Tagish, Canada

Photo: Tagish Wilderness Lodge
Photo: Tagish Wilderness Lodge

January means one thing in your travel-loving mind: the aurora borealis. After you put away the bright, twinkling holiday decorations, you want darkness—complete darkness—so that the northern lights have a chance to dance across the sky. Usually, you plan a trip to Scandinavia. Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland have all provided amazing viewing points. But you’ve never considered our neighbor to the north. Yes, Canada is an option, as well. A really good option actually.

You’re heading to the remote Tagish Wilderness Lodge. The key word here is remote. The lodge is in Yukon, Canada’s smallest and westernmost territory. Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital, is one-and-a-half hours away. So is Skagway, Alaska, a popular cruise ship stop during the summer. While Atlin, in British Columbia, isn’t far either. At least distance-wise. Once you arrive at the northern end of Tagish Lake, everything feels far away, though.

Tagish Lake is a long body of water that straddles northern British Columbia and southern Yukon. Though it sits along the route used by miners during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 19th century, the land of the Tagish people remained undeveloped and pristine. Swans, migrating to the northern lakes, stop here in the spring. Fishermen fly in on floatplanes to catch Arctic grayling, northern pike, and huge trout in the summer. But the winter, when the sun rises for less than eight hours each day, is reserved for northern lights followers like you.

Photo: Tagish Wilderness Lodge
Photo: Tagish Wilderness Lodge

Tagish Wilderness Lodge’s main building smells like a comforting mixture of baking bread and cooling cookies when you arrive. Beside the kitchen, this is where you find the dining room, the lounge, and the bathrooms. Yes, the bathrooms. While outhouses are located near the lodge’s log cabins, this is where everyone comes to shower. Luckily, with only four cabins—featuring down-filled duvets, wood-burning stoves, and solar electricity—sharing is never an issue. There are bigger ones, like bears, to worry about anyway. Pay careful attention to the safety procedures that come with the tour of the property.

Once you understand the risks way out here, it’s time for the fun to begin. The short days are full of activities. You can visit nearby historic gold-rush sites and learn how to mush a dog sled across the frozen lake. You plan to look for animal tracks as you cross freshly fallen snow in snowshoes and watch caribou or moose from the distance on a snowmobile. You might learn how to ice fish and enjoy chatting with locals over a cup of hot tea while you wait. Or you could relax in a wood-heated sauna or watch animals moving around the lodge on the night-vision camera.

But you’re still most excited about the northern lights. A campfire has been set up on the frozen lake near a traditional spruce shelter. Thick blankets and hot beverages are there, too. You’re surrounded by the dark sky, the shadows of trees, and the hoo hooing of an owl. Other animals are probably watching you, as well. Your eyes on the sky, though. It doesn’t take long for faint yellow and green hues to appear. They look like city lights in the distance at first. As the green starts to swirl and then mix with pink and violet streaks, there’s no doubt that the light display has begun. You didn’t even have to travel very far to find it.

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