Get up here to get down: Your guide to the north's best fests

Get up here to get down: Welcome to the best fests in the North

 

World-class bands thrill chanting crowds in the hot, hazy half-light of midnight. Children frolic among glittering ice sculptures beside a palace made of snow. Artists display their wares and lead tourists in workshops far above the Arctic Circle. Flotillas of paddlers play games in the waves of Canada’s top whitewater river. Storytellers and dancers mesmerize on the banks of the rushing Mackenzie. Wherever, whenever, the North has the very best festivals

Inuvik Sunrise Festival

 

 

 

WHAT: Food, dance, music and activities like snow-carving and “sno-pitch,” plus a giant bonfire and spectacular fireworks.

WHERE: Inuvik, the northernmost major town in Canada, approximately 300 kilometres above the Arctic Circle.

WHY: Because when the sun has been gone for a month of polar darkness, it deserves a big “welcome back.”

WHEN: Early January.

WHO: Inuvialuit and Gwich’in folks from around the Western Arctic, plus visitors keen for an ‘illuminating’ Arctic experience.

HOW: Daily flights from Yellowknife – or, if you’re bold, winterize your car, pack your survival gear and drive up the Dempster Highway.

SnowKing Winter Festival

 

WHAT: A month of exhibits, shows and dances – plus playing on the famous slide –inside a glittering palace made of snow.

WHERE: In Yellowknife’s offbeat Old Town, on the frozen surface of Great Slave Lake.

WHY: Because frolicking in this glittering castle makes you feel like a kid again.

WHEN: Throughout March.

WHO: Thousands of Aurora-viewers visiting from Asia, plus every single person in Yellowknife.

HOW: Direct flights from Calgary, Edmonton or Ottawa.

National Aboriginal Day

 

WHAT: Drumming, dancing, parades, music, storytelling, feasts and a heckuva lot of fun, all in honour of the folks who’ve made the North their home for the past 10,000 years.

WHERE: Pretty much every settlement and city in the Northwest Territories.

WHY: Because “we are all treaty people” – and while National Aboriginal Day is a celebrated Canada-wide, no place takes it as seriously as the Northwest Territories.

WHEN: June 21.

WHO: Cree, Chipewyans, Tlicho, Gwich’in, Inuvialuit … and you.

HOW: Unfold your map, pick a little town as your destination, and hit the road.

Open Sky Festival

 

WHAT: A big-river get together, celebrating art and culture both ancient and ultra-modern.

WHERE: In Fort Simpson, the diverse, vibrant, age-old gathering place where the mountains and the Mackenzie meet.

WHY: Because the rich nature and culture of the Dehcho region shines out in the works of local artists, musicians, performers and storytellers.

WHEN: Early July.

WHO: Dene, Metis and non-Aboriginals from around the North, plus plenty of visitors keen to hear traditional tales on the riverbank, participate in craft-making workshops beneath the midnight sun, or buy intricate artworks straight from hands of the creators.  

HOW: You can fly to Fort Simpson from Yellowknife, but the drive – up the Liard Trail, or along the Mackenzie Highway – is a bucket-list experience.

Folk on the Rocks

 

WHAT: The Great Slave’s lollapalooza: A hot weekend of musical euphoria beneath the delirious midnight sun.

WHERE: In Yellowknife, on the jackpine-dotted shores of Long Lake, not far from Fred Henne Territorial Park.

WHY: Because we bet you’ve never danced barefoot in the sand while an Inuit throatsinger, a Japanese taiko drummer and a Jamaican reggae star all jam together on stage.

WHEN: July 14-16.

WHO: Tons of visitors and locals, plus performers from around the world.

HOW: This is the perfect excuse to make a Northern roadtrip – or fly up from Calgary, Edmonton or Ottawa.

Great Northern Arts Festival

 

WHAT: During 10 of Inuvik’s 56 perpetually sunlit summer days, artists from across the Arctic gather for the North’s best visual-arts festival.

WHERE: Inuvik, creative crossroads of the Western Arctic.

WHY: At this pan-territorial meeting of artistic masters, you can pick from more than 1,500 pieces for sale, representing Inuvialuit, Gwich’in, Inuit, Metis and non-Aboriginal styles.

WHEN: June 14-23

WHO: Anyone who wants to learn how to make a birchbark basket, fill it full of goodies from the gallery, and then cap off the day by watching Northern models sashay in an Arctic fashion show.

HOW: Fly up from Yellowknife, or drive up from the Yukon.

Slave River Paddlefest

 

WHAT: A wet, wild, wonderful celebration of paddling – Canada’s most iconic activity.

WHERE: Just outside of Fort Smith, on the Slave River Rapids, possibly the most fabled stretch of whitewater in the western hemisphere.

WHY: Because there’s tons of flat-water fun for novices, plus plenty of thrills watching the pros do flips in house-high waves.

WHEN: August 4-7.

WHO: Canoe and kayak enthusiasts from across Canada and beyond.

HOW: You can fly to Fort Smith from Edmonton or Yellowknife, but the drive – through Wood Buffalo National Park – is worth the extra time.

