Thursday, October 26, 2023

Canada's Winter Pleasures Near the Arctic Circle



Cold Weather Pleasures in Yellowknife

Number One of the reasons to come to Yellowknife from September to March is most likely the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.  There are several offers in town from an ATV tour, bus tours, and even Wigwam (teepee) stays. Search for the breathtaking Aurora Borealis with a local guide to lead you to the best viewing spots in the Northwest Territories.


Depart Yellowknife each evening for the hunt at a different location, including a heated tee-pee where you can relax after a 3-course dinner at Aurora Village, including transport plus three nights.   Appreciate the Northern Lights around the lake and see the reflection on the lake when the magnificent Aurora appears.

Photo Doris Daily

For example at the Aurora Ninja Photo Tour:  A tour guide will also take pictures for all guests and teach them how to use their own cameras to shoot the Northern Lights.  During the trip, they will also provide guests with hot drinks and biscuits, as well as expertise and knowledge on the Northern Lights and Yellowknife.

Photo Doris Daily

You certainly can also drive out of town at night (more comfortable in September when it is not too cold) and wait until the dancing lights appear in the northern sky.  In Winter, the Dettah Ice Road offers spectacular viewing opportunities.  However, anywhere along the shoreline in Old Town is dark enough to offer great viewing options.  The same for the hill up to the Bush Pilots Monument. 

Photo Tawna Brown

Get masterful photographs from a local photo and video artist who captured more than ten-thousands images of both, the aurora and Yellowknife’s and Northwest Territories’ beauty in general.

The prerequisite for the outdoors is, of course, that you are warmly dressed - three layers at least - and that all extremities - head, hands, feet - are well bundled up.  In Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, temperatures of around minus 30 degrees Celsius for months on end are completely normal. Nevertheless, the daily life of the 21,000 inhabitants goes on.  They know, in three months it will be warm and the sun shines almost around the clock.  Lots of flowers and veggies will then grow in gardens. 

Photo Doris Daily

Ice Fishing on Great Slave Lake:  Yellowknife Sport Fishing Adventures is a professional fishing guide company looking to help you catch trophy fish.  They offer not only winter ice fishing, but also Summer fishing trips.  Ski, snowshoe, and ice skating equipment can be rented if you don’t bring your own - for example at Overland Sports in town.

Photo Doris Daily

March is Festival Month!
The famous Snow King Festival starts in early March:  A month of dance, community, theatre, music, magic, ice slides, art, friends, fun, snow, and certainly the amazing Aurora Borealis on the night sky. The Snow Castle is located on the ice of Yellowknife Bay, nestled into the shores of Great Slave Lake next to Old Town's Woodyard neighborhood.


Photo Tawna Brown

An ice-carving contest brings in people from around the world.  Hugh ice blocks are cut out from Great Slave Lake, some more than eight feet large.  The carving artists then create fantastic ice creatures and monuments that stay for weeks on display.


Long John Jamboree: Towards the end of March, the Long John Jamboree also hits the ice nearby for a wild weekend for all.  On the same weekend, the three-day-long Canadian Championship Dog Derby, a 150-mile sled dog race with a 60-year history, runs on the ice that surrounds Old Town.


Photo Tawna Brown

Dog sledding is also part of Yellowknife.  A day with a team through the deep snow-covered wilderness outside the gates of the city is not only fun but also gave an impression of the hard everyday life before there were roads here.

Photo Tawna Brown

Snow and ice kiting are kite sports that really belong in the winter.  As soon as there is ice, there is a group of kite surfers who immediately start kiting on the lakes around Yellowknife.  Kiting gives a wonderful sense of freedom.  You get close to untouched nature when you whiz over powder snow.  It is something very special to feel the force of the wind on the kite. Green power can transport you several kilometers.  From late November to the end of April, the conditions around Yellowknife are ideal to kite for miles.  Nowhere else in the world, you can find better conditions.

Photo Doris Daily

Winter Roads aka Ice Roads: They are the most important transportation method in the Northwest Territories.  Large truck conveys supply to the camps and communities in the outback.  Truckers are driving heavily loaded vehicles across frozen lakes to deliver supplies to remote locations If you ever saw the TV documentary series ‘Ice Road Truckers’.

