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If you are looking for a snowy northern adventure, then it’s always a good time to try some of the best Yellowknife winter activities. Yellowknife, the capital city of Canada’s Northwest Territories is famous for its Northern Lights (over 200 nights a year), Ice Castle and COLD winter weather.
But that doesn’t stop Yellowknifers from bundling up and having fun all winter long. You can too! Visit Yellowknife in winter for true Canadian experience.
Having moved here from the west coast of Canada, I get it can seem intimidating to visit such a cold place. Not to worry, I’ve put together some fun bucket list ideas, if you are visiting from November to April. Plus tips to beat ( & maybe even embrace) the cold, what to wear in Yellowknife in the winter, and answers to frequently asked questions about Yellowknife winters.
Here are the best things to do in Yellowknife, Canada in winter from a local. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, so bundle up, and let’s get started.
What To Wear In Yellowknife In Winter
First of all you are going to need to suit up. Yellowknife is about 400 km from the Arctic Circle so cold in winter.
Temperatures run the range of an average -10°C in November, to -30°C in January and February, and it can get windy being on the shores of Great Slave Lake. But -40°C is not unusual in the colder months, especially when you factor in the windchill.
You’ll need to be prepared with good winter gear, because many of the best things to do in Yellowknife are outdoors. Layers are key, as extra clothes can always be removed. This goes for children too.
If you plan on bringing your own gear, check out our list below. You can also rent winter gear (parkas & boots) in Yellowknife as well.
What to wear in Yellowknife in winter:
- Base Layer – Thermal underwear made of wool, or synthetics (not cotton). You want a material that’s wicking, and will retain heat.
- Wool Socks – Warm pair of socks to keep your feet toasty.
- Regular Clothes Layer – Pants, shirt and sweater, loose enough to fit your base layer underneath. Avoid jeans as they aren’t overly warm, unless lined.
- Snowpants – Snowpants are essential, and will help keep you dry and warm. We love pants that are durable, warm, good price.
- Toque, Mitts, Neck Warmer – Winter accessories, will help keep the wind out, your heat in, and hands dry. We prefer neck warmers over scarves, as they can easily be pulled up over your nose to keep your face covered, and fit nicely under parkas.
- Waterproof / water resistant mitts especially for the kids
Snowsuits & Parkas
- Snowsuit for the kids – We preferred the full snowsuit for the kids when younger. PRO TIP: Just make sure they use the bathroom BEFORE you get them in their suit.
- Parkas – You’ll want a parka that sits to at least mid thigh, and is rated for -30°C to -40°C. While most people are familiar with Canada Goose, there are a lot of other great options out there.
Warm winter boots are needed to protect your feet, and toes from getting frostbite.
Our favorite brands are Sorel & Baffin …..which are good to negative bazillion degrees (or close), comfortable and waterproof. If you are going to be spending a lot of time outdoors then you’ll want boots rated to at least -30°C or colder.
- WOMEN’s: Favorite Women’s Sorel Boots. My last pair of Baffin’s Women’s Boots lasted 15 years, and kept my feet and toes nice and toasty.
- MEN’s: These Men’s Baffin Snow Monster boots offer lightweight warmth, grippy soles and are rated for super cold weather.
- KIDS: These kids Baffin boots are affordable, durable and super warm. Or grab my daughter’s favorite unisex kids Sorel Boots for kids.
Best Things To Do in Yellowknife in Winter
If you are looking for a true northern Canadian winter experience, then Yellowknife, NT Canada can’t be beat.
Here you can head out on a dog sledding adventure in the morning, go ice fishing in the afternoon, listen to live music in an ice castle in the evening, and watch Northern Lights dance the night away.
🚙 You’ll need to rent a car in Yellowknife, if you are wanting to visit all the sites, as public transportation is limited. Driving on the ice road to Dettah is super fun, and chasing the Northern Lights on your own is best done by car.
Yellowknife in winter is an epic family friendly destination.
This is our Yellowknife winter activities guide, from a local.
1. Dog Sledding In Yellowknife
For the Inuit, dog sled teams were once the transportation of choice and survival for northern communities.
Dog sledding is a fun & popular winter activity in Yellowknife.
There are a few places to go dog sledding in Yellowknife including at Aurora Village, Enodah Kennel, Beck’s Kennel, and Sun Dog Adventures.
2. Take A Northern Lights Tour And Hunt The Aurora
Yellowknife tourism for the Aurora picks up starting in September and continues throughout the winter months to March / April. By May and June there is too much light to see them.
Seeing the Aurora Borealis is a magical thing to experience, and one of the best things to do in Yellowknife.
Hop on an Aurora hunting tour, where you move from place to place, seeing the lights dance across the sky with different backdrops.
