The Ice Road To Discovery

An Ice Road To Discovery 

Come late December, a magical six-kilometre-long road appears on frozen Great Slave Lake on Yellowknife Bay.

After the plows have cleared a wide strip over the two-foot-thick (and growing) crystal clear ice, a steady flow of cars and trucks—along with basically any kind of vehicle (dog, or human-powered) you can imagine— begin to criss-cross the bay, day and night.

Where does this ice road lead? To adventure, to cultural discovery, to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation community of Dettah—a small Dene community with a population of 220, located near the mouth of Yellowknife Bay. In Dettah, visitors can learn all about Dene history, getting out on the land with local experts to experience Dene culture and cuisine.

a person poses under the ice road sun
Photo Credit: Danny Swainson Photography

Getting to Dettah is half the fun. On any given day, you’ll see locals jogging along the snowplowed throughway, kite-skiing or kick-sledding beside it. Not to mention skijoring across it with dogs in the lead. 

SnoBears and Snowmobiles roll across the bay. Skiplanes zip overhead. You might even catch intrepid Yellowknifers skating down the road’s smoothest stretches.

How can you get to Dettah? Get creative. Really, you’re only limited by your imagination. If you’re up for the challenge, strap on some skis and set your own trail alongside the road. (You can always catch a cab back to town.) Or take your own vehicle onto the bay for a pleasurable ride over ice that can get more than four feet thick by the end of winter. Be sure to pull off to the side of the road on the cleared sections meant for just this. It’s heaps of fun to take a screen shot of your map app on your phone and send it to friends showing them you’re on the water of Great Slave Lake. Rent a snowmobile and set out on an exhilarating day trip adventure. Or hop on a fat bike from Borealis Bike Tours for your own two-wheeled expedition across the ice.

the ice road through houseboat bay

When you get to Dettah, start your visit with a visit to the Chief Drygeese Centre, the first large building you’ll encounter once back on terra firma. This is a local hub of activity - host to important events, cultural activities, and community feasts. It’s also home to a new retail store—the Yellowknives Dene First Nation Artisan Shop.

Stocked with moose hide moccasins and beaver fur mittens, porcupine quillwork, intricate beaded and bone earrings and fishscale art, the store is must-stop shopping for anyone looking for authentic handmade Dene art, jewellery and fashions. The shop’s catalogue only continues to grow, with purchases now available online.

A woman browses First Nations art in a Dettah shop

While you’re in Dettah, immerse yourself in a true cultural experience by spending time with the expert Dene guides from Dettah-based B Dene Adventures or Cabin Fever Tours, which offer authentic Indigenous experiences. Hear legends and stories of the Northern Lights around the fire in an intimate cabin setting on the shore of frozen Great Slave Lake before witnessing the incredible cosmic phenomenon with your own eyes.

Attend a handgame tournament—the unofficial sport of the Northwest Territories. Tour the homelands of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation by snowmachine and visit a traditional Dene camp. Get out on some snowshoes and watch a snare-setting demonstration. Test your strength and dexterity in Dene games like the stick pull and snow snake, challenging feats that would keep hunters and fishers fresh for the work ahead.

A whole world awaits at the end of the ice road.

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