One of the closest cities to the North Pole, the lakeside city of Yellowknife is the capital of the Northwest Territories and home to nearly half of the entire population. Once a gold rush town, the city was later revived by diamond mining and is now often called the ‘Diamond Capital’ of North America.
A holiday heaven for adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts, Yellowknife sits on the shores of the vast Great Slave Lake which during the summer months is simply crying out to be explored by boat or canoe. You can easily spend several days sailing, motoring or paddling around its many coves and bays, fishing its bountiful waters, or cruising its picturesque East Arm. There are many smaller lakes within the city offering some lovely hiking trails of varying difficulty. The wide open landscapes are also rich in wildlife including many species of birds, wolves, moose and bear. A large herd of free roaming wood bison - one of the largest land animals in the country, bigger even than the polar bear – roam in the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary just outside town.
During the cold winters the lakes freeze, providing a great playground for snowmobiling, snow-shoeing and ice-fishing as well as ice-skating on the cleared lakes in town. Other winter activities include dogsled tours and expeditions, and of course, watching the stunning Aurora Borealis dance across the dark night skies.
Yellowknife enjoys a celebration and holds many festivals throughout the year, from summer music festivals and lakeside cook-offs to the extravaganza that is The Snowking - which lasts for the whole month of March and comes complete with an impressive full size snow castle built on Yellowknife Bay.
Downtown Yellowknife has several shopping centres with a range of shops including some great galleries with work by local artists and gift stores, and a good selection of pubs and restaurants. There are some pretty lakeside trails that lead from here around Frame Lake and the smaller Niven Lake. The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is an interesting museum with some excellent exhibits and artefacts on the history of Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories, while the nearby Northern Frontier Visitors Centre will provide useful advice and information to help you plan your visit.
The city’s old town is located on the shores of Great Slave Lake and is a popular place to explore, with its colourful houseboats, waterfront restaurants, local artisans and the iconic Wildcat Café - one of the town’s first restaurants. In the centre of the old town is ‘The Rock’ and on its summit, the Pilot’s Monument, which is dedicated to the bush pilots of Canada who were essential in the settlement of Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories. You can climb the wooden steps to the monument for some fantastic panoramic views.
Yellowknife is still linked to many of its surrounding towns by plane, meaning remote places such as the historic fur trading post of Fort Simpson and the beautiful scenery of Nahanni National Park - including the thunderous Virginia Falls - are within easy reach.
A modern town in the midst of beautiful wilderness, Yellowknife is a great place to visit and explore on your holiday, whatever time of year you stop by.
Things to do
Top tips for visiting Yellowknife
Top Tip 1
• The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is an excellent place to start your Yellowknife adventures - its many galleries and exhibits will give you a great insight into the city and it has a pleasant location overlooking Frame Lake.
Top Tip 2
• There are many scenic walking trails in the city and nearby, from paved trails around the downtown lakes to the interesting Prospector’s Trail in Fred Henne Territorial Park. For a lovely walk just outside town, head along Highway 4 to Hidden Lake Territorial Park and take the short trail to beautiful Cameron Falls.
Top Tip 3
• The city’s location directly under the auroral oval means that displays of the Northern Lights are bright and clear, and a great place to view these mesmerising shows in comfort is the Aurora Village just outside town. With heated viewing seats, comfortable viewing areas and traditional tipis, it is a magical experience.
Top Tip 4
• Don’t miss a trip around Yellowknife’s old town where shops and restaurants perch around rocky hills and shores. Pop into the Gallery of the Midnight Sun on the way for its extensive collection of charming souvenirs, local art and wood carvings
Top Tip 5
• There are plenty of places to spend the evening after a full day sightseeing, including grill restaurants, lively pubs with music or sports events and even a sushi bar. Visit the quaint Dancing Moose Café in the old town for a delicious meal and great views over the lake from the veranda, or the Black Knight for a great Scottish pub with a tasty menu.
Top Tip 6
• The city holds many festivals throughout the year, from the SnowKing in March with its amazing snow castle to the popular summer Folk on the Rocks festival. The old town holds its own event every August, the Ramble and Ride, which encourages all Yellowknifers to walk or cycle down the hill to celebrate the city’s origins in an eco-friendly fashion.
Top Tip 7
• Yellowknife is just a short plane ride from Nahanni National Park, which is a stunning place to explore, with many scenic hiking and biking trails, as well as river trips, water activities and flightseeing tours to the impressive Virginia Falls.