Aurora viewing on our river expeditions

Experience the magic and wonder of the northern lights while rafting or canoeing a remote northern river in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

If you would like to see the northern lights (aurora borealis), you may want to join us on one of our late season multi-day expedition style raft & canoe trips.

Many of the rivers we travel are located within the auroral zone (see map), which means that there is a good chance of seeing aurora anytime the night sky is dark. 

Map of the Auroral Zone (Source: Astronomy North Society).

Here in the North, we enjoy almost 24 hour sunlight for most of our paddling season, which eliminates your chances of seeing the northern lights. However, the night sky returns in late August, and we are offered a short window of summer weather, with night skies that are often clear and perfect for seeing the northern lights.

Our late season trips on the Nahanni River offers good aurora viewing opportunities.

Northern Lights Over Lake Northwest Territories
Camping under the northern lights (Photo by Nigel Fearon).

Tips for viewing the northern lights

I’ve witnessed the northern lights more times than I can remember. Here are a few of my tips to increase your chances of seeing them and make the experience of viewing them more memorable.

Northern Lights over a lake in the Northwest Territories
(Photo by Nigel Fearon)
  • Stay up late. The northern lights often don’t make an appearance until close to midnight. If you need your beauty sleep, ask someone else to wake you if the northern lights appear.
  • Get comfy. You might be looking up at the sky for a few hours. To avoid a sore neck, bring your camping mattress outside and lay down on the ground.
  • Enjoy the moment. Don’t rush off to find your camera gear. Sometimes the northern lights make a short appearance, and you might miss the experience. Savour the view for a bit first, then maybe try to grab a photo (see tips below).

How to photograph the northern lights

When I first moved to the Northwest Territories, I was lucky to befriend a local photographer who taught me how to photograph the northern lights. The skills I learned allowed me to capture some pretty incredible aurora photos (see below). Here are a few of my tips to help you take better photos of the northern lights:

Northern Lights fill the sky above a lake in the Northwest Territories, Canada.
Photo by Dave Watson
Man standing next to lake, watching the northern lights dance in the sky above.
Photo by Dave Watson
  • Use Manual Settings. You’ll want a good quality camera that allows you full manual control of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. As a general rule I recommend setting your ISO between 800 and 3200, aperture between f/2.8 and f/5.6, and shutter speed at between 15 seconds and 30 seconds. Different combinations may give very different results. Higher ISO will allow you to capture faster exposures, but may also result in grainier images. Shutter speeds of above 15 seconds will result in slight star movement.
  • Focus to Infinity. Infinity focus is the point at which the lens will form a sharp image of an object at the focus point, as well as any other object beyond that point. The first thing you need to do is check to see if your lens has an ∞ symbol printed on the barrel. Some lenses actually have an additional marking that tells you how far you need to go backwards after that hard stop in order to focus to infinity. If your lens lacks the ∞ symbol, focusing on the moon is a safe bet. If there is no moon, you can use a bright celestial object or even a distant man made light.
  • Eliminate Camera Shake. If you try to photograph the northern lights while holding your camera in your hands, you will end up with blurry photos. Use a tripod, or prop your camera on something solid, like a stump. Use a remote camera release or set your camera on a 3 or 10 second delay.

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