Yellowknife, Northwest Territories is one of the best places in the world to see the Aurora, due to its proximity to the Magnetic North Pole, and its clear subarctic nights. We’ve put together our locals guide & tips on how to view the Aurora in Yellowknife, Canada so you can experience the magic too. The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights can be seen dancing across the sky over 200 nights a year. That’s almost every night during the Yellowknife Aurora Season.
Often I can see the lights right from my deck during the darker months. After years of living here I know all the best spots to share with you.
Yellowknife Northern Lights
You can view the Aurora in Yellowknife in 7 easy steps:
- Choose your method of travel to Yellowknife (car or plane).
- Decide on a tour or DIY aurora hunting adventure
- Visit during the Aurora season (mid August to October & early December to mid-April.
- Pick at least a 3-4 night stay to maximize your odds.
- Check out the aurora forecast / weather (clear skies) for the night.
- Visit one of the many popular aurora viewing spots in or outside the city.
- Look up! Observe the whirls of emerald green, and sometimes violet, float across the night sky.
I’ve put together a local’s guide & tips to experiencing this cosmic phenomena of colours, as well as a listing of popular viewing spots in, and outside the city.
Renting a car is the best option if you’re planning to chase the Aurora on your own. As there’s no public transit outside the city.
The best spots are a little ways out, away from the city lights.
Get ready for Yellowknife Canada Northern Lights.
The Northern Lights 101
What is the Aurora Borealis?
The Aurora is celestial magic in action.
The aurora happens when charged particles hit the Earth’s atmosphere producing billions of tiny flashes of light. As these lights flash they appear to dance across the sky. The different colours are caused by gas particles (oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen or helium) colliding at certain altitudes.
Aurora Borealis is thought to be derived from “Aurora”, the Roman Goddess of Dawn and “Boreas” the Greek god of the north wind. There are many myths about the Aurora across the world and in the North.
What colours will I see?
The most common colour of the aurora is a pale yellowish green. Shades of pink, red and purple are more rare, but can sometimes be seen along the fringes.
Can you see the Northern Lights in Yellowknife?
Yes you can see the Northern Lights in Yellowknife over 200 nights a year, and upwards of 240 nights when conditions are right. To see the aurora you will need a clear night sky. Getting away from city lights, will make the lights appear brighter.
Planning to chase the Aurora on your own?
You’ll need a car as many of the best spots are out of town, away from light pollution.
NORTHERN LIGHTS IN YELLOWKNIFE
What is the best time to see Northern Lights in Yellowknife?
The best time to see the Northern Lights in Yellowknife is during the Aurora Season either fall, from mid-August to October or winter, from early December to mid-April. September and April are ideal months for aurora viewing if you want to skip the extreme cold. Plus nights are longer, increasing your chances.
Solar activity and frequency of auroras will be slowly ramping up over the next few years, and are expected to peak in 2024/25. Now would be a good time time to start planning your northern vacation.
In order to maximize your chances of seeing the northern lights stay at least 3-4 nights. You don’t want to come all this way to have your only night obstructed by clouds.
Look for the etheral lights in the hours just before and after midnight. We most often see them between 11 pm and 1am. However, I have seen them as early as 8pm.
PRO TIP: If you plan on coming to Yellowknife in September book well in advance. Vacancy rates for accommodations are typically near zero for this popular time of year.
👉 Check out more fun things to do in Yellowknife for when you are not aurora viewing.
Where Can I Find The Yellowknife Aurora Forecast?
Check out the daily aurora forecast on astronomynorth.com, to see the probability of active auroras in the skies. They provide forecasts up to six days in advance from mid August until April.
Or if you are wandering around town, look for the tiny rooftop lighthouses. These flashing beacons alert tourists and locals to the aurora forecast for the evening, telling their story through colour:
- Red (STORMY) – look out for active and colourful auroras
- Green (UNSETTLED – Normal), auroras will be seen
- Blue (CALM) – gentle auroras possible
These Lighthouses are part of the Northern Lighthouse Project and are located throughout the city, as noted on their website at:
- Old Town – Gallery of the Midnight Sun
- Downtown – Sushi North
- Old Airport Road – Aurora Ford
- Range Lake Road – Northland Utilities
What to Wear Aurora Viewing?
