Province/Territory: Northwest Territories

North America’s Diamond Capital is a Wilderness Gem

  • 400 kilometres (250 miles) south of the Arctic Circle
  • 10th largest lake in the world: Great Slave Lake
  • 90 different nationalities in Yellowknife

Perched at the edge of the Arctic, the capital of the vast Northwest Territories marches to the beat of its own drum, a character-rich outpost with an independent pioneer and Aboriginal spirit. On the shore of Great Slave Lake abuzz with float planes, Yellowknife’s historic Old Town retains its 1930s frontier gold-rush feel on Ragged Ass Road and in quirky rustic icons like the log Wildcat Café. Paddle a kayak past a colourful houseboat community. Watch your locally-mined diamond being polished to a sparkle. Tour the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre learning about heroic bush pilots and Dene First Nations’ beaded garments. Buy Inuit stone carvings and jewelry made from woolly mammoth ivory. In summer, the Midnight Sun lights up a middle-of-the-night golf tournament as well as musicians jamming at the Folk on the Rocks Festival. Hike to a waterfall just outside town or strap on snowshoes. Hop a float plane, catch a fish and savour it over a classic shore lunch. Learn to mush sled dogs with a pro. Or head to the rustic luxury of an eco-lodge and slip into a hot tub to watch the Northern Lights streak and spiral shimmering colours across the sky.

Outdoor adventure

  • Head on a multi-day mushing expedition with Beck’s Kennels, sleeping in prospector tents and experiencing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of a dogsled trotting through a snowy forest.
  • Skate on a frozen lake, relax fireside in Blachford Lake’s deluxe log lodge, then watch the Northern Lights from a Jacuzzi.
  • Get out there with the locals and cheer on mushing teams during the Canadian Championship Dog Derby.

Arts & Culture

  • Choose a pristine Canadian-mined diamond embossed with the official Canadian polar bear insignia and watch it being polished.
  • Learn about local and aboriginal art, culture and language at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.
  • Enjoy local meals of freshly caught pickerel, musk ox burgers and caribou medallions.
  • Visit galleries and art shops showcasing First Nations carvings and prints.

Nature & Wildlife

  • Steer a snowmobile across groomed trails or into the wild backcountry.
  • Go snowshoeing and stomp through a snowy wilderness trail right outside the city.
  • Ride a mountain bike or hike a trail through spruce and birch forests visiting waterfalls and watching for foxes, wolves and lynx.

On the water

  • Hop aboard a float plane, land on a wilderness lake at Yellow Dog Lodge and drop a line to catch a northern pike for a traditional Canadian shore lunch.
  • Kayak or canoe sail or hop a fishing boat on Great Slave Lake, watching for migratory birds.
  • Try your hand at ice-fishing and pull your catch up through a frozen lake.

Weather

  • Yellowknife has a subarctic climate. It lies in the rain shadow of mountain ranges so it receives a scant 300 mm (12 inches) of precipitation annually.
  • Summers are short in Yellowknife, but days are long, balmy and sunny with temperatures in the mid 20°C.
  • In Autumn, from late August through September, days become short and brisk.
  • In winter the thermometer hovers around -20°C, but can also drop much lower.
  • Discover local weather information. Research local weather patterns at Environment Canada's Canadian Climate Website.
Quick facts

Area: 136 square kilometres (53 square miles)
Yellowknife is the Northwest Territories’ capital and biggest city
Total Population: 19,234
Official Languages: English, French, Chipewyan, Cree, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey, Tłįchǫ (English predominant)
City Motto: Multum In Parvo (Many things in a small place)

When to go
  • July and August are the warmest months with long days for hiking, paddling, mountain biking and touring. Bring sunscreen and insect repellent.
  • June is the driest summer month, but canoeists and kayakers should know that lake ice can linger until the end of the month.
  • In mid-August through September fall colours create an autumn spectacle, a mostly bug-free season. It’s also a good, warm time to spot Northern Lights.
  • Winters from November through February are long and cold with little daylight – which is great for Aurora Borealis viewing - so snowy winter activities from snowshoeing to husky mushing are more fun in March or April when the sun and thermometer have risen to a more comfortable level.
Getting Here
Getting around
  • Yellowknife is compact and in summer is pleasant to stroll around.
  • It has the only public transit network in the Northwest Territories.