Aurora Village is a popular place to visit. Watch the Aurora overhead, warm up in wood stove warmed teepees, and try out dog sledding, or tubing down their fast slide.
Or you can rent a car in Yellowknife and head out for a DIY Northern Lights Tour. Looking for the best spots?
Check out our local’s guide on how to view the Northern Lights in Yellowknife and close by.
3. Go Snowmobiling in Yellowknife, Canada
Northern Canada, where the lakes are frozen 5 – 6 months a year, snowmobiling is a favorite winter time activity.
Grab a snowmobiling tour, where you do the driving if you come without your own. Experience true northern winter sport, while exploring Great Slave Lake, or beyond.
Ready To Travel More With Your Kids?
4. Yellowknife Winter Activities, Ice Fishing
Yellowknife sits on the edge of one of the largest and deepest lakes in the world. Renowned for its HUGE Lake Trout, Northern Pike, and Whitefish. Ice Fishing is an iconic Yellowknife winter activity.
Ice fishing shacks and tents may pop up as early as December, but late March through to early May is the best season for ice fishing. Structures can have seats, and wood stoves to keep you toasty warm.
You can also join a tour to a local lake, help drill holes, and eat at a fish cook out. RIde on a Bombardier (an ice fishing vehicle) to special spots.
4. Visit The Snow King Festival & Ice Castle
If you are here in March, visiting the Ice Castle, and the Snowking Winter Festival is a must.
Volunteers spend thousands of hours creating this magical winter wonderland right on Great Slave Lake. Ending in a month festival of music, art, and performances on the ice stage.
You’ll be able to experience live musical performances, children’s plays, local art exhibits, fashion shows, snow sculpture contests, ice slides and more.
Something for the kid in all of us.
👉 Check out more Yellowknife Activities for the rest of the year
5. Warm Up With A Coffee & Snack
After being out in the cold for awhile, hit up a locally owned cafe, for a good coffee and tasty treat.
For a quick breakfast head to Birchwood Coffee Ko and sit down with a bannock and egger, homemade cinnamon bun and chai latte.
Barren Grounds for locally roasted coffee, and baked goods to go. Our favorites are the cappuccinos with homemade real croissants or brownies.
6. Winter Hike to Cameron Falls
Cameron Falls Trail is a scenic 20-30 minute hike through wilderness down to the falls.
In winter, the cascade will be partially to fully frozen. A bridge straddles the river, which gets you up close to river. Just be sure not to get too close to the edge, as the ice / snow is unstable and can break away.
In warm weather, the rocks are a lovely spot to picnic.
Only a 45 minute drive up the Ingraham Trail from Yellowknife. Get out of the city and experience a bit of wilderness.
You can hike Cameron River Falls year round.
7. Fat Biking in Yellowknife
Fat Biking is an exciting way to discover the sights and vistas of what makes Yellowknife in winter so special.
Take this Fat Bike Tour (all gear provided), to experience popular & unique, less traveled wild places.
8. Drive the Ice Road to Dettah
Don’t worry, it won’t end up like an episode of Ice Road Truckers…. We hope.
Driving on a road made of ice, over a frozen lake, is one of the wonders of northern winters. The ice road from Yellowknife to Dettah gets about 4-5 feet deep, so you don’t have to worry about driving on it, in the dead of winter.
The trip to the Dene community of Dettah only takes about 15 minutes.
The people of the City’s neighbouring communities of Dettah and N’Dilo are the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Their ancestors – Slavey, Dogrib, and Chipewyan speaking Dene – have inhabited the region for thousands of years, living very traditional ways of life out on the land.
9. Cross Country Ski
Head on over to Overlander to rent skis then make your way to the Yellowknife Ski Club.
Swoosh over 14 kilometres of groomed trails along the edges of Back Bay and Frame Lake. Cross-country skiing can happen right on Frame Lake, or Great Slave Lake.
Just watch out for motorized vehicles like snowmobiles, or cars (on Great Slave Lake).
10. Stroll On A Local Walking Trail
There are a wealth of trails to explore in Yellowknife. These three trails are all close to downtown, and easily accessible by foot.
- Tin Can Hill will provide gorgeous views of Yellowknife Bay. Dog friendly, as this is where everyone takes their dogs off leash.
- Niven Lake is a short 30 – 40 minute nature walk in the middle of town around a small scenic pond. You can even join locals on the frozen pond, as a route is shoveled out in winter.
- Frame Lake is a 7 km loop that’s part wilderness hike, part paved local multi-use pathway that passes by our territorial legislative assembly, as well as City Hall and the Prince of Wales museum. Stop at the newly built accessible playground beside City Hall, and let the kids run around.
