There is no better time to visit Yellowknife than in late March. You will find a city in its element, with residents jubilantly revelling in warmer, longer days. It’s festival season—a time to celebrate the last hours of winter. Here’s how to join in on all the fun with 72 hours you won’t soon forget in the NWT capital.
You hop off the plane, snap a selfie with the polar bear in the airport and get settled in your hotel. Then it hits you—you are absolutely famished. Thankfully, there’s just the place to get you primed for a wild weekend in Yellowknife. Famous for its unpretentious décor, heaping plates and some of the most succulent and buttered up fish around, Bullocks is the perfect introduction to the eclectic and vibrant Old Town neighbourhood. Choose from whitefish, lake trout, burbot or inconnu caught fresh from Great Slave Lake. (Or try Arctic char or muskoxen from the further north.) And while you wait, tag your name on the crowded walls of one of Yellowknife’s original buildings.
Old Town Glassworks
You’ll probably want to work off that lunch. Walk around to the other side of what pioneering Yellowknifers once called “the Rock” and take a glass-etching workshop at Old Town Glassworks. Here you’ll find a tinkerer’s workshop, with converted washing machines and coffee grinders resourcefully repurposed to help recycle wine bottles into Northern works of art. Create your own Yellowknife keepsake by sand-blasting iconic Northern animals and landmarks onto the glasses. Be advised, it’s wise to book ahead.
Yellowknife really is a cosmopolitan city—and that surprises many first-time visitors. To get a sense of the diversity of the people who call the city home, all you need to do is survey your dining options. You’ll find multiple sushi and Vietnamese options, along with Korean, Filipino and Somalian cuisine just in the downtown core. There’s even Chinese hot pot here. Or, for some of the best Ethiopian fare in all of Canada, drop into Zehabesha.
The Magic of the Aurora
When the sun goes down in Yellowknife, the adventure is just beginning. See why tens of thousands of visitors flock here each year from all over the world to see the best Northern Lights in the world. There are countless tour operators who can take you out to see the lights: At plush remote lodges or rustic wilderness cabins; by ‘aurora hunting’ excursion, where you chase the lights all night, or on dedicated photography workshop tours. Or find yourself any old dark patch in the city and watch the skies come alive. (Note: Be sure to wear reflective clothing or a headlamp if you plan to venture out on a lake.)
Long John Jamboree
Yellowknife’s annual spring carnival takes place on Yellowknife Bay, a snowball’s throw from the SnowKing’s castle. Past activities have included turkey curling, a cabane à sucre, and an ugly dog and truck contest. There’s plenty to eat and see all weekend long, plus the ice carving contest brings experts from all over the world to create unbelievable ice creations. (Pro tip: For an iconic Yellowknife photo, ascend nearby Pilot’s Monument and snap a shot of the bay, which for one weekend becomes the largest parking lot North of 60, with five-foot-thick ice supporting hundreds of vehicles at a time.)
Pond Hockey Among the Houseboats
Hope you brought your skates. Every Saturday afternoon, Yellowknifers get together for pick-up pond hockey at what’s likely the most idyllic outdoor rink in the country—in a crescent of houseboats that is built, flooded and maintained by the intrepid folks who call the bay their backyard.
Dinner at the Brewpub
You’ve surely worked up an appetite. Head over the Woodyard, home of NWT Brewing Co.—the lone craft brewery in the Northwest Territories. Order a flight of the ever-growing list of beer varieties—the Kicksled Cream Ale is popular—grab a Shack Burger and shake off the snow.
Burn on the Bay
A gigantic bonfire on a frozen lake. Sounds inconceivable, but in what’s become a tradition on Long John Jamboree weekend, Yellowknifers set ablaze a towering structure of pallets in the middle of the bay. Don’t worry, there’s no risk of melting through the ice—it would have to burn for days to get through the five feet of ice underfoot.
All Hail the SnowKing
Did you know that the greatest architectural marvel in the North is destroyed and rebuilt each year? It’s true. The SnowKing’s castle, constructed entirely from snow and ice, has grown in scale and ambition every year and it’s Yellowknife’s true jewel. All March long, the SnowKing hosts activities in his royal home—from film festivals and children’s plays during the day, to raves and comedy nights and epic jams at night. It’s the most fun you can have with your winter boots on.
Gold Range Bistro
A classic coffee, eggs and bacon joint on infamous Range Street. Here, Yellowknifers from every neighbourhood and walk of life bump shoulders and this no-frills bistro will clear the cobwebs away.
State of the Arts
To get a sense of Northern arts and traditions, visit one of Yellowknife’s many art galleries. There’s Northern Images, downtown, an arts co-op that features a collection of prints, carvings and more from all over the North. In Old Town, the Down to Earth Gallery is full of local artworks—from muskox-bone jewellery, to books and music. Right next door, you’ll find the log- walled Gallery of the Midnight Sun, with furs, jewellery, moosehair tufting and other Northern specialties.
Now, get out of town! Experience the wild winter world outside of Yellowknife by letting a team of enthusiastic sled dogs show you their background paradise. Get cozy on your sled as they lead you through a maze of forest trails before shooting across an expanse of a glistening lake to an outfitters cabin. There, warm up with some bannock and tea and show your appreciation to your furry tour guides with some prolonged and well-deserved belly rubs.