Yellowknife locals are known for their friendliness, and they know how to make visitors feel welcome. Built on the shore of the Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, is perfect for vacationers who love all the activities the great outdoors offer, but there are plenty of indoor activities to keep busy with if the weather gets too harsh. There’s never a shortage of fun to be had in this unique city.
With a population just over 20,000, Yellowknife is the capital and only official city in Canada’s rugged Northwest Territories. The city started as a mining town in the 1930s and has maintained its frontier-like qualities in many ways.
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I moved to Yellowknife in 2018 for a new job and I absolutely love the lifestyle up here. I’ve been able to slow down and experience the outdoors like never before in my life. I’m so excited to share with you all the fun things you can do in Yellowknife.
You might be wondering if the TV Series Gold Rush was filmed in this part of Canada’s North, but in fact, it was mostly filmed in the region of Dawson City in the Yukon.
20 Things to Do in Yellowknife
Yellowknife is the perfect winter adventure destination for cold-weather fun. From December to March, temperatures range on average from -10F to -2F degrees, guaranteeing a frozen playground for the usual frosty outdoor activities as well as some unique ones.
If you’d rather be basking in subzero temps faster, Yellowknife’s regional airport serves flights from Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. You can fly in from the Alberta cities in less than 3 hours, and from Vancouver in 7 hours.
The list that follows has been separated into “indoor” and “outdoor” activities, so you can quickly find what you’re looking for depending on your mood or the temperature.
Indoor Activities to do Yellowknife
If you don’t want to step foot outside, it’s still possible to keep yourself entertained. Below are a handful of some favorite indoor spots to check out while visiting Yellowknife.
Gallery of the Midnight Sun
For over 30 years now, Gallery of the Midnight Sun has served as Yellowknife’s premier fine arts gallery and crafts shop. Located in Old Town, this trading post carries all things from the North:
- Arts and crafts
- Souvenirs and gifts
The shop features items from local artists from across the North and gives workshops and demonstrations by appointment. Take your time browsing their extensive collection, or ask one of the helpful staff members to help you pick out the perfect gift.
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, located near downtown on the shores of Frame Lake, is a museum celebrating the Northwest Territories’ heritage and culture. The exhibitions center around the natural and cultural history of the area, from its Innuit peoples to the founding of Yellowknife. There is also photography and artwork by local artists.
The museum is free of charge and features a cafe and occasional events. It’s definitely worth stopping by; plan for two to three hours if you want to see everything.
Legislative Assembly Building
The Legislative Assembly Building is the heart of the territory’s government, where all the important decisions are made. It’s a pretty interesting place to visit. They offer guided tours where you can learn more about the Northwest Territory’s consensus government.
Some of the many things the building has to offer:
- Stunning architecture built with local materials
- Impressive great hall with a view of downtown
- Local flora and fauna outside
- Artwork and artifacts
Outdoor Activities to do Yellowknife
It’d be a shame to visit a city like Yellowknife, that’s smack dab in the middle of the boundless rolling beauty that is the Northwest Territories, without taking the chance to explore nature’s glory all around you. Whether you’re looking for adventure or just a nice view, we’ve got you covered.
You’ve come all this way to a beautiful frozen wonderland. It’s time to discover what makes Yellowknife extra special. From festivals to dog sledding to the Northern Lights, Yellowknife offers some truly unparalleled opportunities for the winter visitor.
Aurora Borealis also known as Northern Lights
Early December through mid-April, with clear, cold 18-hour nights, offers you an excellent chance to be mesmerized by the majestic beauty of the dancing lights.
Time your trip right, and you can enjoy the NAKA (meaning Northern Lights) Festival. Held during March, NAKA is Yellowknife’s newest festival, a showcase of all that’s great about the city.
A not-to-miss event is the annual 150-mile season finale of the Canadian Championship Dog Derby, happening over three days in late March. It’s an unforgettable moment when the gun sounds, and dozens of sled teams pulled by yowling dogs take off across the lake.
To try dog sledding, check out Becks Kennels.
Snowking Winter Festival
Yellowknife’s annual Snowking Winter Festival is a sight to behold: a month of art and cultural events all held inside an enormous castle built of snow and ice. This winter festival is a perfect example of something you’re not likely to find outside of Yellowknife, so take advantage of the opportunity to experience it if you can.
