How We Saw the Northern Lights in Jasper National Park

 
Jasper National Park, Canada - January 2017

Jasper National Park, Canada - January 2017

 

When we went to Canada last winter, we had two goals: go snowboarding and see the Northern Lights. We accomplished "go snowboarding" quite easily during our first week in Banff; however, we knew that seeing the Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, was going to be a hit or miss. If anyone has every played Pokemon, you can think of seeing the Northern Lights as catching a rare Pokemon. The conditions need to be just right, and there's never a guarantee you'll see them.

1. To be able to see the Northern Lights, we had to get as north as possible.

I know what you're thinking, "Canada is already North. It's called the Great White North!" But we weren't going to risk it! Plus Banff National Park is located in southern Canada. So we got in the car and drove for 3 hours through icy roads and avalanche zones to get to Jasper National Park. Even once we were in Jasper, we drove another 2 hours north, hunting for the elusive lights. We were so determined to see these lights, we ended up on the highway to Alaska.

2. It had to be F R E E Z I N G!

And not just cold either, it had to be WAAY below freezing! We got lucky! Our first night in Jasper, it got down to as low as -21°F (-29°C) while we were on the hunt. And trust me, that is cold! We couldn't be outside of the car for longer than 10 minutes, even with four layers on! It's the kind of cold that pierces your skin and makes you miss the warmth back home; we are from Miami so we were NOT used to this! To anyone that is planning on doing some Aurora hunting, make sure to invest in warm clothing: snow boots, thermals, gloves, and a winter jacket. Rule of thumb: if it's so cold that your skin hurts, it's cold enough.

3. There couldn't be any light pollution.

We chose Jasper for that exact reason! Jasper is a Dark Sky Reserve meaning light pollution is kept to a minimum because of the Jasper Planetarium nearby; however, that only excludes artificial lights. We needed to be clear of all light, including moonlight. The night we got to Jasper was the night of the new moon which meant everything was pitch black. The conditions were perfect.

So what happened?

Jasper National Park, Canada - January 2017

Jasper National Park, Canada - January 2017

After arriving and settling in Jasper, Javi and I jumped in the car at 1:00 AM and began our hunt. We got on the highway and drove north for about 2 hours. We had been looking out the window, not really seeing anything. There was this faint white glow behind the mountains and we were afraid it was light pollution from a nearby town. We were so determined to see them, we started talking about driving towards Alaska to give us a better chance. The problem with Jasper was that it wasn't north enough. High Aurora activity occurs in northern parts of the world like Finland, Iceland, and Northern Canada.

As we continued north, we began to get discouraged. There wasn't a single glimpse of a green twinkle in the horizon and it was becoming too cold for us to explore outside. So what did we do? We turned around and started driving back home. It was 3:00 AM and we were both exhausted. Maybe the following night we would get to catch them. As we drove home, the faint white glow was still on the horizon, gleaming in the rearview mirror. What was it? A town? A very secluded hotel? As we drove South, re-entering Jasper National Park, I saw the white glow twinkle colors of green. I immediately told Javi to stop the car and turn off all the lights. We went outside to observe the faint twinkle, hoping it would grow stronger. We took a long exposure picture with the camera and it was able to capture a lot more green than we saw with the naked eye. But then it got stronger... and STRONGER, until it revealed itself to Javi and I. There they were, the Northern Lights, dancing for us in the horizon. We had finally caught what we were so desperately looking for. Like we said, Jasper isn't the strongest location for Northern Lights; therefore, the show only lasted a couple minutes. We were in complete awe from what we had just witnessed.

Once the show ended, we drove north for a while and then went home after a failed attempt at recapturing the magic we had witnessed minutes earlier. When we got back home, we couldn't believe we had succeeded on our first try. Our hearts were racing as we looked through our photos! The top candidate on our bucket list had just been crossed off. We went out the next two days but had no luck. It wasn't as cold and the forecast online was much lower than the first day. Nonetheless, we had seen one of the most beautiful sights this world has to offer. This trip would definitely be one we would always remember and cherish.