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Canada: Jasper's ready to light up its visitors with the aurora

November 07, 2012|By Jay Jones
  • Fort McMurray, Canada, about 630 miles north of Jasper, is an ideal place from which to view the northern lights.
Fort McMurray, Canada, about 630 miles north of Jasper, is an ideal place… (Travel Alberta )

The approaching winter and longer nights make this an ideal time to head north to visit one of nature’s most amazing phenomena: the northern lights. And one of Canada’s national parks provides several ideal viewing locations within striking distance of creature comforts.

Jasper National Park, (780) 852-6176, in west-central Alberta, is officially the largest “dark sky preserve” in the world. Such places – well away from urban lights – provide superb opportunities for stargazing and viewing the aurora borealis.

Ninety-seven percent of the 4,300 square-mile park has been officially designated as light pollution-free by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

The preserve includes the town of Jasper, which offers a variety of lodging and dining options that, during winter, are frequented mainly by skiers enjoying the mountainous park’s many slopes.

PHOTOS: See Alberta's northern lights

Well-maintained roads lead to observation sites, which are listed on the preserve’s website. The site also provides forecasts both for clear skies and for prime aurora viewing, which can vary significantly from night to night.

The chances of seeing the lights generally improve even farther north. Fort McMurray, Alberta, about 630 road miles northeast of Jasper, is one such spot. A couple of tour operators escort visitors to prime viewing locations.

Far-less-isolated Jasper is a four-hour drive from Edmonton and five hours from Calgary. The town is served by Greyhound bus, (800) 661-8747, and ViaRail, Canada’s passenger train service, (888) 842-7245, from Edmonton and Vancouver, British Columbia.

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