What to wear for Aurora viewing depends on the time of year you visit.
What to Wear in Yellowknife in Winter
Winter temperatures average -15C to -30C, and can dip down to -40C or lower. It is COLD, so you will need to be prepared.
In winter you will need a thick parka, heavy duty winter boots ( rated for -30C or lower), a toque, scarf/neck warmer, winter mitts, warm wool socks, long underwear and snow pants. Layers are good, especially wool and fleece. Avoid wearing cotton.
Winter gear is available to rent, or buy in Yellowknife, or online. If you are taking a package tour, the clothing rental will likely be included.
Our favorite winter gear:
Woman’s Winter Gear
- Neck Warmer – Buff Midweight Merino Wool Headwear & Face Mask are where it’s at. Made to be worn multiple ways to cover your head neack and/or face they’re versatile for those freezing days and nights.
- Snow Pants – My budget friendly Arctix Women’s Insulated Snow Pants work fantastic. I just wear some warm long underwear underneath, or insulated or fleece pants, and they keep me toasty warm.
- Winter Boots – If you are going to be standing around in -35°C, you’ll need good winter boots. The warmest option are the Canadian made Baffin Boots. For a more stylish, warm & durable pair try the Baffin Women’s Chloe Snow Boots.
- Best Base Layers – Smartwool Merino wool base layers are our top pick. Not itchy, warm, and fit nicely under your regular clothers. Buy Smartwool on REI here | or grab Smartwool on Amazon here.
Men’s Winter Gear
- Men’s Parkas – Eddie Bauer is another of our go-to winter jacket brands. Many styles, colors and levels of warmth.
- Neck Warmer & Face Mask – The multifunctional Buff Midweight Merino Wool Headwear & Face Mask is great for all adults. Can be worn 10+ different ways. It’s versatile multisport headwear delivering four-season performance.
- Men’s Snow Pants – My hubby uses the budget friendly Arctix Men’s Essential Snow Pants, and finds they keep him warm and comfortable.
- Best Base Layers – Smartwool Merino wool base layers are not itchy, warm, and fit nicely under your regular clothers. Buy Smartwool on REI here | or grab Smartwool on Amazon here.
Kids Winter Gear
- Kids Snow Suits – MEC One piece toaster snowsuits are our favourite and affordable option for kids under 10 yrs. Just layer up with some long underwear and warm clothes underneath. Columbia Bib Snowpants are another good choice.
- Kids Gaiter (Neck warmer) – My daughter prefers thicker Fleece Neck warmers, to the feel of wool. Good for pulling up to cover their cheeks and keeping their face warm too.
- Kids Base Layers – The point of the baselayer is to move moisture away from the skin. The best baselayers will have good wicking properties. We love these Unisex smartwool baselayers for kids or these kids’ warm, breathable REI Co-op Lightweight Crew Long Underwear.
- Warm Winter Boots – Sorel winter boots are an essential in our house, as they are super warm, durable and great for playing in the snow.
What to Wear in Yellowknife in Fall
Fall starts early in Yellowknife, so expect cool weather. Temperatures at night can get down to almost zero. Dress in layers that can be removed if necessary. It usually starts snowing towards the end of October.
You will need a fall jacket , sweater, toque, mittens, wool socks and fleece lined pants or long underwear.
- Eddie Bauer microtherm down jackets are again family favorites. Both the light weight ones for early and spring, and fall, and the thicker hooded versions for early winter.
- Kids Puffy Jackets – Down puffy jackets or sweaters are our go to in fall for the kidlets, as long as it’s not pouring rain. Easy to layer, both windproof and water repellant, this jacket will keep your kids toasty all fall long. We’ll just throw on a shell / rain jacket over top if it rains. Our other durable, warm, fall favorites are the Columbia Boys’ Powder Lite and Columbia Girls Powder Lite Jackets.
AURORA TOUR VS SELF-GUIDED AURORA HUNTING
First off you do not need to take a tour to see the Aurora in Yellowknife. Step outside your hotel on any given night, and you are just as likely to see northern lights as on a tour. Although light pollution from the city will dull the colours.
Walking, biking, renting a car, or hiring a taxi are all options for a self-guided tour to popular viewing spots.
