Yellowknife

Destination Location

Yellowknife
  • 62.462778, -114.440278:primary
  • 62.4627990722656, -114.440002441406:secondary

Overview

Closer to the Arctic Circle than any other Canadian city, Yellowknife is a booming town that is proud of its past and excited by what the future holds. Not to mention, it is also the Diamond Capital of North America

The first inhabitants of Yellowknife called the region Somba K'e (the place where the money is). This vibrant city has since attracted a diverse, young population with a thirst for wilderness adventures, lively nightlife and memorable arctic travel experiences.

Yellowknife's location on the north arm of Great Slave Lake also makes it a prime fishing destination. In fact, the next time you say you caught a fish this big, you won't be embellishing. Great Slave Lake is the ninth-largest lake in the world and home to some of the biggest northern pike, lake trout, Arctic grayling and whitefish. There are also many fantastic spots for canoeing and kayaking, both on Great Slave Lake and on the countless smaller lakes found in the region.

When spending time outdoors, stay on the lookout for wood bison, caribou, red foxes, hares, beavers, muskrat, black bears and a colourful mix of migrating birds. These impressive Arctic creatures will amaze you. Just be sure to keep a respectful distance – ask a local guide for specific instructions if you’re heading out to the wilderness.

But there’s much more to Yellowknife than first meets the eye. English might be the most commonly spoken language here but it’s the First Nations community who serve as its cultural anchor. The Dene aboriginals brought numerous languages to the region (the city has 11 official languages in total) as well as their art forms. In Yellowknife, you’ll find many unique carvings, sculptures and jewelry available at shops, boutiques and galleries, with proceeds going to these talented native artisans.

In Yellowknife, you’ll also catch unique events like Folk on the Rocks, a two-day summer folk music festival, and the Summer Solstice Festival, which boasts street sales, live bands, boat parties and a midnight golf tournament.

And don’t forget to gaze upward when the sun is down. From Yellowknife, you’ll get an incredible view of the astronomical phenomenon known as the aurora borealis or Northern Lights. Auroral tourism is big business here in the great white north. Each year, visitors from around the world come to see this natural show in the sky – all looking for a glimpse of the unique lights and colours that even artists are hard-pressed to recreate.

So next summer, when everyone’s showing off the same old photos from their summer vacation, wow them with pictures of the greatest light show on earth, close-ups of bison and time-lapses of the more than 20 hours of sunlight in a single day. Watch as their mouths open in awe. Then tell them you visited the Canadian Arctic.

Yellowknife is a fantastic destination for:

  • outdoor adventure

Destination basics

It may come as a surprise to you that Yellowknife experiences less than 300 mm or 12 inches of precipitation annually. In fact, despite its subarctic climate, the city has a frost-free farming season of around 100 days per year. Bordered by Great Slave Lake as well as mountain ranges to the west, Yellowknife has milder weather than one might think. Fall and winter temperatures are well below 0 C, but average temperatures typically do not fall below -30 C. Spring weather generally makes its first appearance here in May, with warmer temperatures continuing into September. The average summer temperature is around 19 C.

It probably goes without saying but visitors to Yellowknife will want to bring warm clothing as well as a warm winter coat, boots, mitts, scarf and hat. Even those visiting in the summer months will want to bring a jacket and sweater for the cool evenings.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Yellowknife

Despite being one of the smallest cities in Canada, Yellowknife offers dozens of mouthwatering dining options. You’ll find everything from local Great Slave Lake seafood to a variety of international cuisines.

Old Town
A number of cherished eateries are located in Old Town. Surrounding the Bush Pilot’s Monument are two notable establishments: Wildcat Cafe and Bullock’s Bistro. Housed in a refurbished log cabin, Wildcat Cafe serves up generous portions of local flavors. Chow down on a bison burger while overlooking Yellowknife Bay at this landmark eatery. Bullock's Bistro also offers traditional fare, specializing in fresh fish like Arctic char and pike. Get it deep-fried, grilled, pan-fried, or slathered in sauce. You’ll love your meal as much as the bohemian ambiance.

