During the winter season (mid-November to mid-April), many tourists flock to Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories to see the northern lights, spending their nights scanning the skies. In the daytime, Yellowknife has plenty of exciting activities that you can participate in so that you can make the most of your time in this winter wonderland!
Visit the Dettah Ice Road
Every winter, Great Slave Lake freezes over and the ice becomes so thick that huge trucks can drive over it! Snow is cleared to form a 6.5 km long ice road that connects Yellowknife to the community of Dettah. Lying down on the ice road and taking photos is popular among tourists.
Visit the Bush Pilot Monument
The Pilot Monument is dedicated to the bush pilots and engineers who passed away as they delivered supplies and people to remote villages and mining camps during the 1920s and 30s. It is also Yellowknife’s most popular lookout, providing spectacular views of the Old Town and Great Slave Lake. You can spot log cabins left over from the days of the gold rush.
Explore the Old Town
Here you can find several art galleries, gift shops and the popular Bullock’s Bistro.
Visit the Ragged Ass Road sign
Ragged Ass Road is a residential street. It got its name after one of the residents, Lou Rocher, joked with his friends that they were “ragged ass broke” after a tough prospecting season. That night, they put up a Ragged Ass Road sign, which has become a famous tourist attraction. Over the years, many signs have been stolen so city officials have since welded them to their posts.
The above four places can be visited either on a tour or on your own (if you have a car and are used to winter driving). I took this tour.
At Aurora Village, you can go snowshoeing on some trails in a nearby forest. You will learn about herbs used for healing, local wildlife, and how to start a campfire.
Go Dog Sledding
Before modern vehicles, Aboriginals used to travel across the land by dog team. In Yellowknife, there are several companies offering dog sled rides. I took a dog sled ride at Aurora Village and enjoyed the experience. The ride was about 15 minutes long. If you want to try driving a dog team rather than have someone else drive you, that option is available at an extra cost.
If you are lucky, you can meet some puppies!
The above two activities are part of Aurora Village’s Winter Experience Tour, which includes hotel pick-up and drop-off.
Visit Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
This is the official museum of the Northwest Territories. Here you can learn about Aboriginal culture as well as the history and wildlife of the area. The displays from the Northern Frontier Visitors Center (which was closed recently) have been moved to this location.
See the Snow Castle at the Annual Snowking Festival
Every March, a month-long festival is held in a castle built from snow. The castle has a courtyard, café, auditorium, and ice sculptures. The festival features theatre, hockey games, concerts and art exhibits. Construction of the castle begins on January 1 every year, so even if you visit before March you might be able to watch the castle being built. You can check event times and ticket prices here.
Photo via Anson Chappell on Flickr
Take a tour of the Buffalo Airways Hangar
Buffalo Airways is an airline that mainly flies WWII-era propeller planes around Northern Canada. It was featured on the reality TV show Ice Pilots, which lasted six seasons. If you make an appointment, you can take a free tour of the Buffalo Airways hangar at Yellowknife Airport from Monday- Friday. You can book a tour by calling 1(867)765-6023 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo via Anson Chappell on Flickr
In the Northwest Territories, snowmobiling is a popular activity. Many companies offer guided snowmobiling tours for beginners. You can even take aurora viewing snowmobile tours at night.
Go Ice Fishing
Watch an ice fishing demonstration and try ice fishing on an ice fishing tour. I took a tour with Great Slave Lake Tours. Shawn and the guide who took us out on the lake were both friendly and informative. We rode on the lake in a Bombardier (an ice fishing vehicle) to a spot where fishing lines and nets had already been set up. The guide gave us a chance to try pulling in the fish. After we had collected a few fish, the guide prepared delicious fresh sashimi! Next, we went to a warm fishing hut on the lake, where we were served a seafood lunch. Outside the hut two chairs were set up in front of two fishing holes. We sat holding fishing rods in the holes for a few minutes, but didn’t catch anything. Ice fishing requires a lot of patience or setting up nets overnight!
Watch the Sunset
I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen while in Yellowknife from the pathway near the Prince of Wales Heritage Center. As the sun went down the sky turned pink and purple. During winter, the sun in Yellowknife sets very early due to its northern latitude. When I was there, it set at 4:30 pm, but on certain days in December and January it can set as early as 3:00 pm!