Midway Lake Music Festival

 

WHAT: A nod to the music-filled reunions that took place for eons among the Gwich’in people of the North, this fest features fiddling and country tunes, jigging, square dancing, storytelling, canoe races, berrypicking and lots of wild meat and bannock.

WHERE: At a mountain-ringed fairgrounds down the Dempster Highway from Fort McPherson.

WHY: Because country-music sounds best when it's out in the country.

WHEN: August.

WHO: As many as 2,000 attendees come and camp out for the weekend. Most are local Indigenous folks, but there’s plenty of tourists, too.

HOW: Dempster roadtrip, baby. 

 

(photo credit: Adam Jones/Global Photo Archive/Flickr)

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Little Buffalo River Falls Territorial Park

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Hay River Territorial Park

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Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park

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Lady Evelyn Falls Territorial Park

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Frame Lake Trail

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Salt Plains

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Canol Trail

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Fort Providence Territorial Campground

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Louise Falls

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Alexandra Falls

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Cameron Falls

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Sambaa Deh Falls

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Lady Evelyn Falls

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Whatı̀ Waterfall

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Hay River Beach

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Pine Lake Beach

The finest beach and campground in Wood Buffalo National Park, Pine Lake features soothing sand and shallow, warm, aquamarine waters, ideal for swimming or paddling when you're tired of gawking at the park's amazing wildlife. 

Long Lake Beach

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Road’s End Golf Club

Built in 2009, Inuvik's Road’s End Golf Club boasts a grassy, 250-yard driving range and a three-hole course. Keep an eye out for ravens as you swing – the course once had to close when the sneaky birds made off with all the golf balls. 

Ptarmigan Ridge Golf Course

Located next Norman Wells' Heritage Hotel near the banks of the Mackenzie River, the grassy, evergreen-lined Ptarmigan Ridge course offers the only golfing in the Sahtu region, with four holes – soon to be expanded to six.

Seven Spruce Golf Course

Within easy walking distance of downtown Fort Simpson, the Seven Spruce Golf Course in features rolling, grassy fairways and a laid-back vibe. Rent clubs and tackle the sun-soaked nine-hole course or put up your feet in the clubhouse for a relaxing afternoon.

Ulukhaktok Golf Course

With artificial greens atop the tundra, Ulukhaktok is the coolest place you’ll play golf. The town’s nine-hole course if the world’s northernmost, and the annual Billy Joss Open draws visiting celebrity golfers. Word to the wise: Let the muskoxen play through. 

Yellowknife Golf Club

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Hay River Golf Club

This manicured nine-hole course follows the curvaceous contours of Hay River’s namesake river. Grassy and aspen-shrouded, it’s a duffer’s delight. There’s also a driving range and a beautiful log clubhouse with a deck overlooking the water – a great place to spend the afternoon even if golf...

Tuktut Nogait National Park

Tuktut Nogait National Park Tuktut Nogait, meaning “young caribou,” is one of Canada’s least visited parks, protecting the calving grounds of the 68,000-strong Bluenose caribou herd near the shores of the Northwest Passage. Most visitors experience the park while...

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve

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Slave River Rapids

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Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park

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Hay River Gorge

Just a few dozen metres from the heart of Enterprise, the earth falls away and a gaping chasm yawns. This is the Twin Falls Gorge, a Grand Canyon in miniature. Here, sheer limestone walls glitter like shimmering sand, while the rim is lined with a dark wall of evergreens. Hundreds of feet below,...

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The Ingraham Trail

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Cirque of the Unclimbables

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NORTH ARM TERRITORIAL PARK DAY USE AREA

Enjoy a break from driving at this roadside park, offering washrooms, a kitchen shelter and a boat launch. Stop and rest on the picturesque shores of Great Slave Lake to take photos or simply to relax with a picnic. Be sure to look around you – the scenery abruptly changes here from...

POWDER POINT TERRITORIAL PARK DAY USE AREA

Powder Point Day Use Area is located within Hidden Lake Territorial Park on the Ingraham Trail, a little more than 45 kilometres east of Yellowknife on the eastern arm of Prelude Lake. Powder Point offers access to both the the Lower Cameron River Canoe Route and the Powder Point Canoe Route....

PONTOON LAKE TERRITORIAL PARK

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Gwich'in Territorial Park

The Dempster Highway serves as a boundary for this 8,800-hectare park, which includes two campgrounds (Vadzaih Van Tshik Campground and Gwich’in Territorial Campground), two day-use areas (Ehjuu NJik and Nihtak) and Tithegeh Chii Vitaii Lookout. The park is home to a...

Frame Lake Trail

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The Ramparts

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HAY LAKES CAMPGROUND

This municipal campground is located about four kilometres along the access road to Fort Liard. It's next to a small lake, and offers a kitchen shelter and several campsites.

Bear Rock

Towering 400 metres above Tulita, sacred Bear Rock is said to be where Yamoria, the great law-giver of Dene lore, confronted a gang of giant beavers that had been drowning hunters. Yamoria killed three of the beavers and draped their vast pelts on Bear Rock – forming three dark circles that...

Tundra North Tours Ltd.

Thinking about visiting Canada's North? Let us organize your trip so you can focus on enjoying your #AuthenticArcticExperience! Local tour operator offering tours in the Mackenzie Delta area, including boat and... Read more