Star quality Alberta
By Laura Gelder – June 2018 – 2 minute read
Vast tracts of protected land across Alberta’s national and provincial parks make for dark velvet skies, unsullied by light and offering quality stargazing. The ideal time for aurora borealis is September to mid-May but these top spots offer a good chance year-round.
Wood Buffalo National Park
The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada designated Wood Buffalo National Park the world’s largest Dark Sky Reserve in 2013. It straddles the North West Territories and Alberta border near Fort Smith. According to Parks Canada, the designation helps preserve night time ecology for the park’s large populations of bats, night hawks and owls, as well as providing opportunities for visitors to experience the Northern lights. The park has a Dark Sky Festival in August every year which features camping, astronomical presentations, a planetarium experience, and night sky viewing opportunities.
Jasper National Park Dark Sky Preserve
Designated as a Dark Sky Preserve in 2011, Jasper National Park is considered to be the world's largest accessible dark sky preserve (11,000 sq km) thanks to its location. It's also one of best places to stargaze in the Canadian Rockies and every October Jasper celebrates with an annual Dark Sky Festival where visitors can learn about the constellations, listen to aboriginal songs and stories, and pick up tips for photographing the starlit sky.
Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve
This 300 sq km dark sky preserve, just east of Edmonton, encompasses Elk Island National Park and neighbouring Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area. By reducing artificial light, the preserve increases the visibility of the night sky. Whether you stargaze around the campfire or attend the preserve's annual Star Party in September, you'll find that the night sky shines brighter in Beaver Hills.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
Straddling the Alberta/Montana border this was the first trans-boundary park to be certified an International Dark Sky Park last year. The parks promote responsible night-time lighting, which improves the night environment for wildlife, protects dark observing sites for astronomy and provides accessible locations for the public to experience naturally dark and exceptionally starry night skies. Visitors can experience dark sky theatre programmes and stargazing through telescopes at special events, led by staff and volunteer astronomers.
Cypress Hills Dark Sky Preserve
Due to its high elevation and lack of urban light pollution, Cypress Hills was the first designated dark sky preserve in Alberta. Every August the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada holds a Summer Star Party that's considered to be one of the largest stargazing events in the country. The park also offers a variety of camping options, so visitors can cosy up by the campfire and gaze in wonder at the starlit sky.
Banff National Park
Following a major renovation in 2016, the Banff Gondola entered into a partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) and introduced an evening stargazing programme with astronomers every Friday from 6pm - 8pm. Guests learn about the night sky, gaze into the state-of-the-art telescope located on the observation deck, play games, get night-time photography tips from a pro, enjoy complimentary hot beverages and warm up by the outdoor fire pits. The programme is also available on Saturday evening's without the astronomers.
This Northern Alberta town is located within the auroral band that roughly centers on the 65th parallel and is privileged to get the Aurora Borealis dance most cold, clear evenings from October to March. However, nature doesn’t always follow a schedule and viewings on hot August nights are also common. The aurora may appear for hours at a time or disappear in the blink of an eye. Patience and persistence are often required but the experience and memories are priceless.