Exploring Yellowknife

Where and how to view the Aurora Borealis

Yellowknife is the best location in the world for viewing the aurora borealis. yeah, I’ll make that claim. We are. As nights grow longer, the green, red and mauve lights of aurora borealis, or northern lights, are absolutely brilliant as they dance across the sky.

What the heck is the Aurora Borealis

The aurora results from forms of electromagnetic energy which are drawn to the earth’s poles, literally charging the atmosphere and causing it to glow. Why do you care? Because that charge and glow make a simply spectacular lights show right above your head. Despite the crisp -40, (at that temperature Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature scales are the same) which is not uncommon in the heart of a Yellowknife winter, we have thousands of visitors who come to be awe-inspired. Tours to view the aurora from outside the city limits are available starting in August and continue throughout the winter months until the end of March.

Where to find the Aurora Forecast

Best Resource

You can view a live feed of the Aurora of Yellowknife and the forecast at Astronomy North’s website (AuroraMax). This is probably the best place to watch and monitor the aurora.

Mobile App

For on the go, I use the website AuroraForecast.com. I save it to the home screen of my iPhone and it is as if it is an app itself. I check it regularly for the daily Aurora rating.

Aurora Borealis Viewing Locations

Many years ago a Yellowknife resident started this Google Map. Pins are placed where good viewing point can be found. Over the years, some have changed but most are accurate or still accessible.

Within Yellowknife

Dettah Ice Road

Location:Get to School Draw Avenue and you will come across an entrance to the Dettah Ice Road.

Transportation: Drive, Walk (15-minutes from downtown), Tour

Other Notes: The Ice Road is only open in the winter and usually January to March.

Pilots Monument

Location: In the center of Old Town, Yellowknife up the hill often called the rock. At the top of the road, you will find a parking lot and stairs that lead to the top of the monument. This spot gives you an excellent 360 view of Yellowknife and area to view the Aurora Borealis from right inside Yellowknife.

Transportation: Driving, Taxi or Walking (15-minute walk from downtown)

Other Notes: All year access is available

Kam Lake Boat Launch

Location: This isn’t an official boat launch but a small gravel road that leads off of Curry Drive to the edge of Kam Lake, in the Kam Lake Industrial Area. It isn’t very well know so it is often a quiet place to drive to. It is about a 10-minute drive from downtown Yellowknife.

Transportation: Drive, Walking if you’re brave and prepared.

Other Notes: This road is also used heavily by snowmobiles and dog sled teams. Make sure you do not park on the road itself and be cautious of the other vehicles and people that might be around.

Parker Park

Location: Just off of Finlayson Drive in Yellowknife South, Parker Park is a big open area with a playground, two ball fields, a sliding hill and parking lot. This is a great place to view the aurora if you live or are staying in the area. There is also access to the Range Lake Walking Trail here too.

Transportation: Drive, Bicycle, Walk.

Other Notes: Watch for snowmobiles.

Tin Can Hill

Location: The access to the Tin Can Hill walking trail is at the end of School Draw Avenue and is a popular recreation trail for locals. At the end of the trail, there is a lookout over Yellowknife Bay, Great Slave Lake.

Transportation: Drive, Bicycle, Walk.

Other Notes: More information can be found at tincanhill.org

Giant Mine Boat Launch

Location: Leaving downtown Yellowknife, follow 48th street as it turns into Highway 4. Do not turn at the intersection, keep going straight and pass the Yellowknife Ski Club. Before the road closed signs turn right. You will see the dock ahead. The drive takes about 7-10 minutes.

Transportation: Driving, Bicycling

Other Notes: This is a popular place as it is close to town.

Highway 3

Abandon Buildings on Highway 3

Location: Leaving Yellowknife on Highway 3 drive away from Yellowknife. You will pass the Sand Pits on the left, the horse stables on the right and then a small lake on the right. Just after the lake, there are several old buildings, somewhere were homes. This location has a worn down path up to it and many use the buildings as a nice backdrop for their photos.

Transportation: Driving

Other Notes: Watch for broken wood and glass throughout this area. Don’t go into the buildings as some may be unsafe.

Yellowknife Sand Pits

Location: The Yellowknife Pits is a large multi-use area made up of mostly sand. There is some material removal by governments but the area is mostly used for recreation purposes. It is a big open space and easy to access by vehicle. A simple place to view the aurora.

Transportation: Drive, Bicycling

Other Notes: The only downside to the Sand Pits is that it is so close to the airport, the airport lights might overpower the aurora borealis.

