From the magic of the Northern Lights to 150-foot towering icebergs and disappearing lakes, Canada is blessed with a huge array of natural phenomena, and they are often the driving force behind our reason to travel to the Great White North. Here we showcase five of the country’s best marvels of mother nature, some displays combining the beauty of the natural world with fabulous wildlife sightings.
Are you booked yet? Get ready for 2024’s total solar eclipse on April 08. The event will start in the U.S. and pass over southern Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada. Set to be even more exciting than 2017’s “Great American Eclipse,” it will last almost two minutes longer—that’s more than four minutes of totality along most of the eclipse’s path. Eager skywatchers are already booking hotels as this is a rare sighting in Canada. The last total eclipse visible from major Canadian cities happened back in the 1970s, and the next one of this significance is due in 2079.
Icebergs Ahoy: Iceberg Viewing, Newfoundland & Labrador
Iceberg season in Newfoundland runs from mid-May to mid-July, and in a few areas off the northeast coast, northward migrating whales and seabirds have often been seen crossing paths with southward drifting bergs. The province even boasts its own Iceberg Finder map so you can track these frosty giants, and the annual Iceberg Festival begins the first Friday of every June, with the event celebrating the coming of spring in the north and the annual arrival of these cool monoliths.
When confronted with these vast swathes of ice, their sheer size is breathtaking. Take the image pictured above by amateur photographer Doreen Dalley, who has been snapping photos of the scenery in iceberg alley for the past 30 years—this gigantic berg (pictured above) measuring 150 feet. In fact, such was its size, many people across the internet were crying out that it could be a fake. We can verify, however, that the image is genuine.
Other sightings have been endowed with a supernatural Christian presence—a local artist and photographer snapped a picture of what is believed by some to be an icy depiction of the Virgin Mary in the narrows off St. John’s back in 1905—and for the lucky ones amongst us, we might even be treated to a floating iceberg calving into the sea. In 2017, a huge iceberg in Newfoundland and Labrador did exactly that, with the resulting video going viral.
If you come to the Happy Province, you might even see a parade of these icy mammoths, their colourful streaks, caves and tunnels, and waterline notches making them all the more mesmerising to view. Our tip: watch out for birds perched atop icebergs, as if they suddenly fly off, it could be a sign that the iceberg is about to roll or break apart, a fabulous sensory experience not to be missed.
Singing Or Squeaking, you decide: Singing Sands, Prince Edward Island
Located on Prince Edward Island and part of the larger Basin Head Provincial Park, the Singing Sands are an extraordinary phenomenon. Rustle the sand or drag your feet, and you will hear singing or, as some of us have reported, squeaking. We will let you decide.
The source of the unique musical beach comes from the high content of silica and quartz in the dry sand particles, which rub together to create the sound. However, tuning into the melodic sands is not the only reason to come here, as the beach has been named “Top Beach in Canada.” Family-friendly, the water is not deep, and there are showers, a washroom, a gazebo, picnic tables, an ice cream stand, and a gift shop on site. Our tip: go late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and watch the pretty sunsets.
Dancing skies: Northern Lights – Pick Your Province…
As with all natural phenomena, there are no guarantees when it comes to sightings, and perhaps that’s what drives many of us to make the journey to see the elusive Northern Lights. Much of Canada’s North is located beneath the Northern Hemisphere’s Auroral Oval, which makes this region a hot spot for activity. In fact, the lights are regularly visible in the Northwest Territories, but we’ve picked out three provinces where you can hope to get a front-row seat to this celestial show.
Churchill, in Northern Manitoba, lies in the sub-Arctic Circle bordering Hudson Bay. Up there as one of the top three places on the planet to see the Northern Lights, this remote town, which is only accessible by air or rail, comes with a bonus: Churchill is also famous for its polar bears. See both from the comfort of a tundra buggy and sight-see and sleep on the ice. For optimal conditions for seeing both the bears and the northern lights, book from October through November.
According to one of the province’s best aurora-equipped outfitters, Killarney Mountain Lodge, autumn in Ontario is prime time for Aurora sightings. Easy to reach, the hotel is just far enough away from the city lights and only a four-hour drive from Toronto. Perfectly appointed on the shores of Georgian Bay, you can view the Northern Lights from your balcony. It’s also worth visiting the nearby Killarney Provincial Park, which has its own dark-sky observatory.
Imagine gazing at the Northern Lights as they are reflected off the glacier-fed lakes of the Canadian Rockies. Northern Alberta’s Geophysical Observatory at Athabasca University studies the aurora’s magnetic impact on earth, and what better vantage point than Banff National Park? The most accessible location from the town of Banff for viewing the northern lights is Vermillion Lakes with the lights often seen dancing over the Rundle range. Cascade Ponds, Lake Minnewanka and Bow Lake are other great places to catch sight of this heavenly spectacle. September to mid-May is when the aurora are at their most active, and autumn is the best time to combine action and adventure in Canada’s oldest national park with the Northern Lights.
Unravelling the mystery of Canada’s disappearing lake: Medicine Lake, Alberta
On a summer’s day, Medicine Lake, which is located in Alberta’s Jasper National Park, looks pretty much like any other alpine lake, however, this four and a half-mile stretch of water is only visible for some of the year. A must-see on the way to Maligne Lake—one of the national park’s bucket list treasures—the setting with its spectacular mountainous backdrop is magical, but as the summer makes way for autumn, as if by magic, the lake disappears.
First, it dwindles down to a shallow stream winding across mudflats, and finally, we are left with a mere few small pools until the spring arrives. The Indigenous perspective linked its disappearance to big medicine or magic, but the scientific answer lies in geology. The sinkholes and cave systems below the surface act as if someone has decided to pull the plug on a giant bathtub, while in the summer, the meltwater from snow and glaciers exceeds what the underground system can hold.
Of course, Medicine Lake might place second compared to its more sought-after neighbour, Maligne Lake, but this secret pocket of Canada is well worth a visit, and not just for the mesmerising views. A magnet for wildlife, the surrounding area is no stranger to grizzly bears, deer, moose, wolves, and mountain sheep during the summer months. You might also spy the occasional bald eagle or osprey hunting for fish.
Hell on Earth: The Smoking Hills, Northwest Territories
Located next to the Arctic Ocean and a small group of lakes in Canada’s Northwest Territories, the Smoking Hills, which are accessible only by float plane, helicopter, or boat, have been burning non-stop for centuries. The presence of these smoldering, barren, red-striped rocks is not due to volcanic activity but to underground oil shale. Rich in sulfur and brown coal, they cause the rock to spontaneously ignite when the hills erode and expose the combustible gases to oxygen. The combination of heat and sulfur dioxide results in rocks that are a mixture of red, black, brown, yellow, and white, while three-foot-deep toxic ponds are also found in the one-hectare area.
In 1850, Irish explorer Robert McClure made the first recorded sighting. McClure was on a mission to find John Franklin, who had set sail to map out the Northwest Passage several years earlier. What they first suspected to be a smoke signal from Franklin’s failed expedition was actually these very same sulfuric ponds and smoking rocks.
Considered one of the seven wonders of the Northwest Territories, the site is around 60 miles away from Paulatuk, also called “the place of soot,” with indigenous communities making continuous visits here to gather coal.
Talk to our team of specialists and we will help you plan the Canada holiday of a lifetime, with the option to travel independently on a tailor-made itinerary or on an escorted tour.
For more information on the holidays we offer at Frontier Canada, and to book, call us on 020 8776 8709 or email us at email@example.com. ATOL PROTECTED No 5405 ABTA W3207.