From dog sleds to the aurora, northern cuisine to inspiring art, these amazing things to do in Yellowknife, Northwest territories will keep you busy.
Tucked firmly against the upper shores of Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife is a hidden gem for travellers seeking a unique and unforgettable experience.
Yellowknife, known as the “Diamond Capital of North America,” is a mining town at heart, but one that has recognized that it provides unprecedented access to some of northern Canada’s most magical landscapes, cultures, and experiences. It’s also one of the best places in Canada to see the Northern Lights.
But Yellowknife, like other northern Canadian cities such as Whitehorse, is so much more than just the vast national parks, raging rivers, and epic wildlife that surrounds it. The city itself is rich with history, is home to vibrant locals, a thriving arts and music community, and has become one of Canada’s most under-the-radar foodie destinations.
About Yellowknife, NWT
Yellowknife is the capital city of the Northwest Territories, Canada, and has a rich history dating back to the 1930s when gold was discovered in the area. The name “Yellowknife” is believed to have originated from the Dene tribe’s word “Sombaké,” which means “money” in reference to the gold found in the area.
Over time, the city’s growth and importance expanded beyond its mining roots, becoming a hub for transportation, government services, and tourism. Yellowknife is the largest city in the Northern Territories, with a population of approximately 20,000 people. The city is home to many government agencies, including the territorial government and several federal government departments.
The culture of Yellowknife is influenced by the Indigenous people who have inhabited the area for centuries, as well as the immigrants who came to work in the mines. Today, the city has a diverse population, with residents from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The Indigenous culture is still very much alive, and there are many opportunities to learn about their traditions and way of life.
Things To Do In Yellowknife
If you have a few days to spend in Yellowknife, you won’t be hard-pressed to find ways to fill your time. There is an amazing range of things to do in Yellowknife no matter the time of year. Even if you get stuck with bad weather or a cloudy evening, Yellowknife has enough attractions, restaurants, and museums to keep you busy.
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
Located right in central Yellowknife, the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is the largest museum in the Northern Territories and is the territory’s premier cultural institution. The museum houses an extensive collection of artifacts, art, and historical objects touting the history and people living in the Northwest Territories.
The museum’s exhibits explore the region’s natural history, traditions, and culture of the Indigenous Peoples who have lived in the region for thousands of years and continue to be a vital part of the culture of the Northwest Territories. You’ll also find engaging exhibits showcasing the importance of the fur trade in shaping life in Canada’s north.
The museum acts as a hub for cultural activities and educational programs and offers incredible insight into the unique history of Yellowknife and the surrounding regions. You can find all of their current exhibits here.
Northern Lights Tours
There are few things that draw more visitors to Yellowknife than the Northern Lights. Yellowknife sits directly under the auroral oval, the area around the magnetic north pole where aurora activity is most common. Combine that with the dark skies of Canada’s sparsely populated north, and you have a winning combination for aurora viewing.
Yellowknife is a popular place for Northern Lights tours. There are mobile northern lights tours that help you chase the lights as they appear in different places and northern lights tours with a home base so that you can relax in comfort while you wait for the show.
Aurora viewing is at its best from September through May when the nights are long and the sky is at its darkest. Make sure that you dress for the chilly nights and bring a good camera that can capture the show properly.
Yellowknife Old Town
The city of Yellowknife has a history dating back nearly 100 years. While it’s developed beyond its status as a “frontier town,” it’s not long ago that the term was very relevant. There’s no place that this is better on display than in Yellowknife’s Old Town.
Old Town Yellowknife is a great representation of the city in its gold rush heyday. The neighbourhood was where the original settlement was started and was home to the first trading post, post office, and police station.
As miners flooded the city, the Old Town neighbourhood quickly expanded. By 1934 it was a bustling hub of prospectors and miners. Old Town Yellowknife had expanded so much that it was established as a permanent settlement. However, as mining operations moved away from Yellowknife, Old Town went into a decline.
In the 1970s there was a renewed push to grow and revitalize the city. Since then it has grown around Old Town, but the neighbourhood remains the heart of the city and is home to some of the most popular shops, streets, and restaurants including the Wildcat Cafe, Ragged Ass Rd., and the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.
Historical Aviation Museum
Yellowknife has been home to some of the boldest and most adventurous bush pilots in the world, and there’s no place to explore the epic life of bush plane pilots than at the Northern Aviation Museum.
Whether you’re an airplane enthusiast or just someone who loves to learn about the adventurous life of frontier towns, the Northern Aviation Museum is one of the best things to do in Yellowknife. It’s dedicated to preserving the history of aviation in Canada’s north as well as showcasing the role that aviation and bush pilots played in its development.
Don’t miss the museum’s collection of historic aircraft. With over 20 planes on display that range from bush planes and helicopters to vintage aircraft that were used for mining and exploration, it’s an exciting place to explore, learn, and even meet pilots and mechanics.
Yellowknife Art Shops
It takes a special kind of person to leave the comforts of southern living for the long winters and short summers of Canada’s north. And this reason, among many, draws many incredible artists to the shores of Great Slave Lake.
