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Home Story How late does the sun set in the NWT?

How late does the sun set in the NWT?

If you find yourself in the Northwest Territories on June 20, you will realize how unique it is to experience the Summer Solstice in the land of the Midnight Sun. The solstice brings the longest day of the year as the path of the sun reaches its most northerly point in the northern hemisphere, causing the earth to tilt toward the sun. Not surprisingly, across the NWT you’ll find the solstice celebrations abound, from Inuvik’s Midnight Sun Fun Run to Yellowknife’s biggest golf tournament, the Midnight Sun Classic. The celebrations continue June 21 on National Indigenous Peoples Day with even more festivities, including music and cultural eventsBe prepared to stay awake to experience the Midnight Sun across the NWT. 

Fort Smith
10:55 PM

You will find Fort Smith, the NWT’s southernmost town, closeby the Alberta border. Here, dusk comes relatively early on the solstice, just before 11 pm.  

The period of darkness is short, and by 1 a.m. you may actually have to squint as you read in the sun. 

During the summer, birds, fish and animals take advantage of Fort Smith’s extended daylight. Head down the Slave River to watch the American white pelicans feed in the roaring whitewater rapids, or plan to tee off at Pelican Rapids Golf Course under the Midnight Sun.

Hay River
11:21 PM

About an hour’s drive north of the Alberta border lies Hay River, which enjoys 19 hours and 11 minutes of sunlight on the longest day of the year.

Bring your camera and head for a walk down one of the best beaches in the North. As the sun dips, golden shadows in the dunes stretch along Great Slave Lake and provide some of the most scenic shots in the NWT. At the Hay River Territorial Park, you’ll find unique views of barges and fishing vessels, and great opportunities to fish for Northern Pike.

11:39 PM

In Yellowknife, north of Great Slave Lake, the sun will only leave the sky on June 20 for four hours and one minute. It won’t get dark, so consider this an extended twilight. 

Plan a five kilometre (three mile) scenic walk around Frame Lake to take in the prolonged sunset display or climb up Old Town’s Bush Pilot’s Monument lookout with its breathtaking view over Great Slave Lake’s many colorful houseboats. June 21 brings the annual Indigenous Peoples Day Fish Fry at Somba K’e Park, hosted by the North Slave Métis Alliance, a popular celebration in the heart of the city by Frame Lake.

Fort Simpson
11:58 PM

Fort Simpson isn’t quite as far north as Yellowknife, but it’s farther west. The sun sets later in the Dehcho Region’s biggest community. If you’re in Fort Simpson, your day will be 18 hours and 57 minutes long. You may still want to bring along a sleep mask for some darkness.

But this long day will allow you to visit heritage buildings along the riverfront. Among these, a stand-out is the Ehdaa Historical Site or Papal Site with three impressive structures: a world-record-breaking 15 metre-high (50 feet) teepee (tipi) frame, a Drum Circle structure that reaches 38 metres (124 ft)  in diameter and a concrete monument in the form of a cross, representing the four directions and the four natural elements.

12:24 AM

Gamètı̀ boasts a show-stopping location between Great Slave and Great Bear Lakes. The sun sets on the longest day at half past midnight and rises again at 3 a.m. In those couple hours, the sun will linger below the horizon, displaying a medley of sunrise colours. 

Take an evening stroll around this town of about 300, or hop into a canoe for a Midnight Sun excursion. You’ll appreciate why Gamètı̀’s scenic location on a point between Rae Lake and Lac Ste. Croix made this a traditional fishing and hunting hub for the Tłı̨chǫ and Sahtu Dene. Remember to bring your fishing gear as anglers can fly-fish for Arctic Grayling.

12:29 AM

Several hours’ drive north of Fort Simpson, you’ll find Wrigley, where the sun only disappears  for a little more than three hours on the longest day of the year. Dusk slides seamlessly into dawn and kids stay out playing until the wee hours.

Catch the view as the Midnight Sun moves along the towering Cap Mountain, a 1,228-metre (4,028-foot) giant and the highest peak in the Franklin Range. No matter the time of day, camping, fishing, hiking, canoeing, rafting and nature watching are always within easy reach.

1:21 AM

The Mackenzie River community of Tulita lies right on the 65th parallel. On the solstice, the sun slips below the horizon for about two hours before quickly returning to the sky.

Watch  how the shadows play across the storied Bear Rock, towering 400 metres (1,312 feet) above Tulita and considered a sacred landmark that’s symbolized on the Dene Nation’s logo.  Dene oral history speaks of a great law-giver and traveler, Yamoria, who confronted a pack of giant beavers that had been terrorizing hunters. It is said that Yamoria killed three of the beavers and draped their vast pelts upon the rock, forming three dark circles that can be seen on the mountain to this day.

Norman Wells
1:43 AM

You’re getting close to the Arctic Circle in Norman Wells, where summer brings months of non-stop sunlight to enjoy. On the Summer Solstice, sunset and sunrise fall only 94 minutes apart, so the sun ducks below the horizon and then pops back up again. 

The long day means you can perfect your golf swing at the Ptarmigan Ridge Golf Course. Or, while walking around town, note how the low-lying sun lights up picture-perfect footbridges made from huge driftwood logs.

July 19

Inuvik, the hub of the Western Arctic, boasts perpetual daylight for months each summer. If you want to stay awake until Inuvik’s next sunset, fire up your coffee pot, because that won’t take place until July 19.

But the Midnight Sun comes with big bonuses. Midnight Madness takes place on the weekend just before the Summer Solstice with community workshops, dances, concerts, the first Arctic Market of the season, events, games, food vendors and more. Even if it’s midnight, consider taking a walk around town, and visiting  the landmark Our Lady of Victory or Igloo Church, renowned for its silvery dome.

Sachs Harbour
August 4

Sachs Harbour, the NWT’s northernmost community, doesn’t see a true night for several months. It will be August before darkness returns to this Arctic community. Until then, the sun spins circles overhead. 

Nature and wildlife viewing experiences are offered in town, and who knows what you may see: Barren-ground Caribou and polar bears are common sights, and in 2006, the world’s first documented grizzly–polar bear hybrid was spotted nearby.


Has this natural phenomenon piqued your curiosity? If so, read about some more fun things you can do day and night under the Midnight Sun. 

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