That said, there are reasons you may want to consider taking a tour:
- Aurora Tours offer personalized services and other experiences such as bannock making, story telling, ice fishing and dog sledding to name a few. Aurora Village is a very popular place for tours to visit.
- If you prefer to have someone else take care of all the little details, or want a chance to visit a teepee, or wooden cabin outside the city, then a tour provides the perfect opportunity.
Renting a car is the best option for you to visit all the sites and chase the Northern Lights all on your own. Just remember you’ll need to plug it in overnight in the coldest winter months.
👉 Check out fun winter activities in Yellowknife for year round adventures.
Aurora Tours in Yellowknife
Tours out of Yellowknife can be a one stop destination or aurora “hunting” adventures.
Aurora Hunting Tours
Aurora hunting experiences have you “chasing” the not so elusive aurora in a bus, van or car. These tours can be small groups to large van loads of tourists. Multiple locations provide opportunities for photographing the aurora from different perspectives.
Stops include different lake locations, and day use areas outside of town, so lights from the city don’t interefere with aurora viewing.
If you don’t mind getting in and out of a vehicle multiple times, and have a limited time to see the aurora, this may be for you.
- This Indigenous owned tour – Learn from the experts. They will pick you up from many hotels & Air BnBs in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
- Or try this popular half day aurora tour (4-5 hours). Learn all about the Northern Lights and see them dance across the sky on the ice road and sites away from the light pollution of the city.
Destination Aurora Viewing Tour
Destination aurora viewing tours are a one-stop visit, where you stay for your entire tour. Destinations offer prime spots for aurora viewing while visiting their cozy lodge, cabin, tent or village.
These can be one day to multi day adventures, where cultural and other winter activities are offered during the day. They often combine aurora hunting, with a visit to Aurora Village, or a warm cozy cabin or teepee. Some popular options include:
- Aurora Tours at a Cozy Cabin – Enjoy a midnight snack of hot bannock and fish chowder, listen to stories & take iconic photos
Self-Guided Aurora Hunting
Self-guided aurora viewing is a great option if you prefer a quieter, less crowded experience, and don’t mind the extra effort to make it happen.
Aurora viewing can take place in the city within walking distance, or a short car or taxi ride outside the city lights.
- Many of the popular spots outside the city include day use areas by the Yellowknife River and local lakes within a 30 minute drive.
These spots can get busy between locals and tours chasing the Northern Lights. And the lights from vehicles coming and going can get a bit annoying, but it’s still magical. Head further out on the Ingraham Trail to avoid the crowds.
👉 You may also like hiking the Cameron Falls Trail in Yellowknife
WHERE TO VIEW THE AURORA IN YELLOWKNIFE
While the aurora is often visible within the city, the further away from city lights the more vibrant the display.
There are many popular viewing spots from the Dettah Ice Road and Pilots Monument in Yellowknife, to the Territorial Day Parks along the Ingraham Trail.
If you want to hunt for the Aurora on your own, here’s a handy list of popular spots:
- Step outside your hotel or AirBnB and look up!
- Pilots Monument
- Dettah Ice Road
- Frame Lake / Somba K’e Park
- Parker Park
- Giant Mine Boat Launch
- Fred Henne
- Sand Pits
- Yellowknife River Day Use Area
- Prosperous Lake
- Madeline Lake
- Pontoon Lake
- Prelude Lake
Read on for more tips on where and how to view the aurora in Yellowknife.
WHERE TO VIEW THE AURORA WITHIN YELLOWKNIFE
1. Step Outside Your Hotel or AirBnB
As noted earlier, you don’t have to go anywhere to find the Northern Lights. With the aurora active over 200 nights a year, you are likely to see them on any dark, clear night.
2. Pilot’s Monument
Located in Old Town perched on top of a rocky hill, Pilot’s Monument offers a panoramic view of Yellowknife, Great Slave Lake and the surrounding area.
The view is also stunning in the day time especially at sunrise or sunset.
How to get there:
Follow Franklin Ave down the hill towards Old Town. Turn left onto Wiley Road, then take a right onto Ingraham Drive. If you are driving, park in the parking lot part way up the hill. Take the many stairs (80) to the top of the monument.
3. Dettah Ice Road
The Dettah Ice Road runs across Yellowknife Bay and is only open in the winter months from January to March.
