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.

Still not sure where to go? Book an Aurora Tour!

There are many options in Yellowknife for viewing the aurora borealis. There is Aurora Hunting. There is Aurora Chasing. Then there is viewing the aurora from the comfort of a cabin or teepee. We can help you pick the right tour based on your needs.

Click here to contact us.

How To Be a Yellowknifer Tours

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.

16 Comments

  • Hello Kyle,
    Tks for the tips of viewing spots! We are heading Yellowknife in the middle of Oct, hope it’s a good time to visit Aurora.

  • I am planning a roadtrip from Ontario to B.C. Hoping to get to both Yellowknife and Whitehorse. I am flexible with the route – ie, is it easier/faster to drive from Edmonton, north to Yellowknife and across to Whitehorse and down thru B.C. or go from B.C. north? thx,

    • You can’t drive from the NWT to Yukon without going through British Columbia or Alberta and British Columbia. The nicer, but longer, route is to backtrack from Yellowknife back down into Alberta to just north of Grande Prairie where you can turn off and head into British Columbia and get to Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, which will get you to Whitehorse. The alternative route is to drive from Yellowknife to Fort Liard and then into British Columbia. This route is mostly gravel roads and has very few services along the way. Hope this helps.

  • Hi. I am planning to visit in the month of April 2018 with my family. Is it the best time for viewing aurora. Can you suggest me a place to stay.
    Thanx
    Joglekar.

    • You will be pushing your luck coming in April. Generally, the winter aurora season stretches from December 15 to March 31. If the weather is good and the cloud cover is minimal and aurora strong you will see them into April but there is less of a guarantee. There are many hotels (Explorer Hotel, Chateau Nova, Days Inn, Quality Inn, Capital Suites are all downtown), many Bed & Breakfasts and many Airbnb listings in Yellowknife. Review Trip Advisor and Airbnb for reviews. 🙂

  • I want to visit Yk for what is forecast to be the monthly cycle peak of Oct 23-28. Why are none (?) of the local viewing outfits open around then? Is this to be avoided (weather ?). Similarly, why do you
    mention “pushing your luck in April” ? It will be a long drive (from states via Edmonton) so don’t want to go any further than necessary. Would Edzo (or any place else along the way) be feasible to hang out at for a couple days?

    • Hello William. Please understand that there are ideal times to view the Aurora Borealis in Yellowknife and the surrounding area. The Aurora is active many night year round but there are other variables you must consider to optimize your chances to view them when visiting Yellowknife. Between October 1 and November 30/December 15 is not ideal to see the Aurora because this is a time of year when there are most cloudy nights than clear nights. This is generally because of the change in season from summer to winter. This would be the same case for anywhere in the Northwest Territories.

      Our “winter aurora season” is generally Dec 1/15 – March 31.

      After March 31 there starts to become too much daylight. Remember we are also the land of the midnight sun, where in the summer the sun doesn’t set at night. At the same time, there is more cloud cover again because the air temperatures are changing again.

      During these periods of low aurora visibility, most tour operators/outfits will close down to recharge and go on holidays of there own because there are not many travels during this time.

      Hopefully, this clears up some information for you.

      • Thanks Kyle! So it seems that it is the iffy weather that makes October bad in particular.
        My window of opportunity for this trip is now (or maybe never!). I might decide the
        exact dates (have some flexibility) to drive up by studying the weather forecasts, dodging the bad. What do you think of this strategy?

  • Hi there.. We are a couple on our 50’s very interested in seeing the Northern lights at their best.. which months would be best? but are quite afraid of the cold.. what would our options be? Are there places to stay with class roofs? Are there tours that go to remote areas for best viewing?

    • Hi Sharon, the winters in Yellowknife are fantastic and if you dress properly are very enjoyable. You can even rent winter clothing if you don’t have any or want to bring it up. So if you were to come in winter the ideal time would be between December 15 and March 31. The end of March over the weekend that the Long John Jamboree happens is a fantastic time. The sun is out longer and it does warm up quite a bit. The Snowking Winter Festival also happens all March (big snow castle on ice). No operator that I know of operates a glass roof viewing. Although a few do offer the option of going to a warm location outside of town.

      If you are certain you do not want to experience the cold you should come to Yellowknife between August 15 and September 30. The nights get dark enough to see the aurora and the skies still remain fairly clear, while the weather is more like fall. This is a unique time to visit as the lakes have not frozen nor is there any snow so you might see the reflection of the aurora on the lakes.

      Hope this helps.

  • The Aurora Forecast application lets you easily plan to see the Northern Lights. If you are a serious aurora watcher, plan to spend the night with Aurora Forecast application. It’s time to see the Northern Lights.
    Live auroral activity and forecast data is provided by NOAA POES and Geophysical Institute at UAF.
    Aurora Forecast works with all iOS running version 4.0 software or later and Android running version 2.1 or later.
    http://www.tinacinc.com/AuroraForecast/

  • Thank you so much Kyle. This is definitely a good read and great information on where to view the Northern Lights.
    Just a questions… My wife and I are heading up tomorrow and was wondering how the Northern lights are now in Yellowknife? Are they pretty active or a hit and miss. We are planning on staying for two nights, so hoping they are active so the wife can see some Northern Lights.

    Thank you for your help and information.

    • Hi Olay, We recommend for the best chance to view the aurora borealis you should visit Yellowknife for 3 nights. Please keep in mind that the aurora is generally always active at night in Yellowknife, to a varying degree, the real factor that will determine if you can see them or not is the cloud cover. So I would check our local weather.

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