Please note that several NWT communities are still under evacuation alerts or orders due to the wildfire situation: see more information about the affected communities.
The passage of time is different under the midnight sun. There is magic in the air. Everything feels a little bit strange. Checking the forecast for the evening, you can’t help but notice there is no little moon icon showing for the “night ahead”.
During summer in the Northwest Territories, when a day can literally last for weeks, you are in for your share of magical moments. Where else in the world can you start an adventure at midnight?
Here is a snapshot of some of the unique experiences you might have under the midnight sun.
1. Tap into a seemingly inexhaustible energy reserve.
“Officially, the June sun set close to midnight and rose three hours later, but it never got dark. Dusk, yes. Between sunset and sunrise there was a soft sort of dusk and the street lights came on, but nobody needed them or noticed them. The constant light was like endless caffeine.” That’s how author Elizabeth Hay described these glorious summer days in her 2007 Giller Prize winning book Late Nights on Air, set in Yellowknife.
In the Northwest Territories, be prepared to have an almost limitless reserve of energy in the summer. The sun rides high in the sky well into the evening, and in some places right through the night, and the body’s energy is continuously being recharged by our biggest star’s brilliant light. Guessing the time of day is much harder than you might think. All of the normal cues used to judge the hour are missing here. There’s the absence of darkness approaching, as the world outside teems with activity. Birds fly about. Foxes forage. Sailors take their boats out for a midnight sail on Yellowknife Bay and commuters go for a late-night drive down the Dempster Highway, far above the Arctic Circle, taking full advantage of all that the long summer days have to offer.
Here’s a tip: be sure to set the time stamp on your camera or you’ll have a hard time convincing friends of the time your picture was taken.
2. Realize that fishing at dawn is a wee bit more challenging.
If you are the kind of fishing fanatic who likes to cast a line at dawn, you’ll have to be up mighty early in the NWT. Dawn breaks sometime between 2:30 am and 3:30 am in the southern NWT. Above the Arctic Circle, fishing at dawn is impossible because, well, dawn doesn’t really exist. In places like Inuvik, the sun is in the sky around the clock.
On the upside, you can troll for giant, line-busting Lake Trout along Great Bear Lake or cast away for mighty Northern Pike, iridescent Arctic Grayling and delicious Whitefish from shore whenever you want, since there is always enough daylight to set your hook. You really can fish all night long when the sun barely sets—or doesn’t set at all.
3. You don’t need to rely on your campfire to light the way.
There’s nothing quite like sharing the warmth of a campfire with close friends and family. It’s no different under the midnight sun, except the light given off by the fire is more ornamental than essential, with daylight still pouring down from overhead.
Roast marshmallows and cook hotdogs without fumbling around in the dark for sticks and knives and packages. And whether you’re deep in the wilderness on an epic paddling journey or spending the night at a territorial campground, bask in the glow of the smiling faces around you all night long.
4. Start a round of golf around the time you’re usually going to bed.
Now here is where you can satisfy the urge to brag a little.
After you’ve had a quick stretch and decided which club to use to get off the first tee, go ahead and pull out your phone to snap a photo. Then, send a text to all of your friends south of 60, and let them know that you’re about to start a round of golf.
Sure, they won’t get the message until the following morning, because they’ve most likely fallen asleep long ago. But maybe as you tap in on the 18th green, you’ll get a buzz in your pocket, from a thoroughly confused friend, as they try to comprehend the time-stamp that accompanied your photo. That’s when you can tell them you just played the round of your life through the night, in one of the only places on Earth where that’s physically possible.
5. Go for a midnight swim.
No headlamp or flashlight needed. Whenever the feeling hits you, just follow the path of least resistance to water. This could be a well trodden forest trail to a pristine lake, a dash across a pebbled beach into the Arctic Ocean, a quick hop and a skip off a cabin dock, or an expert dive off the deck of a floating houseboat.
No matter the hour, there’s always enough light for a swim in the land of the midnight sun.
6. Sometimes, dinner jumps into the next day.
Another thing about the awesome midnight sun is how it can disrupt all of the body’s natural rhythms. When the sun is blazing night and day, it’s hard to stay on a strict schedule. Forget breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at noon, and dinner at 6 p.m. It happens all of the time: you think about starting to cook that fresh fish you picked up earlier and you check the time to discover it’s actually 11 p.m. Whoops! Where did the day go?
Late meals, skipped meals… it’s all part of living under the midnight sun.
But be sure, the hungries will hit you at some point. You will work up an appetite with everything you’ll get up to during the longest days of the year.
7. Admire the sunset/sunrise for hours.
When the sun goes down—but not quite all the way down—before coming back up, do you call it a sunrise or sunset? Is it a setting sunrise? Or a sunsetrise? If you’re in Inuvik, or one of the other communities above the Arctic Circle, and the sun is spinning around the circumference of the sky, when does one day end and the next begin?
These are the otherworldly conversations you find you have when you stay up all day and all night. Meanwhile, you get one super-extended, unbelievably gorgeous sunset/rise to admire while you debate your points.
8. Fall asleep under the biggest star there is.
If by chance you have managed to maintain your circadian sleep-wake cycle through the days leading up to the solstice, you won’t exactly fall asleep under the stars up here.
But there’s something special about drifting away into la-la land as imperceptibly as the sky changes from dusk to twilight to dawn to day.
9. Hear the dawn chorus of birds.
There’s another missing cue to day and night around the Northwest Territories, and it draws birding enthusiasts to the NWT. You will hear the call of swallows and warblers throughout the evening and into the morning. Depending on where you are, the dusk chorus can carry on until as late as midnight, and the bird dawn chorus can start as early as 1:30 a.m. The birds, like the rest of us, take advantage of the long daylight hours and are continuously active. There’s nothing like walking back to a campsite, hotel or bed and breakfast to the rising sun and full birdsong in the wee hours of the morning.
It’s unworldly, wholly surreal and absolutely magical.
10. Completely lose all track of time.
It could be in the brief silence after the laughter around the fire dies down. Or when you get up to answer nature’s call.
You ask yourself: What time is it?
And then, after a moment, the question becomes: No, what day is it? Is it still yesterday? Is it already tomorrow?
You will have no idea. Until it dawns on you. Not knowing is part of the magic of the Midnight Sun.
Dreaming of Northern vistas? Explore all the ways to get out and witness the magnificent landscapes and majestic wildlife of the Northwest Territories.
The Northwest Territories is home to some of the most pristine national parks in Canada. The humbling beauty and wild landscapes of the North are on full display. Read our guide to the 6 Canadian national parks in the NWT for a taste of what awaits you there.