Last Updated: December 21, 2020
Fun things to do in Yellowknife, Canada.
Yellowknife has many fun things to do throughout the year. From golfing in the midnight sun, to hikes and paddling in the wilderness, and world renowned auroa viewing. If you are planning a trip to Yellowknife and are not sure what to do, our list of top things to do will help inspire your northern adventure.
Our guide will focus on activities best done between June and September, as winter deserves its own special post.
Weather in Yellowknife, NT
June weather averages 14°C. It’s a time when the lakes begin to have open waters, people are planting their gardens and the days are some of the longest of the year. It’s also a good time to go camping and beat the bugs.
July to mid August is summer time in Yellowknife, with temperatures averaging 17°C, perfect for northern outdoor adventures. Mid August on, is when the aurora really starts being visible again.
The weather in September is cool, averaging highs of 10°C (50.7°F), and lows of 4°C (39.2°F). Northerners are pulling out their wool socks and sweaters and contemplating the approaching long winter season. It’s also a popular time for aurora tours, so make sure to book your accommodation well in advance as vacancy is low this time of year.
It is also the time of year my family moved up north, so September in Yellowknife holds a special place in our lives. Luckily there are many outdoor activities to enjoy in and around Yellowknife, Canada.
I gratefully acknowledge that the land in and around Yellowknife is on Chief Drygeese’s territory, homeland of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
Things to do in Yellowknife – Outdoor Activities
Aurora Viewing In Yellowknife
One of the best times for viewing the northern lights in Yellowknife is from mid August to early October. The nights are getting longer, however there is still a lot of day time left this time of year. You’ll have to stay up later than the dead of winter, to watch these ribbons of lights dance across the sky.
Visiting in September is well worth it for the warmer weather (unless you are looking for a true northern winter experience).
Overcast nights and rain can happen. It is recommended to spend at least 3 nights to maximize your chances of seeing the aurora borealis.
How to view the Aurora in Yellowknife is a good place to start if you are looking for more info on how (and where) to view this natural phenomena.
Hiking In And Around Yellowknife
Yellowknife offers easy to moderate trails, for the whole family.
For trails near the city centre check out Frame Lake, Prospector’s and Niven Lake Trails. For hikes outside the city, but still within an hour drive, the popular Cameron Falls, or Prelude Lake trails are great, easy access options.
Frame Lake Trail
Where: Downtown Yellowknife – Access by city hall or off the parking lot by the Legislative Assembly.
Difficulty: Easy paved path from City Hall to Stanton Hospital. Easy to Moderate nature trail on west side of lake. Family and dog friendly.
The Frame Lake Trail is a fairly easy 4 km hike you can access right from downtown Yellowknife. It tops our list of things to do in Yellowknife, and we hike this trail multiple times a year. Sometimes we do only small sections of it, sometimes the full trail.
Frame Lake trail passes city hall, the Legislative Assembly, and the new Stanton Hospital. The trail from City Hall to Stanton Hospital is fully paved, and you will often see Yellowknifers commuting by bike or walking into the the city centre.
The west side of the trail is a more rugged nature trail through jack-pine forests, and over rocky outcrops, connecting into Bristol Monument, and Lakeview Cemetary. Be sure to wear good soled shoes, and bring bug spray.
Insider Tip: Bristol Monument sits at the entrance to Yellowknife, a reminder of the north’s aviation history. This Bristol Freighter was the first wheeled plane to land at the North Pole in 1967.
The monument can be accessed through Frame Lake Trail or off Old Airport road, from the same parking lot as the Welcome to Yellowknife sign.
Prospector’s Trail, Yellowknife
Where: Trail Head starts in Fred Henne Territorial Park in Yellowknife.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate nature trail. Family and dog friendly.
There be gold here! Or at least there was. Gold was discovered out here in 1935, which started off Yellowknife as a gold mining community.
The Prospector’s Trail is a well marked interpretive trail where you can learn some of the history of miners, alongside identifying rocks of the Canadian Shield. Grab a leaflet in the campground to learn more.