Take a slight detour off the road to visit the iconic Ice Castle, in March. If you are lucky, you may even be able to photograph the aurora and Ice Castle together. One unforgettable northern experience.
How to get there:
The Yellowknife entrance is off School Draw Road, by Rotary Park. A quick 5-10 minute drive from dowtown, or Old Town.
4. Frame Lake / Somba K’e Park
Frame Lake is a small lake in the heart of downtown Yellowknife. In winter, walk to the middle of the frozen lake for a near unobstructed view of the aurora. Make sure you watch out for snowmobiles.
Frame Lake Trail forms a seven kilometre (4.4 mile) loop around the lake.
Stick to the urban side running between the Legislative Assembly and the new Stanton Territorial Hospital for a gentler pathway. The western half is a rugged wilderness trail that is not maintained in the winter months.
Somba K’e Park sits on the edge of Frame Lake by City Hall.
How to get there:
Frame Lake is accessible behind city hall located at 4910 – 52nd Street. It’s a 5 to 10 minute walk from anywhere downtown, or a 30 minute trek from Old Town.
5. Parker Park
This urban park has a little bit for everyone. Parker Park features open baseball fields, a small lake ( watch out for snowmobiles), trails, a playground and a sledding hill. Watch the aurora from the fields or middle of lake for the best views.
How to get there:
Parker Park is located on Banke Crescent, off Finlayson Drive North, in the Range Lake neighbourhood.
It is a 4km (2.5mile) / 50 minute hike from dowtown, or a quick 10 minute taxi ride if you aren’t staying in the area.
6. Giant Mine Boat Launch
The Giant Mine Boat Launch is popular viewing spot close to town, where you can escape the city lights.
How to get there:
From Franklin Avenue in downtown Yellowknife, turn onto 48th street towards the Explorer Hotel.
Follow 48th as it turns into Highway 4, straight past the intersection and the Yellowknife Ski Club on your right. Turn right on the unmarked road before the road closed sign and look out for the boat launch ahead.
The drive takes under 10 minutes from downtown, or almost an hour to walk, which is not recommended, especially at night.
Note: Giant Mine remediation is now taking place so use caution. The public boat launch is open near the Giant Mine Site and on the Ingraham Trail (Highway 4). But watch out for trucks travelling on the Ingraham Trail (Highway 4) turning in and out of the Giant Mine site.
7. Fred Henne
Fred Henne Territorial Park is situated on Long Lake with a campground, beach and day use area. The park is open in the winter time for walking, and is a great spot to see the aurora close to the city.
How to get there:
For Aurora viewing, use the day use parking lot, located on Highway 3, just past Old Airport Road. The parking lot is across from the airport.
8. Sand Pits
The Sand Pits are a popular recreation area made out of…you guessed it sand. Snowmobiling, dog walking, campfires and aurora viewing are popular activities here.
The Sand Pits are close to the airport, so their lights may affect how strongly the aurora appears.
How to get there:
You can easily reach it by car by taking Highway 3 past the airport. You will see an entrance just past Dehcho Boulevard on your left hand side.
Watching the Aurora – Along The Ingraham Trail
The Ingraham Trail (Highway 4) runs from Yellowknife, 70kms east to Tibbett Lake which is the end of the road. There are no services on the Ingraham Trail, and no reliable cell reception past Prelude Lake.
I’ve only listed the viewing spots within a 45 minute drive of Yellowknife.
However if you are feeling more adventurous, the NWT puts out a a great map of all the “Safe Aurora Viewing and Parking Locations“ . It is a must read before you head out on your own.
The end of the road Tibett Lake is a great place to see the Northern Lights, away from the crowds.
The closest spot out on the Ingraham Trail is a pullout about 4.5km from the turn off onto the Trail, on your right hand side.
1. Yellowknife River Day Use Area
The Yellowknife River Day Area is a popular campfire spot (bring your marshmallows and some wood), as well as an aurora viewing area. This day use area is accessible year round.
How to get there:
The Yellowknife River Day Use Area is located along the Ingraham Trail, a 20 minute drive out of town. Look out for the Yellowknife River signs. You will see the turn off on your right, just over the river.
2. Prosperous Lake
Prosperous Lake is mainly known for its boat launch, the jumping off point for this 16km lake. Walk out onto the lake for the best views and photos of the aurora.
