Travel

Spectacular spots across Canada to take in the stars

A dark sky festival in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, a protected park two hours north of Toronto and more stellar destinations.

A festival in the Rocky Mountains, a protected park two hours north of Toronto and more stellar destinations

Stars and the Milky Way over a lake and forest.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

For millennia, humans have gazed upon the stars in search of knowledge and understanding, as well as for entertainment. But since advancements like electric and artificial light have obscured our views of the night sky, nowadays people travel away from light pollution to spots with darker skies for a better view. 

There are many stargazing travel opportunities in Canada, including Dark-Sky Preserves, which are 13 protected areas across the country that are committed to reducing light pollution. Here are five Canadian destinations for spectacular looks at the stars and celestial happenings year-round. 

The Jasper Dark Sky Festival, Jasper, Alberta

Starry sky with snow-capped mountains.
(Source: Tourism Jasper)

Every October, in the heart of Jasper National Park, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival offers three weekends of festivities that celebrate all things space. This year, you can witness the wonder of the universe from Oct. 13-29, with events including a symphony under the stars and talks by leading scientists. Jasper National Park is a designated Dark-Sky Preserve with four especially good spots for dark sky viewing year-round. Since October is dark sky month in the park, Jasper hotels like Mount Robson Inn and the Crimson have special packages for travellers looking to enjoy the sights and science of the festival.

Indigenous star stories at Métis Crossing, Smoky Lake, Alberta

A couple standing in a dome with a transparent roof, looking at the stars and Northern Lights above them.
(Source: Métis Crossing)

So much of the history of astronomy has been taught through a Eurocentric lens. In Smoky Lake, Alta., northeast of Edmonton, Métis knowledge holders at the Métis Crossing cultural interpretive centre tell their ancestral tales of the stars — including how these luminous dots were crucial for navigation. 

For a truly spectacular stay, book a night inside one of the new, state-of-the-art sky-watching domes. There's virtually no light pollution in the region, so you can take in a clear view of the constellations or the northern lights dancing above your cosy, temperature-controlled dome, complete with a see-through ceiling.  

The aurora borealis in Churchill, Manitoba

A person standing on ice, looking up at the aurora borealis in the night sky.
(Source: Travel Manitoba)

This tundra town isn't just known for its piercing wind chill (though it is the polar bear capital of the world). Its remote location 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, makes for unreal views of the aurora borealis, a.k.a. the northern lights, and other celestial bodies. 

On up to 300 nights a year, you can witness the incandescent swirls of fluorescent green and purple move across the night sky. Prime aurora borealis viewing is from January to March, when the skies are clearest, and average temperatures can reach a balmy –25 C. 

Local tour operators Beyond Boreal Expeditions and Discover Churchill offer night tours with expert guides, multi-day packages and even tips for getting great photographs, so visitors can get the most out of their Subarctic adventure. 

The secluded wilderness of Trout Point Lodge, Kemptville, Nova Scotia 

A starry night sky with the Milky Way. A wooden platform with a telescope is on the ground.
(Source: Trout Point Lodge)

Anyone looking for a truly secluded luxury escape should head to the Tobeatic Wilderness Area in southwestern Nova Scotia. Here, you'll find Trout Point Lodge, a nature retreat so remote there's no cellphone service. But you can connect with the cosmos since it's a certified Starlight Hotel — a recognition given by the Starlight Foundation, whose Starlight Initiative is backed by UNESCO. Guests can go on guided stargazing excursions through riverside meadows to witness the beauty of one of the darkest skies in North America. If you're lucky, you might just see a meteor shower. 

Trout Point Lodge has an on-staff astronomer and offers plenty of activities designed to help visitors take in the surrounding UNESCO biosphere reserve. 

The Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve, Muskoka, Ontario

Stars and the Milky Way over a lake and forest.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Muskoka may be known for its lakeside cottages, but in the heart of this charming municipality, just two hours north of Toronto, lies Canada's first dark sky park, the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve. Since 1999, this area has been protected against light pollution — even the neighbouring towns have bylaws to help preserve the darkness. Thanks to local efforts, this magnificent place is a prime stargazing destination where you can score breathtaking views of the Milky Way. 

Views of the sky from the reserve's main 360-degree viewing area are unobstructed, and you can camp year-round in the park's designated tent campsites.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meredith Hardie is a Toronto-based writer reporting on food & drink, travel, and whatever she finds interesting. You can follow her on Instagram at @goodnightmere and read more of her work at goodnightmere.com.

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