Prospector’s Trail starts in Fred Henne Park and is a 4km loop. The walk is mostly along dirt paths and rock, with minimal hills. There are pretty views of the city, lake and surrounding countryside.
Be sure to bring rubber soled shoes and bug spray. It can be muddy along the path in September, and there are enough mosquitos to carry you away this close to the lake. Ok that’s an exaggeration (mostly), but bug dope is a must.
Insider Tip: Stop at the Fred Henne Gatehouse. They have info and maps of the trail. It costs $10.50 for a day pass to enter the park with your vehicle.
You can also park for free above the day use / boat launch area across from the airport. Hiking in to the trailhead from there will add another 15 minutes each way.
Niven Lake Trail, Yellowknife
Where: Access points by Nova Hotel, or off 49th Ave, Niven Drive or Haener Drive.
Difficulty: Easy. Family and Stroller friendly. Dog Friendly
Niven Lake Trail is an easy 2km loop on well packed gravel, around a marshy lagoon. This path is one of the better places in town for birdwatching and seeing the occasional muskrat.
The Yellowknife Ski Club and Back Bay Cemetary are also accessible through trails connecting off of the Niven Lake Trail.
The fall colours really stand out here in the city. Our family likes to explore and take pictures in Niven Lake each year as the leaves start to change.
Insider Tip: Take one of the offshoot trails further into the lake. You’ll get better wildlife views, with benches for relaxing on.
Cameron River Falls Hiking Trail
Where: 47 km east of Yellowknife, along the Ingraham Trail.
Difficulty: Moderate. Family Friendly (if prepared for rugged terrain and an up & down hike) & Dog Friendly
Cameron Falls is a well marked 2km hike (roundtrip), within Hidden Lake Territorial Park. The terrain is rocky and uneven, and you will be walking up and down fairly steep hills, so good shoes are a must.
Your efforts will be well rewarded with a stunning view of the 15 metre falls as they tumble down the Cameron River. Don’t stop at the lookout! Keep heading up the trail, and over the footbridge to a prime picnic spot beside the river.
September, heading into Fall is a particularly pretty time to visit Cameron Falls. Make sure to bring a camera to capture the changing scenery.
For the more adventourous, you can continue your hike upstream 8-9km to the Cameron River Ramparts. While the trail is not well developed, the route and river is fairly easy to follow.
Cameron River Falls area also provides access into the Lower Cameron River Canoe Route, one of the Ingraham Trail Canoe Routes.
Insider Tip: Cameron River Ramparts is a great alternative if you want an easy, short (10 minute) hike to some beautiful small falls, without the big ups and downs.
Drive 5 – 10 minutes further along the Ingraham Trail, past the Cameron Falls parking lot. On the left hand side you will see the sign / parking lot.
Prelude Lake Trail
Where: 30 km along the Ingraham Trail from Yellowknife.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Family & Dog friendly.
Prelude Lake is a scenic, family and kid friendly interpretive trail.
This 2.5 km loop will teach you all about the local flora and fauna as you roam over sand and bedrock, and through muskeg areas. There are also many lake view points along the way.
This path is a fun thing to do with your kids. My daughter has been hiking this trail since she was 5 years old, with no problem. She loves scrambling over the rocks, and looking for special treasures to being home.
Access to the trailhead is outside the gatehouse of Prelude Lake Campground, which means parking is free. Bonus!
You may also like: Yellowknife Hiking – Cameron Falls Trail
Camping in and near Yellowknife, NT
Summer time is prime time for camping in the north. However, May until early September are also great times to camp, as generally there are fewer bugs. It can also be cool, so pack warm clothes and appropriate gear. Local campgrounds are usually open until Sept 15th.
Insider Tip: Book your campsite early, especially for weekends, as these campgrounds are popular destinations and fill up fast. Booking typically opens up beginning of May.
