Chasing the northern lights is a whole night affair, and if you plan on seeing one, you must prepare yourself for a lot of waiting in the wee hours of the night.
When my husband and I were in Calgary Alberta for the holidays, and we found out that the northern lights will be very active that night before New Year’s Eve, we drove all the way to Banff National Park. It was the perfect location to view it, if you’re in the southern part of Alberta. Here is our timeline of events:
11:00pm – We left Calgary and drove to Banff National Park, which was about an hour or so away.
12:30am – We arrived at Lake Minnewanka, which was our first location choice, because the mountain was facing north which means the northern lights will be seen behind it. We set up our camera tripods outside, and stayed inside the car until we saw the lights appear. I’ve heard in the past that it takes a lot of patience when you’re trying to capture the northern lights. Not only does it happen deep in the night, but it can also be very unpredictable as to how long they show up in the sky.
1:30am – True enough, the lights didn’t show up until around 1:30 or 2:00 am. When it did, it was very faint. I took a couple of shots and the camera was able to pick up more lights than what the naked eye could see. After a few takes, it started to fade again, and so we went back in the car and waited for another active run. The lights would come and go, and it never really “peaked” the way I saw it in photographs.
3:00am – Still waited for the lights to be more active than they already were. We used an online predictor which tells us how many hours/minutes are left before it reaches a strong level.
4:00am – The lights started to become active again, but were still faint. All you could see was a light green color behind the mountain. After a few minutes, we decided it was time to head back home.
At this point, we were all disappointed because when the prediction said it would be an active storm, we expected it to be very strong & visible. In my head, I was just happy to be able to experience it for the first time ever. It was still better than nothing.
5:00am – After driving a few miles out of Banff National Park, the lights started to show up again, much more visible this time! At the last minute we decided to exit and park our car on a random street, to take one last shot of the lights. I was so glad we did, because after a few minutes of setting up our cameras, the green & magenta lights danced throughout the sky. It was unbelievable! It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to get to see the northern lights, and just when I thought it was an unsuccessful chase that night, it turned out to be one of the strongest and most active displays of the year.
6:00am – Satisfied with the experience, we started to head back home. We got back in the house just in time before the sunrise.
Chasing the Aurora Borealis was the very last thing I got to do for 2015, and I wouldn’t want it any other way! The wait was totally worth it, and it was truly a highlight experience in my book of adventures!
View more details about my northern lights adventure, including a check list and a map, on The Outbound.