New Town
The metropolitan side of the city, New Town houses most of the restaurants and bars in Yellowknife alongside numerous fast food options. International cuisines include Ethiopian delights at Zehabesha and Japanese delicacies at Sushi North. Those interested can also find Vietnamese, French, Thai, South American, Chinese, and more. Among the most popular bars in New Town is The Black Knight, a late night joint with an impressive scotch selection. If you’re in the mood to dance after grabbing a drink, head upstairs to the adjoining nightclub: Top Knight.

Yellowknife is split between a historic center and contemporary downtown, offering two exciting perspectives on the charming city.

Old Town
The birthplace of Yellowknife, Old Town is alive with a distinct frontier charm. Historic structures line the waterfront, and the neighborhood houses several notable attractions. Willow Flats transports visitors back to the 1930s with its original buildings and must-see Ragged Ass Road. For some of the nicest views of Old Town and Great Slave Lake, head to the Bush Pilot’s Monument, where a moderate staircase yields to spectacular panoramas.

More recent additions to Old Town have only added to its appeal. Upscale restaurants can be found alongside heritage-listed cafes, modern residences stand in sharp contrast to venerable structures, and local shops upkeep a healthy dose of commercial activity. Favorite among visitors to Old Town are also the art galleries found there, which celebrate traditional artists and styles.

New Town
New Town is the downtown neighborhood in Yellowknife. It was established in 1945 after gold miners felt the need to expand their waterfront enterprise. Some of the earliest businesses in Yellowknife still exist in New Town, including Sutherland’s Drug Store and the Yellowknife Post Office, which was named a local heritage site in 2006. New Town is also full of government buildings, restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, and shops. While you won’t find as many attractions here, you’ll get a sense of local life by exploring the neighborhood.

Latham Island
Latham Island is connected to Old Town by a causeway. Scenic lookouts are scattered about the island, offering picturesque views of Yellowknife Bay. Stop by the Otto, Harriet Lane, or Tililo Tili Point Lookouts for some of the greatest vistas around. There are several bed and breakfasts on Latham Island, making it possible to visit as a day trip or an overnight.

Yellowknife is city of contrasts where icy winters melt into sun-soaked summers and indigenous history mingles with contemporary culture. It offers entertainment for every taste.

Museums & Galleries
The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre stores cultural and historical archives for the Northwest Territories. Visitors are invited to explore displays relating to the land, people, and past that have made Yellowknife what it is today. In the past, temporary exhibits have featured everything from wildlife dioramas and ice age fossils to aboriginal artifacts and textile crafts. The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre also offers a play area for kids, as well as an onsite museum cafe.

There are two notable galleries in Old Town: the Down to Earth Gallery and Gallery of the Midnight Sun. If you’re looking to browse traditional art in an artist-run shop, head to the Down to Earth Gallery. You’ll find a variety of works including prints, jewelry, furs, books, beadwork, carving, and more. While the Gallery of the Midnight Sun similarly celebrates local art, it also houses goods like apparel, giftware, and souvenirs. Whether you come to admire fine art from the Northern Territories, pick up souvenir crafts for loved ones back home, or attend a diamond polishing demonstration, you’ll appreciate the Gallery of the Midnight Sun.

Outdoor Activities
Yellowknife is a boon for outdoor enthusiasts. Several trails in the area provide opportunities for hiking, cycling, and wildlife watching. Multiple trails, including the Cameron Falls Trail and Frontier Trail, either begin or end in the Fred Henne Territorial Park, making it a hub for nature walkers. Birdwatchers may opt for the Niven Lake Trail, which circles a modest lagoon that attracts incredible wildlife. The trail stretches two kilometers (1.2 miles) and weaves through various exciting terrains. Other favorites include the Range Lake, Frame Lake, Tin Can Hill, Ranney Hill, Big Hill Lake, and Cameron Falls, and Ingraham Trails.