Fred Henne Campground
Where: Entrance off Highway 3 ( aka Frontier Trail / MacKenzie Hwy) between Old Airport Road and Ingraham Trail.
Sites: 75 Powered, 40 non-powered, 6 tent pads
Fred Henne Campground is the place to be, if you’d like the comforts of the home (last minute run to the Co-op for chips and hotdogs or a morning coffee from Birchwood Coffee Kǫ̀ anyone?), but still feel like you are in the middle of wilderness.
Fred Henne sits on Long Lake, right on the edge of Yellowknife. Long Lake is a popular summer time beach, and if you you don’t mind the cold, accessible in September as well.
The trailhead to Prospectors Trail is in Fred Henne Campground, beside the shower building, so you can check off two fun things to do in one trip.
Prelude Lake Campground
Where: Along the Ingraham Trail, a 30km / 30-45 minute drive from Yellowknife.
Sites: 67 non-powered and 12 tent pads
Prelude Lake Campground has activities for the whole family to enjoy. Within the campground, there is a boat launch, a playground, a sandy beach and day use area.
The short, 30 minute Panoramic Trail above the boat launch takes you to a look out. Be sure to bring your camera and capture the stunning views of Prelude Lake. Twilight is especially pretty.
Prelude Lake is 16 km long and island filled. It’s a boaters haven, so if that is your jam, Prelude Lake is highly recommended.
There is a day use fee for parking inside the campground area if you aren’t camping.
Insiders Tips: The tent pads up on the rocks have a spectacular view of the lake, and make for a unique camping trip.
Cell Phone coverage is pretty reliable up to Prelude Lake Campground, but less so about 20km past here.
Reid Lake Campground
Where: 60km / 1 hour drive along Ingraham Trail from Yellowknife
Sites: 74 non-powered (includes 11 tent pads)
Reid Lake Campground is the furthest of the three, and my favourite. It tends to be quieter and more low key.
This campground is a great place to start your fishing, boating, swimming, and canoeing adventures. There is a small sandy beach area down the hill from a kid-friendly playground. With shade! Always a bonus in our world.
Insider Tip: Reid Lake is about a 15 minute drive to the end of Ingraham Trail. At the end of the road sits Tibbett Lake, a great place to view the Aurora Borealis on a clear night.
Canoe Trips around Yellowknife, NT
Canoe trips are another fun activity, if you’d like to camp off the RV route or want to experience one of the many lakes the Yellowknife area has to offer. For a day or a week, we have something to match your experience level and time frame.
The following are popular canoe routes:
Day trips for paddlers with experience:
- Hidden Lake – suitable for 1, 2 or 3 days
- Lower Cameron River – 1 day trip from Reid Lake to Powder Point
Longer canoe trips (2- 5 days):
- Tibbett Lake Loop – easy 2 day trip which starts and finishes at the end of the Ingraham Trail.
- Powder Point to Cassidy Point– 2 to 3 day basic paddling trip. A caution, there is the possibility of high winds and waves due to paddling the large Prelude and Prosperous Lakes.
- Pensive Lakes – 4 -5 day trip for advanced paddlers from Tibett Lake to Cameron Rapids
- Upper Cameron River – Challenging 2 day trip from Tibett Lake to Reid Lake campground. Be prepared for rapids (or to portage).
- Jennejohn – 5 day excursion through the wilderness from Reid Lake through to Dettah on Great Slave Lake. This route is for canoeists who are experienced in traveling by map, compass and GPS. Wind can be dangerous on Jennejohn, Reid and Great Slave Lake.
Biking (Fat Bikes, Mountain Bikes, Rentals & Tours)
Mountain biking, bike tours, fat bikes, rentals and more. Biking is a possibility in and around Yellowknife.
Whether you want to head out on the road along the Ingraham Trail, mountain bike over granite rock, on the Prelude Lake Trail, or take a spin at the Sand Pit, there is something for all skill and adventure levels.