Photo Tawna Brown

Winter Pleasures

Ice Road

Ice Fishing

Photo Doris Daily

Winter in Downtown Yellowknife

Sure, you can spend considerable hours in restaurants and coffee shops, but there is a lot more to see in town, for example

Yellowknife Historical Museum:  Visit the giant gold mine to find ore cars, train tracks, loading machinery, boilers, drills, winches, and more.  The nearby mine is closed and major … is done to get rid of the arsine condemnations deep in the soil from times when these gold mining practices were still going on.  Bring your picnic and enjoy it at the nearby tables.

Indigenous Experiences:  A typical guided community tour might include stops to meet with local artists, a demonstration of traditional practices like fish preparation or the medicinal use of plants, and perhaps a chance to sample tea, bannock, and dried meat.  Visitors are welcome, too, at community feasts, share some good-natured fun, and enjoy traditional drumming, dancing, and other entertainment.

Photo Tawna Brown

NWT Diamond and Jewellery Centre:  See (and maybe buy) loose diamonds — mined, cut, and polished in the Northwest Territories — and jewelry pieces too!  Enjoy an interactive tour every weekday at 1:30pm that takes you on a journey through the vast history of diamond mining in the Canadian North. 5105 49th St in Yellowknife.

Old Town Glass Works:  Enjoy Studio Time in the Old Town to make your own art piece or purchase them from the large selection of studio artwork.

The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre:  Across from the Government of NWT assembly building is a museum that is operated by the Culture and Heritage Division, NWT Government.  Although the center is widely known as the territorial museum, it is also home to the NWT Archives.  Open Weekly from Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 5 pm.  Also open on Statutory Holidays, except Christmas and New Year.

Example of Former Exhibitions

  • This Land is Our Home:  Wıìlıìdeh, Yellowknives Dene, showcase their history, language, and culture through artifacts, clothing, oral history, and photographs.
  • Mooseskin Boat: From the late 1800s to the 1950s, moose skin boats were built by the Shutagot’ine (Mountain Dene) to carry large amounts of cargo along dangerous mountain rivers.
  • Dioramas: 10 landscape dioramas that showcase the strong connection northerners have with animals and the land. To create these dioramas, we worked closely with wildlife experts, elders, and community advisors from across the NWT.
  • Caribou Skin Clothing: Two caribou skin outfits representing Inuvialuit and Gwich’in traditions are currently on display in the South Gallery. They were created during two separate clothing reproduction projects led by the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in partnership with NWT community organizations and southern museums to help revive knowledge and excitement about making traditional clothing.
  • Interwoven: Baskets and non-traditional woven creations use both natural and commercial materials, and are often interwoven with a tale or two as well.

Photo Doris Daily

  • Ice Age Bison Discovery: Our frozen past and thawing future.  On exhibit for the first time — a 13,650-year-old  bison skull found in Tsiigehtchic, NWT in 2007.  This exhibit highlights ice age fossils and the changing landscape of the North.
  • RCMP Special Constables in the NWT:  Come to hear stories about Special Constables, told by community members for this exhibit. 
  • Treaty 11 – 100 years: A Tłı̨chǫ community exhibit tells the story of their 100-year relationship with Canada. Treaty 11 was the foundation for the modern nation-to-nation treaty-making process, which led to the signing of the Tłı̨chǫ Agreement.
  • Music at the Museum: Free musical concerts at the Museum, hosted by Classics on Stage Yellowknife.  Check out the website for upcoming events.

Next to the museum is Yellowknife’s architectural highlight:  the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Building in a rounded wood-glass building.  I was lucky to attend a free performance of the Aklavik Delta Drummers & Dancers in the Assembly building.  They are representing both Inuvialuit and Gwich’in cultures.

Guided tours of the Assembly Building are available in English on weekdays at 10:30 am or 1:30 pm. French tours are offered Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:30PM.  The duration of the tour is 30 minutes. Or take a self-guided audio tour anytime the building is open from 7 am to 6 pm, weekends from 10 am to 6 pm.

Being a winter wonderland, there are many opportunities to go skating, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing in Yellowknife.  Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing tours are available and the tour company provides the gear that you need.  For those who like to do it yourself, it is possible to rent gear in town so there is no need to bring your own.