The festival has something for kids and adults of all ages:
- Live music
- Film festival
- Live theatre
- Ice slide
- Art exhibitions
This is just a small sample of everything offered in this winter wonderland, perched on Yellowknife Bay. The festive atmosphere, combined with the unusual location, make this festival an experience you won’t soon forget.
Long John Jamboree
Another winter event held on Yellowknife Bay, the Long John Jamboree, is a winter festival complete with:
- Ice carving
- Artists’ market
- Dog Sled races
- Carnival rides
- Ice skating rink
Naturally, there are plenty of food vendors as well.
Across Back Bay at Jackfish Draw Cliffs, view surreal ice formations and caves by exploring a grotto of ice.
Skijoring and Kite Skiing
This is similar to cross-country, but the skier is pulled by dogs or by kites. You’ll find all the information you need such as how and where to skijor in Yellowknife here.
Bush Pilot’s Monument
Bush Pilot’s Monument is a stone memorial to all the brave pilots (many of whom lost their lives) who made it possible to expand into the great Northwest. The simple monument is at the top of “The Rock” above Old Town and can be reached by a zigzagging staircase.
Because it’s so high up, it offers a panoramic view of the city and surrounding wilderness, so it’s definitely worth the climb.
Explore the Great Slave Lake
The Great Slave Lake is one of the largest lakes in the world and the deepest in North America. This lake has a history all its own, not to mention breathtaking scenery. From fishing to boat tours, there’s plenty to do.
Outdoor lovers, history buffs, and adventurists will all find something to do on the shores of Great Slave Lake.
Because Yellowknife is so far north, daylight ranges from five hours in the winter to 20 hours during the summer months, which can take some adjusting to. The stunning Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, can be seen in fall and winter months, though, arguably making up for the cold temperature.
Aurora Village offers visitors year-round guided tours and activities as well as an unbeatable way to view aurora borealis. Activities include:
- Aurora borealis viewing packages
- Dog sledding
- Ice fishing
- Wildlife experience
A teepee village designed with sustainability and convenience in mind, the teepees, dining hall, and outdoor restrooms are all heated, providing visitors a chance to thaw out in between activities. They’ve thought of everything, even offering rented winter wear.
The best way to take advantage of Yellowknife’s beauty is, of course, to explore it on foot. A couple of favorite hikes in Yellowknife are:
- Frame Lake Trail: Frame Lake Trail circles the perimeter of Frame Lake, which you can loop around in about 45 minutes. It will have you walk by City Hall, the legislative assembly and the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. The trail is paved in some places and is appropriate for children. It’s perfect for those who want to see a bit of wildlife without straying away from the city.
- Cameron Falls: Cameron Falls is a moderate hike just under 50 km outside of Yellowknife. The trail only takes about 15 minutes to complete but ends at a spectacular waterfall that makes the trip more than worth it.
Catching the sunrise and the sunset
What I love most about Yellowknife is the extra daylight that you get for a few months of the year.
On the official start to summer and the longest day of the year, the sunrise is around 3:39 am, and the sunset that day will be around 11:38 pm. That’s 20 hours of daylight.⠀
Of course, you don’t get all this daylight without getting a lot of darkness during the winter months. What’s really neat about that time of year is that you get to witness the sunrise and the sunset every day.
The sunsets and sunrises are something else here. They last longer, they are more colourful, and they take a lot more space in the sky. It’s one of my favourite parts of living in Yellowknife.⠀
Where to stay in Yellowknife
There are two hotels that I would recommend in Yellowknife. The first one is The Explorer Hotel, and the second one is the Chateau Nova Hotel. They are both located in downtown Yellowknife, a great location. If you chose the Explorer hotel, try to get a room on the side overlooking Great Slave Lake. You’ll be in for a treat.
Where to eat in Yellowknife
We have lots of favourite places in the city for takeout of to treat ourselves to dinner in town. The NWT Brewing Company is a favourite amongst locals. They brew their own beer and offer a great menu and atmosphere. For the best sushi, check out Such Cafe. For some wood-fire pizza, check out the Copperhouse, and for fabulous authentic Ethiopian food, you’ll want to go to Zehabesha restaurant. And finally, for a unique experience, a must-go-to place during your stay is Bullocks Bistro.
We hope you use this list as a guide when you decide to explore the raw beauty of Yellowknife for yourself and experience all that this unique city has to offer. A lot is waiting for you up North!