Fat Bikes are a thing here in Yellowknife, especially in winter. With 7 months of winter, northerners have to come up with ways to stay active and sane over the cold months. You can also rent and try them out on your own, or with a tour, the rest of the year as well.
Fishing Great Slave Lake
Yellowknife is the jumping off point for fly-in fishing lodges, day trips with a guide or DIY fishing adventures. Head on down to Old Town and cast a line off the Dock.
Great Slave Lake is well known for its abundance of monster sized lake trout and northern pike. Other fish species around Yellowknife include Pickerel, Lake Whitefish and Arctic Grayling.
Be sure to buy your sport fishing license and follow the NWT fishing regulations.
Float Plane Tour
Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a bush pilot or to fly in a float plane? Now is your chance.
Whether you choose a flight seeing tour over the area, or head out to a secluded lake or lodge for fishing, taking a float plane is a cool thing to do in Yellowknife, Canada.
Soaring above the vast northern wilderness will open your eyes to the beauty of our landscape as you float over houseboats, bays and island filled lakes.
Paddle Yellowknife’s Back Bay
Rent a canoe, kayak or stand up paddleboard (SUP) and head on out for a paddle on Back Bay.
You can launch right into Great Slave Lake from Narwhal Adventures, get your SUP adventure on with Old Town Paddle Co, or take a Yellowknife Bay Tour with Jackpine Paddle leaving 10am daily from June 15 to Sept 15.
Walk Historic Old Town
“Old Town” dates back to the 1930’s, when gold seekers headed north and created a settlement here. Amble this historic area in a self-guided or guided walking tour. Pamphlets available from the Tourist Centre in City Hall.
Old Town’s residential area sits alongside Great Slave Lake, and some of Yellowknife’s oldest businesses. From funky cabins & fish shacks, to mansions, iconic restaurants and art galleries, there is something to see around every corner.
Climb the Bush Pilot’s Monument
An ode to bush pilots and their contribution to the north, “The Rock” in Old Town over looks Great Slave Lake, Back Bay and downtown Yellowknife.
Watch the sun rise or set over the lake, from the best view in town. See float planes lifting off for destinations unknown while colourful houseboats and Joliffe Island hover in the distance.
Visit Yellowknife Farmer’s Market
Head on down to Somba K’e Park (beside city hall) Tuesday’s from 5:15pm – 7:15pm for the Yellowknife Farmer’s Market.
Over 30 vendors offer local food, crafts and music. It’s a chance to socialize with “Knifers” and eat a delicious dinner overlooking Frame Lake.
Held from June to September each year, the market supports local food and ecological sustainability. The market promotes waste reduction and composting, and requires all disposable items used by vendors to be compostable.
We love our small farmer’s market. I hope you do too.
Things To Do In Yellowknife – Indoor Activities
So now that you’ve exhausted all the outdoor activities that are available, let’s move indoors. If you are visiting in early Spring, or in September, Yellowknife can have rainy, overcast days, so it’s a good idea to have some indoor attractions in your back pocket.
Visit Prince of Whales Northern Heritage Centre
Where: 4750 48th Street – downtown Yellowknife on the shores of Frame Lake
Hours: Open Wed – Sun 1-5pm. Free admission.
The Prince of Whales Northern Heritage Centre is our museum and archive. It is where you can go to learn about the culture and history of the Northwest Territories.
Exhibits range from landscape dioramas that show the strong connection northerners have with animals and the land, to exhibits that showcase the history, language and culture of the Indigenous people’s whose land we live and play on, and more.
Check out the current exhibits online.
My seven year old loves the kids area complete with a teepee and canoe to hang out in. We like to spend our afternoons here on cool, rainy days in the Fall.
Insider Tip: Stay for a delicious lunch at the Museum Cafe open 11-2pm. Reservations recommended. Note: The Museuem Cafe is closed until further notice.
