spots near Winnipeg to see the northern lights are Birds Hill Park, La Barriere Park (near St. Norbert), St. Andrews or Lundar Beach on Lake Manitoba. The best advice, head somewhere dark that has a clear view north.
Riding Mountain National Park
There’s a good chance if the forecast for northern lights is good, you can see them from Riding Mountain National Park. Seeing how remote the national park is and it’s lack of light pollution, coupled with the amazing skies, there is a good chance to see an aurora light show. At the very least, you’ll have an incredible view of the constellations above.
Spruce Woods Provincial Park
Spruce Woods Provincial Park achieved Dark-Sky Preserve designation in September 2022. It’s the first designated Dark-Sky Site in Manitoba and thus, it’s a fantastic spot to see the northern lights if the forecast is favourable. There are numerous spots throughout the park to find a view, pull out a chair and watch the lights dance above.
Thompson is another fantastic place to see the Northern Lights every year; there are also many things to do in Thompson, so it makes for a fun holiday in the province. As always, seeing the aurora inside the city where light pollution is present lessens the chance to see them. Head outside of town where there is less light and you’ll have a much better chance of seeing the northern lights.
As Gillam is one of the closest towns to Churchill – even though Gillam is nearly 300 kilometres south – it’s a great spot to watch the Northern Lights in the province. As long as you’re heading north in Manitoba, you’re going to have a better chance of watching the phenomenon that is the Northern Lights, and Gillam is a terrific option.
Another great spot to catch the Northern Lights in Manitoba, you can often see the lights in The Pas all year round, as long as the sky is clear.
Flin Flon has amazing views of the Northern Lights in winter and throughout the year. Bakers Narrows Provincial Park is a good spot to catch the aurora. Another spot where you may be able to see the northern lights is Flinty’s Boardwalk & Hiking Trail. And if by chance, you can see the northern lights dancing over the Flintabbaty Flonatin Statue, then you will have an amazing image.
Brenna Holeman (she/her) has adventured to over 100 countries but is incredibly proud to call Winnipeg home. Brenna spent 16 years travelling solo around the world, living in Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Osaka, Antigua, and London, England. As well as being an editor and writer for Expedia UK for over seven years, she runs This Battered Suitcase, one of the most trusted and respected travel blogs in the world.