Chasing the Northern Lights

By Victor Aerden

The Canadian North is a special place. Its vast landscapes and truly wild nature are a calling to those wanting to experience it. But there’s one element that lends an almost supernatural mystique to the North; The aurora borealis, more commonly known as the northern lights. It’s said that only 9% of the worlds’ population have experienced this incredible natural phenomenon, so you can imagine why it’s on so many bucket lists. Including ours.

Sure, you hop on a flight, take a train, and even board a cruise to areas where you can see the northern lights, but if you want to have the full northern experience, you need to drive. Here in Canada, the route North is the iconic Alaska Highway. A road that we’d get to know well over the next week, trying to catch it before the season's end. 

Our journey kicked off with a plane ride to Grand Prairie, Alberta, where we picked up our Mitsubishi Outlander before starting the drive north to the Yukon Territory. We put Whitehorse into our Apple Carplay and it coolly informed us that it would be a 1,531 km drive, so we wasted no time and got on the road.

Day 1: Grande Prairie to Muncho Lake - 832 km

After packing our gear into the Outlander’s spacious trunk and loading up on snacks and necessities for the two-day drive, we headed to Northern Rockies lodge at Muncho Lake, our home for the night. With our eyes set on the Alaska Highway, we cruised past the Alberta border into Northern British Columbia. There, in Dawson Creek, we arrived at mile 0 of the Highway. Other than a very unassuming landmark sign, there isn’t much to tip you off about the journey you’re about to embark on. So on we went. 

The Alaska Highway is one of the world’s iconic drives; a mad dash effort to tame the last frontier. It was constructed in 1942 to get military supplies up to Alaska, which was previously inaccessible by road. Over 10,000 people were involved in the construction of this long highway, which, at the time, was little more than a rough single track road that was prone to flooding and natural disaster. The whole project took less than nine months to complete! 

It connected Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, Alaska and spanned over 2,700 kms (a distance comparable to driving from Ottawa to Miami), and all this through some pretty challenging terrain and seasonal conditions. It was legendary for being an extremely challenging drive, and it took until almost the turn of the century to get fully paved. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy drive today. Especially in winter. There are very long stretches without any cell service, gas stations or towns, and after a heavy snowfall it can take a while for the snow plows to clear the roads. It’s a route that’s exposed to the northern elements, and on top of that, there’s lots of wildlife, so you need to pay attention at all times.

Our Outlander handled the roads well (really well). Time and again we found ourselves noticing how safe and stable the vehicle felt in the changing conditions; fresh snow, icy patches…the S-AWC took it all on, and made our drive considerably easier than it could have been without that sort of technology.

Now 1,500 km is a long time to spend in a car, so we appreciated the smaller comforts the car offered too - like the heated steering wheel to warm our hands after going outside in the cold, or the Bose sound system for our road trip playlists. (We might have gone through Colter Wall’s entire discography, and it never sounded better.)

We had only been driving for a couple of hours, approaching Fort Nelson, when we happened across an incredible pair of Canada Lynx that seemed to be settling a territorial dispute along the highway. We carefully pulled off the road and made sure to give them plenty of space before observing and photographing one of the most unique wildlife encounters we had ever seen! The encounter left us with some amazing images and massive excitement for what the rest of the trip might bring.

Up until Fort Nelson, the road is fairly flat and surrounded by endless forest. As you get closer, you start to see glimpses of the Northern Rockies in the distance. But, once you pass the Northern town, the terrain changes, the hills get bigger, and you find yourself consistently gaining elevation.

The road then crosses through the northern tip of the Rocky Mountains, a mountain range that spans almost all of North America. An awe inspiring, wild place. Nothing like Banff or the Rockies we know closer to home. This place is remote, and isolated.

The sun began to set as we counted our last hour of driving through these wild landscapes before arriving at the iconic Northern Rockies Lodge positioned on the shores of Muncho Lake. A big day of driving called for a hot meal and a good sleep, so we settled into the beautiful rustic cabin for the night and got organized for the rest of the journey. Of course, we kept an eye on the aurora forecast; after all, we already entered prime Northern Lights territory, but sadly, the data looked flat and we had 100% cloud coverage for the entire night.

Day 2: Muncho Lake to Whitehorse - 702 km

We headed out quite early for another big day of driving, excited about a few places we wanted to check out along the way. It was particularly nice to see the stunning views of Muncho Lake and the surrounding Northern Rockies in the daylight, after arriving in darkness the night before. The next stretch of the Alaska Highway is well known for a number of wildlife species such as woodland caribou, herds of wood bison, and bears in the summertime. With this in mind we kept our eyes peeled, hoping for another exciting wildlife encounter. Not long after leaving the lodge, we had just that. We came across a lone caribou and our first of many bison herds grazing along the ditches. 

After putting in some serious driving time, our first stop of the day was one we had been looking forward to - Liard Hot Springs, a magical set of natural hot pools set right off the Alaska Highway. Winter is particularly beautiful here because the steam rising from the warm waters crystallizes on the trees and vegetation, making for a scene out of a fairytale. We walked down the winding boardwalk and hopped in for a soak. The water here ranges from comfortably warm to too hot to handle as you wade closer to the source. A must stop if you are passing through and in our opinion, the best hot spring in the country.

