Yellowknife Winter Activities: Fun Ways To Explore The North

If you are looking for a snowy northern adventure, then it’s always a good time to visit Yellowknife in winter.  Yellowknife, the capital city of 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! 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 a list of  the best Yellowknife winter activities if you are visiting from November to April. Plus tips to beat ( & maybe even embrace) the cold. 

It’s a once in a lifetime experience, so bundle up, and let’s get started. 

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What to wear in Yellowknife in winter

First of all  you are going to need to suit up.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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 
  • Winter Boots – 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.
Four pictures of adult woman and young girl dressed in winter gear, outdoors in the snow.

Awesome 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.

If you are wanting to visit all the sites, you’ll need to rent a car, if you don’t drive up in your own. Driving on the ice road to Dettah is super fun, and chasing the Northern Lights on your own is best done by car.

This is our Yellowknife winter activities guide, from a local.

Dog sledding Yellowknife

Dog sleds were once the transportation of choice and survival for Inuit northern communities.

Today it is also a popular tourist activity. Speed across the frozen landscape listening to the panting of sled dogs and the runners scraping across the snow and ice. There are a few places to go dog sledding in Yellowknife including Beck’s Kennel, Aurora Village, Enodah Kennel and Sun Dog Adventures. Many offer drive your own, and guided tours.

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.

Yellowknife, Canada Aurora in winter over trees and road.
Yellowknife, Canada Aurora in winter

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 / June there is too much light to see them.

Seeing the Northern Lights 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. 

Visit the Snow King in his Castle

If you are here in March, you must check out the Ice Castle. Each year volunteers spend thousands of hours creating a magical winter wonderland right on Great Slave Lake.  Ending in a month long celebration of community spirit, the arts, and entertainment for young and old.

Expect everything from live  musical performances, & children’s plays, to art exhibits, fashion shows, snow sculpture contests, ice slides and more. Something for the kid in all of us. 

You can take a virtual tour of last years snow castle here.

Sculpture of woman holding an ice star, with Ice Castle & Yelloknife city flag in background.
Ice Castle & Snow Sculptures, Yellowknife, Canada

👉 Looking for more ideas? Our favorite Yellowknife Activities the rest of the year are here.

Warm up with 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. 

Winter Hike to Cameron Falls 

Cameron Falls 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 cna 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.

Fat Biking

Fat Biking is an exciting way to discover the sights and vistas of what makes Yellowknife in winter so special.

Take a Fat Bike Tour (all gear provided), and experience popular & unique, less traveled wild places.

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.

Cracked ice road to Dettahe, NT
Things to do in Yellowknife in winter – Drive the Dettah ice road
Photo: “JessHarrison via”

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. Or ski right on Frame Lake, or Great Slave Lake. Just watch out for motorized vehicles like snowmobiles, or cars (on Great Slave Lake). 

Stroll On A Local Walking Trail 

There are a wealth of trails to explore in Yellowknife. 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 part wilderness hike, part paved local multi-use pathway that passes the architectural delights of our territorial legislative assembly, as well as City Hall and the Prince of Wales museum. 

The 7 Kms loop trail is a local favorite, as you get a little bit of everything. Northern woodland, forest creatures, rocky outcrops, paved paths. Stop at the newly built accessible playground beside City Hall, and let the kids run around. 

All are close to downtown, and easily accessible by foot. 

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. 

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.

Minors are welcome Staurdays from 4pm – 7PM with the last seating around 5:30PM.

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, and you’ll find the city has kindly shoveled the snow away to create an ice skating loop, and rink for pick-up  ice hockey.  

Visit Prince of Whales Northern Heritage Centre

The Prince of Whales 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.

Round structure, sitting on the edge of Frame Lake, Yellowknife, NT. Legislative Assembly.
Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly from Frame Lake Trail

More Fun Things to do When You Visit Yellowknife in Winter

If you have a bit more time, here are a few more family friendly Yellowknife winter activities:

  • Drive a snowmobile on a snowmobile tour
  • Spend an afternoon snowshoeing
  • Grab stone fired pizza at the Copperhouse
  • Attend a workshop at Old Town GLassworks, and come home with a unique souvenir.
  • Enjoy Bullock’s Bistro  famous fish and chips. You choose the fesh caught fish, from Whitefish, Pickerel, Lake Trout, and Coney.
  • Come in from the cold and tour the unique Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly.

More exciting Canadian adventures await here:

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