Fishing is a popular pastime in Yellowknife. A number of the preferred fishing spots in the city can be found off the Ingraham Trail. Stop on the Yellowknife River bridge for an al fresco lunch and the chance to catch pike and lake trout. Launch a boat off Pontoon Lake, keeping an eye out for ducks and terns. If you’re looking to make a day trip out of your fishing adventure, try Prelude Lake for practically guaranteed pike catches. Located approximately 29 kilometers (18 miles) from Yellowknife along the Ingraham Trail, Prelude Lake also has amenities like a campground.

From mid-August to late-September and mid-November to mid-April, something magical happens in Yellowknife. The northern lights, which technically appear year round, take over the sky with electric green and red hues. The best views lie just outside the city, and there are several tours dedicated to sharing this extraordinary natural phenomenon.

Sports
When the city snows over, Yellowknife becomes a great destination for winter sports. Skiing and cross-country skiing are chief among them. For the best in ski trails, check out the Yellowknife Ski Club, which not only offers trails but also races, social events, and more. Also popular among visiting recreation sports fans is the Yellowknife Golf Club, which offers scenic 9-hole and 18-hole courses, as well as putting greens and a pro shop.

Yellowknife

Territory: Northwest Territories

Country: Canada

Yellowknife by the Numbers
Population: 19,234
Elevation: 206 meters / 676 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 28 centimeters / 11 inches
Average Annual Snowfall: 157 centimeters / 62 inches
Average January Temperature: -26°C / -14°F
Average July Temperature: 17°C / 63°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 120 volts, 60Hz, AC

Time Zone: UTC-7; Mountain Standard Time (MST)

Country Dialing Code: 1

Area Code: 867

Did You Know

Yellowknife sees more summer sun than any other city in Canada, averaging 1,030 hours annually.

Yellowknife is the only city in the Northwest Territories. It is surrounded by towns and villages with significantly smaller populations.

Orientation

Yellowknife sits on the north shore of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, roughly 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of the Arctic Circle. It is approximately 1,700 kilometers (1,060 miles) north of Edmonton.

Yellowknife takes its name from the Dene First Nation that traditionally occupied the territory around Great Slave Lake. A nomadic people, the Yellowknives traveled the area sourcing copper for toolmaking, creating distinctive weapons that earned them the colorful moniker. In the late-18th century, fur trader Peter Pond discovered Yellowknife Bay, establishing a trading post in 1786. Although it never became a fur-trading hub, Old Fort Providence was instrumental as a supply base in the following years, when explorers like Alexander Mackenzie and Sir John Franklin set their sights on the intrepid Arctic.

At the turn of the next century, prospector E.A. Blakeney found gold in the bay while en route to the Yukon. The discovery was largely dismissed amidst the excitement of the Klondike Gold Rush, but the event marked a trend of prospecting in Yellowknife that would continue throughout the 20th century. Uranium and silver were unearthed in the area in the early 1930s, reigniting the possibility of finding natural resources in the area between the Great Slave and Great Bear Lakes. By the mid-1930s, gold had been discovered near several water bodies, leading to a small influx of prospectors and the first significant development in Yellowknife.

Mining quickly became the predominant industry in Yellowknife, which housed five mines by 1942, as well as businesses like the Canadian Bank of Commerce and Sutherland’s Drug Store. Eventually, the steady increase in activity resulted in the expansion of the townsite, creating what are today Old Town and New Town. This bustling success led to Yellowstone being made a municipality in 1953 and the capital of the Northwest Territories in 1967.

No longer known for its gold deposits, Yellowknife has earned two new and equally dazzling reputations. In the time since 1991, when diamonds were first discovered in the region, it has come to be known as the “Diamond Capital of North America.” Yellowknife is also widely considered one of the best places in the world to witness the exquisite northern lights, giving visitors plenty of reason to visit.

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