Relaxed and reinvigorated, we got back in the Outlander and saw more wood bison along the way, before stopping for lunch at The Nugget, a local diner in Watson Lake. (While we weren’t expecting much for a small northern community, it was excellent.)

Watson Lake is home to the famous Sign Post Forest. Started in 1942 by a homesick soldier working on the Alaska Highway who put up a sign to his hometown. Slowly it caught on, with tourists now leaving road signs, license plates and other signs from their home towns and countries. You can find memories of past travelers from all over the world, and many travel here with the intent of leaving a piece behind to commemorate their journey. A pretty quirky and unique stop, that just feels right at home here.

From here out we had our eyes set on getting to our stay at the Boreal Ranch to check the aurora forecast and see what might be in store for the night. It’s a beautiful drive all the way, and it’s quite hard to describe the sense of scale we experienced here; this place feels so remote, isolated, wild and absolutely stunning at the same time. You really feel like you’re just a visitor here, passing through, like it still belongs to the elements and the animals.

We arrived in the dark, and were greeted by our lovely hosts. It was late and we focused on backing up our memory cards and charging our gear all while crossing our fingers that the weather conditions and aurora data would line up for showtime. Things were not looking promising and we were about to call it a night. That’s the thing about aurora hunting though…you never quite know what to expect. At 12:30 am, while getting ready to get into our beds, we checked the skies one more time and caught a faint green glow.

We quickly gathered our gear and outerwear and jumped into the Outlander to find a location to best capture them. As soon as we got on the road we could see the skies, alive and dancing, through the Outlander’s panoramic roof - we couldn’t believe our eyes. We found a frozen lake to park at and ran out with our cameras. Hues of green were lighting up the sky. We took a bunch of photos and then reminded ourselves to take a step back and truly appreciate what we were witnessing. The show didn’t last very long but it’s an experience that will stick with us forever. We were blown away.

Day 3: Boreal Ranch to Mt Logan Lodge

After a sleep that was much too short, we met for breakfast at the lodge where our hosts had prepared us a beautiful homemade meal and fresh croissants. Just what we needed after a night chasing the lights. We wished we could have stuck around longer to enjoy Boreal Ranch and their outdoor Hot Tub, but it was time to get going. 

We had officially made it to the Yukon and slowly made the drive west to Haines Junction and Mt Logan Lodge after a stop for lunch and supplies in Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital city. Here’s a fun fact: Yukon is home to twice as many moose as people. Wild. 


Mt Logan Lodge is a beautiful guesthouse, set on the edge of Kluane National Park, which is home to Canada’s highest peaks. We took in the views, unpacked our gear, and headed out for a sunset drive to see what we could find in the Destruction Bay Area, and hoped to scout a location for more Northern Lights photos. The views out here are never-ending, and we had them all to ourselves.

As the day went on, we kept checking the forecasts, and the aurora was shaping up to come out with a bang. The data looked extremely promising and we were in for a show that would far surpass what we witnessed the night before.

However, as luck would have it, our hopes were dashed by a big snowstorm that moved into the area. We checked the weather forecast and cloud cover predictions, and found the closest place that would have clear skies was over a seven-hour drive away. We pondered, but ultimately accepted defeat, enjoyed the cozy cabin, and got some much needed shuteye. Maybe tomorrow.

Day 4

We woke up to discover that the storm that put our aurora mission on hold, brought nearly 30 cm of fresh, fluffy snow, transforming the entire area into a winter wonderland. Our host at Mt Logan Lodge prepared us a delicious breakfast here as well, and suggested some areas to check out before we headed home.

This is where we really put the S-AWC to the test - none of the roads were plowed when we headed out, so we put it into snow mode and relied on the vehicle to get us to our destination safely. 

Speaking about a destination, we didn’t really have one for the day - so we decided to head south on the Haines Highway, toward the Alaskan border. I think this is really where the saying “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” hit home for us. Now this was true for our entire journey up north, but it was here that we really felt it.


With no goal for the day, we didn’t expect much from this drive. It ended up being one of our favourite stretches of road we’ve ever driven on - especially with a fresh blanket of snow.

Pristine mountain landscapes without a soul in sight, all around us. No cell service, no towns, no people, no distractions. Just some good company and great views. We spotted some moose and a fox, as well as some beautiful Willow Ptarmigan. We took photos, enjoyed the day, listened to some good music and slowly made our way back to the Lodge for dinner, and got set for another night of aurora chasing.

While we did get a little bit of Aurora that night, it wasn’t anywhere near the show we’d witnessed a couple nights earlier, but that was okay. Our road trip gave us a huge appreciation for the journey and the moments in between (of course it helped that the journey was inside a Mitsubishi Outlander), from the wildlife, to the hot springs, to the cozy cabins and incredible scenery; these are truly the things that made this a trip to remember.

Ready to try the Outlander for your next adventure?