Exploring the local art scene is one of the top things to do in Yellowknife. Not only can you visit some of the high-profile exhibits at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, but there are many smaller shops and institutions packed with incredible local art.
Make sure to stop at the Yellowknife Artist’s Co-Op, which includes a collection of local artists who sell handmade jewelry, artwork, and crafts. The Northern Arts and Cultural Centre is another great stop. This performing arts centre hosts a variety of events including theatre performances, concerts, and dance shows.
One of my favourite places to visit in Yellowknife for local art is the Gallery of the Midnight Sun. This hot spot in Yellowknife Old Town was established in 1989 and is one of the top-rated galleries in the city. You’ll find a range of artwork both created in and inspired by Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories.
With long, cold winters, Yellowknife has become a popular spot for world-class mushing crews. Dog-sledding has been an important part of the history and culture of Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories. For centuries it was a vital means of transportation for Indigenous Peoples in the region. As fur traders and prospectors came north, this lifestyle was adopted and helped settlers move to ever-more remote parts of the territory.
Today, dog-sledding remains an important part of the cultural identity of Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories. Many residents still use them as a way to traverse Great Slave Lake during the winters, and others use Yellowknife as a home base for world-class competitions such as the Iditarod.
You can experience the fun and excitement of dog-sledding in Yellowknife yourself. Just sign up for a dog-sled tour and you’ll be mushing your own team along frozen lakes in no time.
Frame Lake Hiking Trail
The Frame Lake hiking trail is a popular route that circles the scenic Frame Lake in the northwest of the city. The 6.4-kilometre
Frame Lake trail is well-maintained and is a great trek for hikers of all skill levels, including families or those looking for a long, leisurely stroll. It’s accessible year-round, with options for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing during the winter months.
Along the loop, there are boardwalks that pass over wetlands, a suspension bridge over a creek, and lots of benches where hikers can stop for a break and enjoy the scenery. Don’t miss the panoramic views of Yellowknife from Frame Lake West Park.
Yellowknife Food Scene
Yellowknife is a booming foodie destination with a diverse and vibrant range of restaurants, cafes, and dining experiences. Its unique location in the Canadian north draws flavours from local Indigenous communities to a broad range of international tastes inspired by the city’s immigrant communities.
You’ll find fresh fish from the ample selection of nearby lakes, wild game, and even locally grown produce reflected in many of the city’s restaurants. While you’re eating your way around the city ensure that you don’t miss The Wildcat Cafe in the Old Town. This cozy cafe is a popular spot for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Its historic building is jam-packed with character and the hearty food will fuel you up for all of your Yellowknife adventures.
The Dancing Moose Cafe is a local favourite for delicious coffee and baked goods. The cafe also serves up breakfast and lunch menu’s featuring classic dishes with a northern twist such as bison sausage and wild blueberry pancakes.
Bullock’s Bisto is a personal favourite of mine. this rustic restaurant is popular for its traditional northern cuisine such as caribou and Arctic car. The cozy, welcoming atmosphere and friendly staff make for a comforting stop, especially on a cold day.
NWT Brewing Company
Yellowknife has a small but growing craft beer scene. While there is just a single craft brewery in Yellowknife right now, there are more on the horizon.
NWT Brewing Company, located in the heart of downtown Yellowknife has been a driver of the Yellowknife brew scene for years. The brewery features a taproom with a rotating selection of beer including many made from locally-sourced ingredients.
For summer visitors, don’t miss the “Paddle Party Blonde Ale,” which is a light and refreshing beer with a subtle hop aroma and a clean finish. Those visiting in the winter will appreciate the heavier “Borealis Belgian Dubbel,” which is a rich, malty beer with notes of caramel, dark fruit, and spice, balanced by a subtle hop bitterness.
Bush Pilot Monument
There is simply no better viewpoint in Yellowknife than from the Bush Pilots Monument. The monument was erected on “The Rock,” a six-story hill where the town’s original water tower once stood. It offers sweeping views over Yellowknife, Great Slave Lake, and Back Bay.
At the top is a large plaque commemorating the bush pilots who flew supplies and people in and out of the Northwest Territories before Yellowknife was connected to the southern provinces by road. Bush pilots are still an important part of NWT culture, and the site acknowledges the work they do to support the Territory’s industries.
Are You Ready To Explore Yellowknife?
There are more things to do in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories than meets the eye. From incredible landscapes and northern cuisine to thrilling dogsled tours, and local breweries you can find something for everyone in this beautiful region of the Northwest Territories.
Many of these businesses and restaurants are anxious for visitors after a tough year. So let’s support local and make the most of your Edmonton adventure.
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Kevin Wagar is a founder and editor of We Explore Canada. He has been working in the travel media industry since 2015 when he founded his family travel website Wandering Wagars – Adventure Family Travel.
Over the years Kevin has developed a deep love for his home country and aims to showcase the incredible experiences and amazing small businesses found within it.