11. Old Town & Climb to Pilot’s Monument
On your wander through Old Town, take a walk to the top of Pilot’s Monument, for 360° views of downtown Yellowknife, Back Bay and the houseboats on Great Slave Lake.
There is a rich history here from the original Indigenous peoples, to fur traders heading north in the 1700’s, and gold prospectors in the early 1900’s.
The monument is dedicated to the bush pilots and air engineers who provided a vital link for Yellowknife and remote Northern communities.
Grab an Old Town walking tour brochure to help guide you to all the historic sites.
12. Grab a Craft Beer & A Burger from the Woodyard
While in Old Town, be sure grab a craft beer and a Shack Burger from our local brewpub, The Woodyard Brewhouse & Eatery. Our favorites include the crispy fried chicken sandwich, the Shack Burger, and their special of the day, especially when it features local fish.
Enjoy family dining Saturday’s from 12 to 7pm. Last seating for family’s with minors is 5:30pm.
13. Ice Skate or Walk on Frozen Frame Lake
Ever wanted to walk on or skate on a frozen lake? Now’s your chance.
Head on down to Frame Lake near City Hall and Sombaa K’e Park. You’ll find the city has kindly shoveled the snow away to create an ice skating loop, and rink for pick-up ice hockey.
14. Visit Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
The Prince of Wales is both museum and archive. Preserving and celebrating the history of the Northwest Territories. Inside you’ll find everything from art exhibits, to planes and gold-mining memorabilia, Dene moose hide boats and archeological artifacts.
It’s a great place to spend an afternoon.
There’s even an interactive kids area, where they can play in a canoe, try on outfits, and hang out in a teepee. We’ve spent many a cold afternoon as a family wandering around the museum.
15. Take a Free Guided Tour of the NWT Legislature
Come in from the cold and tour the unique Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly.
Take a free guided tour and learn about the consensus government and the unique building.
Tours begin in the Great Hall, located just off of the main entrance.
What To Do In Yellowknife in Winter: 10 More Ideas
If you have a bit more time, here are a few more family friendly Yellowknife winter activities:
16. Spend an afternoon snowshoeing
17. Grab stone fired pizza at the Copperhouse
18. Wander through Old Town Yellowknife & Ragged Ass Road, pop into a gift shop
19. Have brunch at the Explorer Hotel
20. Learn about the NWT’s diamonds at the NWT Diamond Center
21. Walk up to Bush Pilot’s Monument for an epic Yellowknife winter view
22. Attend a workshop at Old Town Glassworks, and come home with a unique souvenir.
23. Enjoy Bullock’s Bistro famous fish and chips
24. Look at the houseboats on the frozen lake
25. Tour the hangars of the “Ice Pilots”, Buffalo Airways
FAQs About Winter in Yellowknife
Does Yellowknife have 24 hours of darkness in winter?
No Yellowknife doesn’t have 24 hours of darkness. In winter during the darkest month of December there is only 5 hours of daylight, from about 10am to 3pm.
What should I pack for Yellowknife in winter?
For winter in Yellowknife you should pack layers including a base thermal layer (top & bottom), wool socks, warm pants (not jeans) and a fleece or wool sweater. For outer wear pack a parka, snow pants, winter boots good to -40°C, gloves, toque, and neck warmer.
Is Yellowknife cold in winter?
Yes Yellowknife is very cold in winter with January and February being the coldest months. Temperatures range from average lows of -20°C in December to -27°C in January and February. There are periods of temperatures below -30°C so you’ll need to dress warmly.
Is it safe to drive to Yellowknife in winter?
Yes it is generally safe to drive to Yellowknife in winter as the main roads and highways are regularly plowed and cleared. You will need to have all season or winter tires on your vehicle, but 4-wheel drive isn’t necessary. Make sure to check road conditions, especially if there’s heavy snowfall expected.
Does it snow a lot in Yellowknife?
Yes, Yellowknife experiences significant snowfall during the winter months, typically from November to April, with an annual average snowfall of about 81 cm (32 inches).
Final Thoughts: Things to do in Yellowknife Winter
Yellowknife in winter is an amazing experience. From world reknowned Northern LIghts, to ice castles, outdoor activities and so much more.
Visiting Yellowknife in winter is a true Canadian adventure you won’t want to miss.
If you’re looking for a milder Canadian winter experience, Victoria, BC in winter, my hometown is a great place to visit.
More exciting Canadian adventures await here:
- Vancouver Island Bucket List ideas for the whole family
- How to spend 3 days in Victoria, BC Canada
- Favorite parks & playgrounds to hike & play in, Victoria, BC Canada
- Visit Parksville, BC – ocean playground for families
- Where to stay in Parksville, BC for the best time
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