Tour the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly
Where: 4517 48th Street, along Frame Lake in downtown Yellowknife
Hours: Free Guided Tours available June 1 – August 31, Monday to Friday at 10:30 am, 1:30 & 3:30 pm and on Sundays at 1:30 pm. Tours daily September to May at 10:30am Monday – Friday (except statuatory holidays). Note: Tours cancelled until further notice due to COVID concerns.
Learn all about the Northwest Territories consensus government, and the traditional values of the people of the NWT, while touring the Legislative Building. Designed to reflect the natural surroundings and highlight the openess of consensus government, this architectural beauty sits along the shore of Frame Lake.
Test your knowledge by participating in the Legislative Assembly Scavenger hunt, a fun activity for all ages.
Self-guided audio tours are available during buildings hours, in all 11 of the Northwest Territories official languages and Japanese.
Explore the NWT Diamond Centre
Where: 5105 49 St, downtown Yellowknife
Hours: Every day 10am – 5:45pm. Note: Currently open by appointment only. Call 867-669-6203. Free admission.
Yellowknife, is considered the “Diamond Capital” of Canada. Just as gold mining declined around Yellowknife, diamonds were discovered north of the city. From the start of exploration in the 80’s, to mining today, this centre gives you a glimpse into this industries fascinating history.
Enjoy an exhibition and short video on diamond exploration, mining and manufacturing in the north. Followed by a diamond cutting and polishing demonstration..
If you believe diamonds are a girl’s (or a person’s) best friend, you can also end your day by purchasing quality loose diamonds or jewellry from their shop.
Tour Buffalo Airways
Where: 108 Berry Street, Yellowknife, NT
Hours: Hangar Tours run Tuesday to Sunday, by appointment only. Call 867-765-6023. Free.
Buffalo Airways, a long-time northern business has been operating WWII aircraft since 1970. Most noteably their DC-3 planes. You may also recognize them as home to “Buffalo Joe” and the iconic tv show “Ice Pilots”.
The hangar tours showcase their fleet and are available during the week by appointment. Merchandise from their tv show can also be purchased in their gift shop.
Take a Workshop at Old Town Glassworks
Where: 3510 MacDonald Drive, Old Town
Hours: Tuesday to Friday 10-5 and Saturday to Monday 12-5
Old Town Glassworks is a workers cooperative creating beautiful glassware, out of recycled materialsm rescued from the shores of Great Slave Lake. Each piece has designs from northern artists etched into the glass.
They offer a shop featuring many glass designs; glasses, lamps, magnets and more, perfect for last minute gifts. Or for a unique souvenir, consider taking one of their 2 hour workshops, where you can stencil and etch your own piece of glassware to take home.
Other Things to Do in Yellowknife
Once you’ve had your fill of touring and outdoor adventuring it may be time for some other types of nourishment, tasty snacks and activities.
- Grab a coffee at Birchwood Coffee Kǫ̀
- Buy an actual book from The Book Cellar, for a relaxing evening read
- Sip local, award winning craft beer at the Woodyard (aka “The Brewpub”)
- Let your tastebuds dance with the most delicious traditional Ethiopian food at Zehabesha (Mahiberawi combo platter on injera is our fav)
- Visit one of the many city playgrounds (Somba K’e, Forest Park, Josephine Walcer Park)
- Bring your family down to Savannah’s to experience home cooked Somali inspired dishes (I’m dreaming of their goat curry and rice right now)
- Head out for the best pizza in town at the Copperhouse Eatery & Lounge
- Listen to Cabin Radio, for the most up to date local news, stories, music and more.
- Stop for delicious fish meal straight from Great Slave Lake, at Bullock’s Bistro.
- Swim at Long Lake (if you are brave).
Yes, There Are Many Fabulous Things To Do in Yellowknife, Canada
For a town of only 20,000 people, there are a surprising amount of things you won’t want to miss during your visit to Yellowknife. Whether you travel north in summer for the warmer weather or during the winter for the ice and snow, Yellowknife has many family, kid and adult friendly activities to offer, for all levels of adventure seekers.
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