This Small Canadian Metropolis Is the Northern Lights Capital of North America

With our eyelashes and hair frosty as we stood on a frozen lake close to Yellowknife and appeared towards the horizon trying to find a glimpse of something, we noticed it. The faint, whitish-green bands appeared and started to slowly stretch overhead within the starry sky, changing into brighter and extra saturated with hues of lime and magenta with each passing second. Quickly, it wasn’t simply seen within the distance; the aurora was dancing proper above our heads. We had been surrounded by undulating waves and quick-moving swirls of ethereal gentle, some reaching down so shut that it felt like they could contact us.

Our aurora searching information, Joe Buffalo Youngster, instructed us that in his mom tongue, Denesułine Yatié, the northern lights are referred to as yaké nagás, which implies the “sky is stirring.” And stirring it was. The northern lights imply various things to the distinct teams of Indigenous individuals who stay all through this a part of Canada; Joe shared that for some communities on this space, the lights are an indication from family members which have handed on. We stood silently for a second earlier than getting again within the toasty automotive; we had simply spent the quickest hour of my life exterior in -40-degree chilly, enthralled by the unbelievable gentle present.  

Known as the Northern Lights Capital of North America, Yellowknife is a land of extremes. The capital metropolis of Canada’s Northwest Territories is positioned on the northern shore of the deepest lake in North America, Nice Slave Lake. Its northern, 62-degree latitude means winters are severely chilly, with temperatures typically reaching as little as -40 levels Fahrenheit (as they did once I visited in February). In winter, the realm transforms right into a snow-covered wonderland frequented by shows of the elusive northern lights, and in summer time, the midnight solar makes days stretch as much as 20 hours lengthy. It’s the setting for a very once-in-a-lifetime expertise, made much more impactful by Indigenous-led excursions starting from northern lights searching to guided wildlife excursions. 

Right here’s every part that you must know to plan a visit to Yellowknife and chase the northern lights, or midnight solar. 

Yellowknife is an all-seasons vacation spot, however the expertise is wildly completely different relying on while you go to. Winter months supply frozen landscapes, snowy outside adventures, and prime northern lights viewing, however common lows are within the destructive teenagers, so put together for terribly chilly climate (and pack ample layers, heavy coats, and winter boots, or hire acceptable winter clothes from an organization like My Yard Excursions). Summer season brings hotter temperatures and the midnight solar, so you possibly can take pleasure in lengthy days on the close by lakes or mountain climbing trails. March and September are two of the perfect months to go to: March hosts the Snowking Winter Competition, full with an ice citadel and occasion lineup that features kid-friendly actions, concert events, and comedy exhibits. It’s additionally an important month for aurora viewing. In the meantime, September affords a super mixture of hotter temperatures and stellar northern lights and stargazing alternatives. 

In the course of the summer time, boating, fishing, mountain climbing, and soaking within the midnight solar are all well-liked actions. And snowmobiling, ice fishing, canine sledding, using alongside the ice highway, and northern lights viewing are high issues to do throughout the winter. Locations to go to at any time of yr embrace the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, Bush Pilots Monument, and the Northwest Territories Legislative Meeting.  

There are lots of alternatives for Indigenous tourism in and close to Yellowknife, and these experiences are a should for anybody visiting the area. Whether or not on a culture-focused exercise or a fishing, mountain climbing, or northern lights expertise led by an area information, Indigenous tour operators present methods to attach with the communities right here and acquire a deeper understanding of their tradition and historical past. For instance, family-owned North of 60 Aurora Adventures hosts winter canine sledding excursions that provide a glance into their private traditions and tradition handed down from ancestors.

Because of Yellowknife’s prime place in northern Canada, town sees the aurora round 240 nights a yr, so it’s the proper place to go should you’ve been dreaming of witnessing this pure phenomenon. (We noticed the aurora three of the 4 nights we had been there.) Vacationers looking for the northern lights ought to plan to take aurora excursions for a number of nights to maximise their probabilities of recognizing them and to expertise just a few completely different viewing kinds. Indigenous-owned North Star Adventures, run by our information Joe, drives visitors round to viewpoints round Yellowknife, counting on knowledgeable information and intuition to search out the aurora. Bucketlist Tour affords a comfortable cabin the place you possibly can sit and snack on fish chowder and bannock whereas awaiting the lights. Aurora Village has heated teepees the place visitors can sit and sip on heat drinks between peeks exterior on the night time sky.

Most northern lights excursions choose up visitors from their motels and drop them off on the finish of the night time. For those who’re nervous about getting that good shot of the lights, ask your information for assist — they seemingly know all the ideas and methods to snagging the best picture of the aurora. Precise timing could differ, however many excursions sometimes begin within the night and finish within the early hours of the morning, so put together for an extended (and chilly) night time. (Don’t fear, it’s price it while you see these inexperienced and purple lights dancing overhead.)

Though Yellowknife is a small metropolis, there’s a variety of locations to eat, together with Ethiopian, Vietnamese, brewpub, and seafood eating places. Count on to see native fish like whitefish, cod, and trout on menus, plus bison or elk dishes. Bullocks Bistro is a high choose for fish and chips; Fishy Folks Butchery affords a scrumptious brunch plus a fish-centric menu with sharing plates at dinner; Sundog Buying and selling Publish is the spot for sandwiches, soup, and handcrafted ice cream; and NWT Brewing Firm serves native taste by the pint. 

Most guests keep within the coronary heart of Yellowknife, close to town’s eating places, bars, and points of interest. Lodging vary from lakefront Airbnbs to properties just like the conveniently positioned Explorer Lodge, the place members of the British royal household, together with Queen Elizabeth II, stayed throughout journeys to the Northwest Territories.