The northern lights illuminate the sky above Yellowknife's Aurora Village (photo: CTC)

Northern Highlights: The Coolest Things to Do in Yellowknife

By Karen Burshtein

Long considered one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights, Yellowknife is also a vibrant city where glories of the past combine with visions of the future.

Drive: For several months every winter, Great Slave Lake freezes solid to form the Dettah Ice Road. The six-kilometre roadway, connecting Yellowknife to the First Nation community of Dettah, is popular with snowmobilers, skaters and dogsledders. North Slave Region

See: The Northwest Territories are renowned for aurora borealis spotting. Head to the Aurora Village, about 20 minutes outside of the city, for a front-row seat to the light show in the sky. You’ll find expert guides, a variety of viewing experiences and warming stations. 4709 Franklin Ave.

Eat: For more than 30 years Bullocks Bistro has been serving up fresh catches from Great Slave Lake. Sample whitefish, lake trout, pickerel, Arctic char or Great Slave cod. Really hungry? Try the “slurp ’n burp,” a fresh-fish-and-wild-buffalo combo plate. 3534 Weaver Dr.

Explore: For a dose of culture, down-load the Yellowknife Old Town Soundwalk app, which spotlights the city’s historic waterfront quarter, including the famous Ragged Ass Road. Shop for souvenirs at the Gallery of the Midnight Sun, which showcases local arts and crafts. 5005 Bryson Dr.

man on boat holding large fish beside excited boy on lake outside Yellowknife
Shawn Buckley (left) shows off a catch

Shawn Buckley knows a thing or two about lake living. A third-generation fisher who’s lived around Great Slave Lake for nearly half a century, Buckley operates Great Slave Lake Tours, which hosts Indigenous cultural experiences and fishing expeditions. Here, he shares a few insider tips about life in Yellowknife.

What’s the best part of your job?
Anytime I can get out with visitors, from wilderness photographers to sport fishers. I love seeing their excitement for our northern pike, trout and pickerel. I’ve been fishing on Great Slave Lake for 30 years, and I still get excited too. I also really like teaching kids how to ice fish.

Outdoor adventures and more in the Crowsnest Pass region

What makes Yellowknife special for you?
We’ve got all the city amenities, but it’s also so close to the big lake. Long daylight hours stretch out summertime fun—hiking, fishing or just enjoying sunset. Winters are just as beautiful: Less daylight means more time for cozying up by a fire or at local restaurants and pubs. And, of course, aurora viewing: It’s never the same from night to night.

Where do you grab a bite in town?
The Brew Pub has a great atmosphere and food. Elki’s table serves classic German food and fish (a given on pretty much every menu in town). Yellowknife Brewery has a nice beer selection—order the Ragged Pine and you won’t be disappointed.

two people riding a snowmobile on snowy plain in Yellowknife
photo: Wanderluster/iStock

Embrace winter with some only-in-N.W.T. adventures.

• Snowmobile on Great Slave Lake. Take a two-hour tour with Yellowknife Outdoor Adventures that includes a thrilling ride on a frozen body of water.

• Go ice fishing without freezing. Greg Robertson of Blue Fish Services transports anglers in a Bombardier SnoBear, a purpose-built ice fishing vehicle. The built-in auger and fishing holes let you cast a line from the comfort of your seat.

Our best advice for safe winter driving on rural roads

• Popular with locals, the late-winter Snowking’s Festival offers everything from kids’ games to indie rock and art installations—all in a snow and ice castle.

• Take in a movie at the Dead North Film Festival, the world’s only circumpolar film festival dedicated to horror, sci-fi and fantasy movies. Or head to Yellowknife’s newest late-winter event: the Naka Festival, a celebration of Dene culture and the aurora borealis.