Fred Henne Territorial Park

Location: Within the Yellowknife city limits, the Fred Henne Territorial park is a campground on Highway 3 right beside the airport on Long Lake. Walking through the campground is a great and beautiful way to view the aurora.

Transportation: Driving (5 minutes)

Other Notes: All bathrooms are close. Park in the Day Use Area parking lot (not the campground entrance) and watch for snowmobiles throughout the campground.

Ingraham Trail/Highway 4

Vee Lake Boat Launch

Location: Vee Lake is a recreational lake where there are many cabins. To get to Vee Lake get onto Ingraham Trail and follow it until you come across the Vee Lake turn on your left, about 15 minutes up the highway. The Vee Lake road is only gravel and caution should be used on it. At the end of the road, you will find a boat launch or occasionally in the winter an ice road. This is not an official ice road so extreme caution is advised.

Transportation: Driving (25-minutes from Yellowknife)

Other Notes: The road is gravel in the summer and occasionally cleared in the winter. Only drive this road if you have experience driving in winter conditions.

Yellowknife River Day Use Area

Location: The Yellowknife River Day Use Area is approximately a 20-minute drive from downtown Yellowknife. To get to this location follow the Ingraham Trail highway off of Highway 3 until you see signs for the Yellowknife River. The entrance is just past the river on the right.

Transportation: Tour or Driving (20-minutes)

Other Notes: The Yellowknife River Day Use Area is accessible year round and available during Aurora Viewing times of year. No overnight parking is allowed at this location.

Prosperous Lake Boat Launch

Location: Along Ingraham Trail 24 km. Driving between 25-35 minutes

Transportation: Driving

Other Notes: Simple parking lot overlooking a bay on Prosperous Lake

Madeline Lake Territorial Day Use Area

Location: Madeline Lake is about a 30-minute drive up the Ingraham Trail and is the first lake after the Prosperous Lake Boat Launch. The Day Use Area features a dock, parking, campfire pits, picnic tables and kids playground.

Transportation: Driving

Other Notes: The parking lot is a good size but can be crowded on a busy aurora night. Also, the outhouses are normally closed in the winter.

Pontoon Territorial Day Use Area

Location: The Pontoon Lake Day Use Area is about a 40 minutes drive from Yellowknife along the Ingraham Trail. The Day Use Area features a parking lot, access to the lake and places to have a campfire. Pontoon Lake is a popular lake for Whitefish ice fishing.

Transportation: Driving

Other Notes: Do not drive your vehicle onto the lake. In the winter the outhouses are closed.

Prelude Lake Territorial Park

Location: Prelude Lake Territorial Park is about 45 minutes from Yellowknife along the Ingraham Trail. In the summer the park is a campground. To get to the Day Use Area/Boat Launch you will have to drive through the campground. Down the hill on the shore of the lake, there is also a short walking trail of stairs that goes up to a beautiful lookout over the lake. Perfect for Aurora Viewing.

Transportation: Driving (45 minutes)

Other Notes: The outhouses are often closed in the winter. Be aware when you might be driving on the ice. Don’t drive on thin ice or areas that don’t have other vehicle tracks.

Cameron River Territorial Day Use Area

Location: The Cameron River Park is about 50 minutes from Yellowknife along the Ingraham Trail and is right before you cross the bridge over the river itself. From the parking lot, a small set of rapids is a 5-minute walk.

Transportation: Driving (50 minutes)

Other Notes: Dress warm in the winter. Be aware of animals and don’t walk on potentially thin ice.

End of Ingraham Trail/Tibbitt Lake

Location: At the end of the Ingraham Trail is Tibbitt Lake, which in the winter is the start of the ice road to the Diamond Mines. There is a small parking lot

Transportation: Driving (60 minutes)

Other Notes: There is no cell service this far out of Yellowknife.

Do you have a place to add? Leave us a comment below.

Aurora Viewing Safety

Do Not Park on Roads/Highways

Especially through the winter months the Ingraham Trail and Vee Lake Road have a lot of heavy truck traffic on top of normal traffic. Never park on the side of the Ingraham Trail, always use a parking lot or pull out.

Wear High Visibility Clothing

If your winter gear is all dark colours you are extremely hard to see in the dark. Wear bright colours or proper reflective gear so that you are always seen by motorists when our aurora viewing.

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About the author

Kyle Thomas

Kyle grew up in Yellowknife and is a local entrepreneur, bread maker, and Yellowknife-ophile who is addicted to learning as much as he can about the community and sharing it with anyone who'll listen. In 2009 he developed YkOnline.ca. A website all about living, working and thriving in Yellowknife for residents, newcomers, and visitors.


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