Hi there! It is time to kick off the series that I’ve been teasing all year, my summer travel series! Last summer it was all about the road trip. I was living in a new place and wanted to cover as much ground from that area as possible, plus so much of it was drivable.
But now with the #Canada150 and having been to a lot of places nearby, this summer is about branching out, going to places I’ve never been before and new adventures. First up was Yellowknife! If you’re not from Canada you might be a little confused about where this is. I mean even if you are, you might be as I got a lot of repeat questions. So let me give you a rundown before we get into my trip.
- It’s in the Northwest Territories, one of Canada’s three territories, north of the 60th parallel, essentially you have to fly into Edmonton, Alberta and then head north.
- Yellowknife is the capital, the next biggest town is Inuvik and the two aren’t connected by road
- It’s on Great Slave Lake, a massive northern lake that is frozen most of the year
- The sun is up for basically 24 hours a day at this time of year. It set around 1 am and rose around 3 am but even for that 2 hours it doesn’t get dark really, more like twilight
- Which means no I couldn’t see the Northern Lights when I was there
Now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s get on with the post! Side note: if you have any Yellowknife history or geography questions still feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me on social media and I’d be happy to answer as best as I can.
I’m going to take you through what I did each day so you can get an idea of how much you could also fit in if you ever go. It’s also important to note that the main reason I went was to visit one of my best friends who had just moved there. So really all I wanted to do when I was there was spend time with her and you might do other activities. If you’re looking for the highlights – I’ve bolded all of the activities for my top 15 things to do in Yellowknife.
As well, because I was there in the summer it meant there was no dog sledding or anything you might think of as a typical winter activity. Oh and also Saturday, my only full day there… it poured rain and was insanely windy so that meant we had to change some things and be flexible.
Day 1 – Arrival and staying up all night
So my day started off by getting up at 4:30 am. My flight was at 7 am and I was taking off from Toronto’s Pearson airport aka the biggest airport in the country which can get pretty busy and I didn’t want to miss my flight. Luckily, no one else wants to take flights this early so the airport was pretty empty and I was early enough to have time to grab breakfast.
I flew to Edmonton then caught a connecting flight into Yellowknife. Important side note, though I’ve flown many times by myself, I’ve never done a connecting flight so I was pretty proud of myself for pulling this off without any problems. And ate lunch at a restaurant by myself! Something I’ve always wanted to do. So I was conquering my fears and getting small victories already.
I landed around 1:30 pm local time and had some time to kill before my friend could pick me up. I enjoyed the company of a very large taxidermy polar bear and seal.
Once she picked me up we headed straight for the legislature! For Americans, this is our version of a statehouse. Essentially it’s where the territorial government offices are and where they hold government. We were a bit early for our 3:30 tour so we walked through the museum first and looked at some more taxidermy polar bears (I’m pretending I felt casually about this but really not a fan, especially of the one eating the bloodied seal). There was also lots of history and possessions of the indigenous people from the area which I loved seeing in person.
We were the only people to show up for the tour (on a Friday afternoon in June we were the only ones who wanted to hear about government, go figure). We had such a lovely tour guide, she was so nice and patient and answered all of our questions. Trust me we had a lot of questions. This was a great way to kick off the trip as she gave us some recommendations for other places to see and we got a bit of a history lesson as well. Definitely go do this if you’re in town, it’s free.
After the tour we headed back to my friend’s place (I have no hotel tips for you as we stayed at her apartment) before going out for dinner.
NWT brewing company
We went to the restaurant run by the NWT brewing company called the WoodYard. She had a flight of beer which I had a fun time photographing, but I got a cider instead (not a beer fan sorry). But she loved it and recommended it! We both had the fried chicken sandwich and I got mine with mashed potatoes on the side. Everything was delicious, definitely go here.
We had to head back and bundle up after dinner though as I was foolishly only wearing a light jacket. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that cold. Only about 10 degrees, but I did need a jacket. It had actually been warm, around 15-20, and sunny all week. So I was just a bit unlucky with weather.
The House Boats
After dinner we headed down to the House Boats, they’re beautiful colourful buildings on the water. But don’t be fooled, these people are essentially living off the grid with no electricity or water. I’m not sure how they do it in the winter but more power to them.
After exploring the docks and seeing a pug in a lifejacket (precious) we headed in search for ice cream. Side note: the city is very walkable and you don’t really need a car, there are a few cabs if you want them. We drove because my friend had a car which certainly makes things a lot quicker.
Even though it was cold that wasn’t going to stop us on our ice cream hunt, so we went to the historic Wildcat Café. It used to be a Chinese restaurant and is the oldest restaurant in town, settled into the heart of old town, it looks like a little cabin. It’s quite expensive for what it is, so we just wanted ice cream and to head out. But we underestimated the time, which is really easy to do when it’s so bright out.
It was actually 10pm already so the restaurant was closed. We were determined though and ended up getting some at McDonald’s.
We took this time to look around and see all of the different types of neighbourhoods. There is everything from big beautiful houses, to new construction, to historic cabins, to neighbourhoods of mobile homes. It’s interesting just to see how people live.
I think we stayed up until 12:30a.m. and since it’s a different time zone that was a 22 hour day for me and I was ready to sleep. The rest of the night is hazy so who knows what we did.
