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Home Story What to do in Yellowknife in the Winter

What to do in Yellowknife in the winter

It’s always a good time to visit Yellowknife, the capital city of the Northwest Territories. Its famed Aurora is visible up to 240 nights of the year and when there’s no Aurora, it means it’s time to stay out all night under the midnight sun. Does it get cold? Oh, you bet. But that doesn’t stop Yellowknifers from having fun all winter long. Here’s our guide to the best winter activities to do in Yellowknife – don’t miss out if you’re visiting between November and April:

Suit up

First thing’s first: you’ll have to suit up. Snowsuit up, that is. Temperatures in Yellowknife can dip down to -40°C or lower, and having the right gear is important to keep you toasty and happy so you can embrace the cold. Many tour operators have rental cold-weather gear, or check out the selection at Weaver and Devore. Established in 1936, the store specializes in general merchandise, produce, bush orders and outdoor clothing. In addition to cold weather gear—parkas, snow pants, hats, mitts, boots—you’ll also find camping gear, fishing gear and groceries. It’s your one-stop northern shop!

Hit the trails

Yellowknife is well-known for the wealth of trail networks to explore. Check out Frame Lake or Niven Lake trails downtown. Both are scenic and easily accessible on foot from town. Or try Tin Can Hill with its spectacular view of Yellowknife Bay. Just outside the city, you’ll find the Ranney Hill trail, providing outstanding views of the surrounding landscape, or you can carry on up the road a short distance to the scenic Cameron Falls. 

If you prefer ski trails, head to Overlander Sports and rent a pair of cross-country skis. You’ll find groomed trails along the edges of frozen Frame Lake and Back Bay, and 14 kilometres of freshly-groomed and marked routes at the Yellowknife Ski Club.

Dine out

After skiing, hiking or sight-seeing, satisfy your appetite at the NWT Brewing Company’s Woodyard brewpub, a local favorite. Can’t decide which beer to try? No problem -order the beer tasting flight sampler. For excellent dinner options, you can’t go wrong with a classic ‘Shack burger’ or veggie curry, but whatever’s on special is always worth trying.

Aurora viewing on the move

Evening means it’s time to get set for nature’s greatest lightshow – the spectacular Aurora. Book the evening with one of the Aurora-hunting tourism operators who move from place to place around Yellowknife to provide different backdrops for the Aurora overhead, or book a snowmobile or dogsled experience. You’ll be whisked away from the city lights to see the Aurora in all its luminous glory.

Head back to your hotel or B&B and rest up for another day of adventure.

But first, coffee

Fuel up for today’s adventures with a stop at Birchwood Coffee Ko. Here, you’ll find bannock & egger breakfast sandwiches and a variety of caffeinated beverages to suit your needs—from cortados to americanos and tasty and trusty ol’ drip coffee.

Visit the king in his castle

If you’re visiting in March, you’re in for an experience that’s a Yellowknife favourite. March has that perfect balance of extended daylight hours and a boundless, snowy, outdoor playground. You’ll have cold-but-not-too-cold winter weather, wondrous Aurora at night, and best of all, the famous Snow Castle. Yes! Every year the Snowking and his court (including the likes of Baron Von Blizzard, Joe Snow, and others) build a castle made of ice and snow right on the frozen expanse of Great Slave Lake. With a courtyard, ice bars, and ice slides, craft sales, fashion shows and nights of great music, it’s an attraction you won’t want to miss.

Drive on an ice road

One of the wonders of a northern winter is ice roads. It’s a strange feeling being in a car on a lake or river, but rest assured: the ice freezes thick enough to hold tractor-trailers and whole concerts full of people. The ice road to Dettah across Yellowknife Bay gets to be about 4-6 feet thick. Take a short trip to visit the Dene community of Dettah, or go for a (careful, reasonable-speed) rip up the ice road from Vee Lake off the Ingraham Trail and find yourself a good spot to set up your ice fishing hut for the day.

Channel your creativity

If you’re looking to spend a few hours indoors, why not do something creative? Check out the excellent workshops at Old Town Glassworks. Here you’ll pick a piece of recycled glass, select a few images to embellish it, and put it in the sandblaster to impress your design onto it. Voilà, you’ve created your own unique—and very Yellowknife-y—souvenir.

Try the fish

You can’t leave Yellowknife without trying the famous Bullock’s Bistro fish and chips. You choose the fish, from Whitefish, Pickerel, Lake Trout, Coney, or Lingcod—all caught fresh from Great Slave Lake —and decide how you want it cooked. We recommend the pan-fried Whitefish, but sometimes your heart calls out for deep-fried, and who are we to argue with that? Your fish will arrive with house salad and golden fries piled high, but the real secret to this meal is the sauces. Make sure to try them all!

Not in the mood for fish tonight? Give the reindeer or buffalo ribeye a try. Your taste buds will thank you.

Aurora Viewing Part 2

Yeah! Another night of Aurora viewing. This time, treat yourself to a full-service Aurora tour at a specific location like the one offered by Aurora Village. A bus will pick you up from your hotel or B&B and take you out of town and up the Ingraham Trail, only a 20-minute drive but far from the city lights. Here, you’ll find cozy teepees to warm you while you wait for the Northern Lights to put on a show. Bring your best camera, rent a tripod on site and have the staff show you how to take Aurora photos to wow your friends at home.

Enjoy the dog days of winter

dogsledding tour is a must-do Northern experience. It’s easy to imagine a time before vehicles when you’re whooshing through the snow on a sled pulled by dogs. Huskies are some of the original trailblazers of the North and they’re sure to show you a good time. If you prefer horsepower over dogpower, take a snowmobile tour. Or if you’d rather hit the trails under your own steam, try a fat bike tour. What can we say? We love our trails!

visit our government house

Come inside from the great outdoors and tour the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly. This unique building was designed to maintain its natural landscape setting, including the trees, rock outcrops, and the lakeshore. Carvings and crafts from across the territory are featured within. Free guided tours are available Monday-Friday and Sundays. Find out about the territory’s consensus-style government, and don’t miss the NWT’s special collection of Group of Seven painter A.Y. Jackson’s works on display.

Get Yellowknife, to go

After a jam-packed few days, you’ll have some amazing memories of your time in Yellowknife. Visit Yellowknife’s shops and galleries, both downtown or in Old Town, and pick up a memento to proudly display back home. You’ll find handmade moccasins, beadwork, carvings, prints, birchbark baskets and local treats like birch syrup.

Last supper

Cap off a visit to Yellowknife with one last great meal. You’ll find the Copperhouse Eatery + Lounge uptown, and it’s worth the short trip from downtown. With stone-fired pizza and artisanal cocktails, you’ll be warmed through and through. This is also the perfect time to start planning your next visit to the Northwest Territories!

Excited to see a true winter wonderland? Read more about what Northerners look forward to every winter and the ways you can keep busy (and warm!) on your authentic Northern experience.

Find the best way to fill your day while you wait for the Northern Lights to return at nightfall with more winter activities to do during your visit to the NWT.