Snowmobile Tour:  Experience a ride on a double snowmobile on a safe but thrilling excursion out of Yellowknife.  A snowmobile instructor guides you through a winter wonderland of fresh snow while you explore backcountry trails.  You will get detailed instructions about how to use the snowmobile.  Put on the provided winter gear - a Canada Goose jacket, trousers, helmets, gloves, and boots - to keep warm. Set off for an hour-long tour - photo stops included.


Cross Country Skiing in Yellowknife: The “Wax and Wine” day will be in November! Get your skis waxed for $25/pair and relax and enjoy a complimentary drink and snacks while you wait. The Yellowknife Ski Club offers 14 kilometers of trails for beginner to advanced skiers. All trails are designed for one-way skiing with enough width for both classic and skate techniques. Trails are groomed twice a week by a volunteer team of groomers.

1,5 Hour Kick-Sled Tours with Huskies on Great Slave Lake:  Get a demo of how the sleds work, meet the dogs, and learn the commands.  All of the dogs are friendly and happy, and the sleds are easy to manage.  Sped out across the bay, then take a break for a little walk to a small frozen waterfall “Ice Cave”.

Yellowknife is internationally known for being the best place in the world to view the amazing Aurora Borealis.  With over 20 tour companies dedicated to helping you view the unique Northern Lights display, the opportunity to experience something truly remarkable is made very easy.  If you go on your own - out of town:  the Aurora Forecast shows the nights you can expect most likely to see this amazing show in the night sky:

Photo Doris Daily

Snow-Shoe to the Ice Caves:  They aren’t true caves, but rather curtains of ice created by an outcrop of rock overhangs and flowing water frozen in time.  Grab walking poles and pair of snowshoes.  As you travel the mysterious Great Slave Lake be on the lookout for local foxes and ptarmigans that frequently roam the Yellowknife Back Bay area.  Going on a weekday means you mostly have the space to yourselves - even if you are so close to downtown.

The ice caves are accessible by snowmobile or a rough footpath through the woods, coming from downtown, Niven Drive area, walking down towards Great Slave Lake or the Yellowknife ski hill.  In order to reach the caves, you will walk through the Heritage Site of Back Bay Cemetery, Yellowknife’s first settlers' cemetery.

Photo Tawna Brown

Sales Tax rates are low in the Northwest Territories with only 5% sales tax.  If you can find brands that have set prices, it might be worth buying the item in Yellowknife.

Read more about the North and Northern culture


These companies fly from Yellowknife not only to Edmonton, Calgary, Kelowna, or Vancouver, they deliver passengers and goods to remote places in the North such as Iqaluit, Hay River, Inuvik, Old Crow, Dawson City, Whitehorse, Clyde River, Arctic Bay, Fort Simpson, Cambridge Bay, Goa Haven, Cape Dorset, Igloolik, Kugluktuk, Kimmirut, Gamèti, Kugaruk, Lutselk'e, Wekweètì, or Whatì.  As you can see from the names, some are remote indigenous places that rely on these passenger and freight services for survival.  Other destinations are mining camps, especially the three diamond mines northeast of Yellowknife.

Flight-Seeing and private charters are perfect options for visitors to see the beauty of the area comfortably from above.  AHMIC Air takes passengers to fly-in fishing and remote canoeing and camping trips, or fly-in picnics.  Their Beaver airplanes are equipped with floats from June to October so they can land on any lake.  From February to May the airplanes are equipped with skis - also to land on frozen lakes.  In Yellowknife, you are only minutes away from lakes, waterfalls, and wilderness trails.

Local Airlines in Yellowknife, NWT:

Fly Summit Air -

Canadian North -

Air Tindi -

Great Slave Helicopter -

Buffalo Airways -

Airlines That Fly Out of Yellowknife Airport

  • Air Canada Express
  • Air North
  • Air Tindi
  • Canadian North
  • Buffalo Airways
  • Kenn Borek Air
  • First Air
  • North-Wright Airways
  • Nolinor Aviation
  • Northwestern Air
  • WestJet
  • WestJet Encore
  • Summit Air

Year-Round Destination Yellowknife

With the exception of maybe April or November, it’s always “season” in Yellowknife: May, June, and July with its outdoor activities under the midnight sun and Winters with all kinds of snow and ice sports activities - plus the unforgettable Aurora Borealis, the amazing spectacle on the northern sky from September to late March. Enjoy your time in Yellowknife.




No comments:

Post a Comment