Day 2 – the weather ruins everything
We had such grand plans for Saturday. We were going to go canoeing to get up close to the house boats and on a hike out of town so I could see of the nature of NWT. But the weather had other plans. When we woke up it was gray and pouring. Then slowly throughout the day it got worse and worse and got so windy it was raining sideways. My friend announced that it must be a hurricane, I reminded her we were on a lake.
Dancing Moose Café
We drove to the Dancing Moose Café, still hoping the rain would let up, for breakfast. I had a delicious omelet and it came with toast, hashbrowns and bacon. It was all delicious. There’s a beautiful back deck overlooking the lake too but obviously we were confined inside. We could still watch the weather through the big windows.
Pro tip: there were vegetarian and vegan options on the menu which I know can be hard to come by at a breakfast place.
Fat Fox Café
Owned and operated by a British immigrant, the Fat Fox has an eclectic vibe. It has wood walls and is filled with wood furniture, continuing the cabin vibe most of the town has, but lots of British treats to enjoy. There’s cream tea, which is what we got, it’s two teas and two giant scones for only $9, the first time we were shocked at how low a price for something was.
The café is filled with little foxes everywhere I looked and was warm and cozy feeling, especially as the storm raged on. We played several rounds of board games (they have lots and we’ve heard they have game nights) before going to check out some shops
We dipped into the Glassworks, a place where they make all of the glasses by hand from old recycled bottles and etch NWT and Yellowknife artwork into it. Whenever I travel somewhere I pick up a cup representing the local culture (i.e. tea cup from London, espresso cup from Rome, limoncello cup from the Amalfi coast, etc.) so this was right up my alley.
They also host classes which I’ve heard are fun is that’s your thing.
There was a lovely boutique that I’ve forgotten the name of (oops – but there’s not very many and it’s downtown, I’m sure you’ll be able to find it). It has beautiful clothes but beware the steep pricetag.
Lastly we checked out the Book Cellar. I love a locally owned bookshop, this one was interesting too because it has a huge section of books on the North. Fiction, cookbooks, memoirs, they’ve got it all and the staff are super friendly and helpful.
Oldtown walking tour
I had of course read up online about Yellowknife before we embarked on this trip and saw someone mentioned the Oldtown walking tour. It’s an app and you can download it here. Okay don’t judge us too hard but we didn’t actually walk it. It was freezing out and driving with rain so we drove the walking tour and occasionally got out to take some photos.
Bush Pilot’s Monument
One of the tours is for Bush Pilot’s Monument – a big rocky hill in the centre of town. Once you climb up it you can see the entire town. It’s a beautiful spot and I highly recommend it. In a regular situation I would have taken a thousand photos but it was SO windy that we nearly got blown off the rock. Let me say I’m not even exaggerating that much. Sitting in the car we thought it was going to flip over. So yeah we cancelled our canoe.
Before I flew in my friend warned me to bring a business card. So I’m going to emphasize this for you. BRING A BUSINESS CARD. Then go to Bullock’s Bistro. This little cabin serves up fish that was caught right in the lake you’re sitting next to.
I asked the waitress what she’d recommend and she told me to definitely get the Arctic Char and have it pan-fried. I agreed and it was some of the most delicious fish I’ve ever had. Also it was HUGE! Like four people’s worth of fish huge. And you get fries and salad so I was stuffed.
We spent the rest of the evening watching Wonder Woman in the tiny movie theatre and then playing games and talking until we fell asleep. A perfect way to spend time with a friend.
While we didn’t get to go to our hike to Cameron Falls or Canoe Around the House Boats, I’d highly recommend both of these activities if you go in the summer time. I really wanted to be able to do that. I was sad we weren’t able to but like I said I was there for my friend so it didn’t really matter.
Day 3 – goodbyes are never easy
A little local chain, this is in a few spots around town, including in the legislature. It’s also one of the few places actually open on Sundays. Yeah that’s right pretty much everything is closed on Sundays so plan ahead.
We each had massive breakfast bagels and coffee to fuel us up for our mini hike.
Hike in town
Coffees in hand we headed out for a hike. Yes you read that right we brought out coffees with us. The hike is just on the outskirts of downtown, super close by everything and it’s not grueling. We did manage to scale some rocks and go off the trail though. With that it meant we got some amazing views of the town and the lake on the other side. It’s just a little hidden away and was dead on that Sunday morning but I’d imagine on a nice summer day it gets pretty busy. Definitely head up here for some good photos.
Right before getting back on my plane we still had some time to kill (it takes about 2 minutes to go from sitting in the car to sitting at your gate so don’t worry about long security lines, you can show up 15 minutes before your flight and be fine). So we headed over to a plane monument right next to the airport. You hike up a little hill and are immediately underneath a huge plane (a real one not a model) that used to make dangerous flights up north. We looked around and marvelled at it for a bit.
Then that was it! I hopped back on a plane and got back to Toronto. I was a little exhausted though considering I’d barely slept in three days (the lack of sun set will do that to you) but definitely feeling happy and rejuvenated.
Have you ever been to Yellowknife? Where’s the most unusual place you’ve ever been?
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