Nope, not Justin Bieber, Drake, or Celine Dion, this article is about the Canadian stars twinkling in the night sky, not the ones putting out their next album. Astronomy lovers or anyone that appreciates the magic of stargazing should visit a Dark Sky Preserve at least once. Although a popular summer activity is camping under the stars, winter is also a good time to get outside in search of shooting stars on a crisp frosty evening. Parks Canada’s has 13 Dark-Sky Preserves across the country so there are lots of options for your next trip to the great white north if you don’t already live in the country.
“Parks Canada protects more dark skies than any other agency or jurisdiction in the world. In Canada, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada decides which protected areas can be known as Dark-Sky Preserves, Urban Star Parks, and Nocturnal Preserves.” – Parks Canada
Just plan accordingly with warm boots and clothing, some big cozy blankets to wrap up in, and of course a big thermos with piping hot drinks. Parks Canada suggests bringing your own binoculars or telescope, downloading a star gazing app, and checking the weather before heading out. Now all you need to do is pick your Dark Sky Preserve destination. Here are three to get you started.
Ontario – Point Pelee National Park
Dark Sky Nights at Point Pelee National Park in Southwestern Ontario is a premier destination to explore the night sky in the great white north.
“A dark sky preserve is an astronomy park where the night sky glows, making millions of stars visible to the naked eye. The darkest nights are during a new moon, when the moon is not visible in the sky…. Protecting the dark sky of Point Pelee will not only benefit stargazers, but wildlife as well. Many plants, animals and insects rely on the darkness of the night to forage, breed and navigate. These activities are adversely affected by light pollution.” – Parks Canada
Each season at Point Pelee offers a totally unique experience and in the winter you can admire the incredible ice formations and hike the natural trails weaving in and out of forests for a frosty eco-adventure. There is a boardwalk stretching onto one of the biggest freshwater marshes on the Great Lakes. Located in Leamington, Ontario at the southernmost point of the Canadian mainland, Point Pelee National Park was designated as a Dark Sky Preserve in 2006. Driving time from Toronto is approximately four and a half hours.
Nova Scotia – Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site
Another magical destination in Canada that has been designated as a Dark Sky Preserve is Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site in Nova Scotia. Open year round, this magical destination is home to views of the brightest stars and darkest skies in Nova Scotia. This is Nova Scotia’s only Dark Sky Preserve and there are excellent constellation viewing opportunities – if you get lucky you can even catch a meteor shower. If the road is icy or covered in snow you can park at the Visitor Centre, bundle up on a blanket outside and look up at the massive sky above you. In addition to stargazing here, in winter months you can also go hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
If you decide to visit in warmer months, hike to Merrymakedge Beach for a magnificent view of the southern skies. During this time you can also join a guided tour and learn about Mi’kmaw culture through the petroglyphs on the shores of Kejimkujik Lake. Visitors can only access the 500-plus petroglyphs (stone-carved depictions) on a tour as they are in a restricted area. These fascinating pieces of history make up one of North America’s largest collections. Kejimkujik National Park is just over a two-hour drive from Halifax.
Alberta – Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park turns into a frosty and magical wonderland in winter. This Alberta gem is the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies and home to another Dark Sky Preserve, also open all year round. The best locations for ultimate stargazing are Pyramid Island, Maligne Lake, Old Fort Point and the toe of Athabasca Glacier.
Jasper National Park is the second largest dark sky preserve in the world and extends over 11,000 square kilometers (4247 miles) and is part of UNESCO’s Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. Admire the snow-covered peaks all around you and save time for some winter sports such as cross-country skiing, fat biking, snowshoeing, or choose one of their rugged trail systems for a winter hike.
Be on the lookout for winter wildlife such as moose, deer, sheep, mountain goats, wolves and coyotes. Remember to always treat wild animals with respect by not approaching them or going too close, not feeding them, and never littering in the park – it’s their home. Jasper National Park is about a four hour drive from Edmonton.