How to get there:
Prosperous Lake Territorial Park is a 25 minute drive from Yellowknife, along the Ingraham Trail.
3. Madeline Lake
Madeline Lake is a small park with picnic tables, fire pits and a playground for the kidlets. This is a popular tour spot, so it may be crowded.
How to get there:
Madeline Lake Territorial park is about a 30 minute drive from Yellowknife, along the Ingraham Trail.
4. Pontoon Lake
This day use area sits on a scenic peninsula, jutting out onto Pontoon Lake. There are picnic areas, campfires and a series of short trails.
How to get there:
Pontoon Lake Territorial Park is about a 40 minute drive outside of Yellowknife, along the Ingraham Trail.
5. Prelude Lake
Prelude Lake is said to be one of the best spots for aurora viewing and photography. Prelude operates as a campground in the summer months.
Sit at the picnic tables on the beach, or climb the lookout for better aurora views.
How to get there:
Prelude Lake Territorial Park is a 45 minute drive from Yellowknife along the Ingraham Trail. Unless you stop at all the other amazing aurora viewing spots first, then it could take all night.
Drive through the campground and park at the boat launch jutting out into the lake.
Quick Tips To Make The Most Of Your Northern Lights Experience
Try these tips to make the most of your aurora experience:
- Check out the forecast to see if the aurora is likely to be visible
- Choose a night without moonlight. Moonlight will light up the sky and the aurora will be faint or invisible
- Watch the weather forecast. Cloudy nights = no sights
- Dress warmly and in layers
- Bring your camera, snacks, and a hot drink (for cold nights)
- Get away from light pollution. Choose a spot outside the city where the skies are dark.
- Choose a spot with fewer cars, people, or distractions
- Choose a spot with an unobstructed view
- Park only in pull outs or parking lots for safety
TRAVELLING TO YELLOWKNIFE, NT
Where is Yellowknife?
Yellowknife sits on the north shore of Great Slave Lake, 400km (250 miles) south of the Arctic Circle, as the raven flies.
The Yellowknife area is home to about 20,000 people and the Indigenous communities of Ndilǫ and Dettah. Ndilǫ and Dettah are represented by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and are part of the Akaitcho Territory Government. You can learn more here.
Of the eleven official languages of the Northwest Territories, five are spoken in Yellowknife: Dene Suline, Dogrib, South and North Slavey, English, and French.
How To get to Yellowknife?
Yellowknife can be reached by air or by road. It’s approximately a 1450km, 19 hour drive from Edmonton to Yellowknife along Frontier Trail, MacKenzie Highway and Yellowknife Highway, or just under 2 hour flight.
Southern locations that typically service Yellowknife are Calgary (2.5 hrs), Edmonton (1.75 hrs), Ottawa (4hrs), Vancouver (2.5hrs), as well as Whitehorse (1.5hrs) seasonally.
As flight schedules have recently been reduced, it would be best to check in with airlines for their most up to date info:
- Air Canada (Calgary, Edmonton)
- Air North (Victoria, Ottawa, Toronto – Seasonal & Whitehorse)
- Canadian North (Edmonton)
- West Jet (Edmonton, Calgary)
Yellowknife can also be reached by car from Alberta or British Columbia. Driving through the boreal forest of this sparsely populated area lends itself to contemplating the mysteries of the north. You really do feel the vast remoteness of the area.
Watch out for bison and potholes, especially from Fort Providence onwards. While roads are paved, the last 100km into Yellowknife is a twisting, pot holed adventure on rolling pavement due to frost heave.
- Alberta – Take Highway 35 north to NT Highway 1
- British Columbia – Take Highway 77 to the Liard Trail (NT Highway 7) through Fort Simpson
Driving times can vary depending on road conditions and time of year. It takes at least two days to drive from the closest big cities.
- Grande Prairie – 14 hours
- Edmonton – 18 hours
- Calgary – 20 hours
- Vancouver – 26 hours
Whether you are seeing the Aurora Borealis up close for the first time or the 100th, the wild beauty of everchanging ribbons of light, weaving across the sky, will stay with you long after you return home.
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- Easy Ways to Build a Family Travel Fund
How To View The Aurora In Yellowknife: Ultimate Local’s Guide
Featured Image: “istock/NZSteve”