Visiting Yellowknife

Yellowknife in April – what to expect and pack

Quick facts about Yellowknife in April

Weather, daylight, and Aurora in April

Average Temperature: -6.2°C – Warmest -0.5°C, Coldest -12.0°C
Average Hours of Daylight: 14:58:50 – Shortest 13:27:50, Longest 16:23:29
Average Aurora Observation Nights: 26.2
Tourism Popularity: Slowing down as Winter Aurora Season ends

Do you feel that? It is the heat of the sun. Congratulations you have successfully survived the worst of winter in Yellowknife and can now move on to spring. Time to level up.

March is a little two-faced. Sure it is jammed packed with those amazing community events, but it is also a trickster. It will often give us a glimmer of hope that Spring is around the corner, the snow might even melt a little. Then, BLAM-OH, another cold snap. And sure, that cold snap might move into the beginning of April, but I promise you, it is going to get better. Spring will come.

April is a transitional month. In the beginning, you still are going to see some of the best Northern Lights Yellowknife can offer. And weather pending it is a prime time to get out on the still very frozen lakes and ski, sled or ice fish until your heart is content. Ice Fishing in a t-shirt is a thing. Towards the end, things get a little soupy. Almost all of our snow will melt, and the Dettah Ice Road will eventually close. It will be as if someone flicks a switch and we go from Winter to Spring in a matter of a week. You might even notice that the sun is so strong snow evaporates before it can even melt.

So get your gumboots on and let’s talk April.

Weather and Climate

You might look at the above historical temperature averages and think that isn’t very warm or Spring-like, but what isn’t factored in the warmth of the sun. Nothing is more rejuvenating than spending a day in the sunlight after a long Winter. It will warm your soul.

Despite the common saying “April showers, bring May flowers”, Yellowknife has a relatively low precipitation in April. Unlike lower parts of Canada, we are about a month behind. This also means that April is another month of mostly clear skies. The chances of rain will start to increase at the end of April.

Quick Facts: Snow will be melting, maybe not at first, but it will start and happen quickly. Most roads will be cleared of snow and be bare pavement (or dirt) at some point. Lakes will be frozen in the beginning and safe for use but unless you are an ice expert of that particular lake, we advice you stay off of them towards the end.

Aurora Forecast and Viewing

The average number of nights the aurora has been observed in April in Yellowknife is 26.2. This is actually the second highest average next to March. However, there is a big caveat about seeing the aurora in April. 

This number comes from local organization, Astronomy North. They, through a series of partnerships, have been tracking the observation of the aurora borealis just outside of Yellowknife from September to May since 2011.

What they consider to be observed aurora is anytime throughout a night (or dark period) the aurora can be seen or spotted, even if it is really briefly in the middle of the night.

Becuase April has gained so much sunlight – an average of 14 hours a day, plus dawn and dusk – the window to see the aurora, however active it might be, will have significantly decreased in comparison to other prominent months (August, September, December – March).

Aurora Planning Tip for April

From a broad overview, it appears many larger tour operators with Aurora Tours still operate until the middle of April. However, your tour might start later or you might have to wait longer into the night to see the aurora borealis. In addition to that, some operators might finish early in the season so it might be harder to find a tour to take. We have a guide to different types of Aurora/Northern Lights tours here.

If you are interested in seeing the aurora on your own, such as at the beginning of April, and if you rent a car, we have developed our Aurora Viewing Locations and Tips Guide.

A personal recommendation of my own would be if you want to come to Yellowknife to see the Aurora Borealis, don’t come after April 15th.

What to wear in April

April being a transitional month what you should bring and wear is going to largely depend on what time of month you come and what the weather is doing.

If you are coming to Yellowknife in early April you might want to read our guide for March as it will be more relevant. You can find it here.

The best advice no matter the weather or temperature is to dress in layers. Always in layers.

Your base layer: should be skin-tight or close to it so that moisture doesn’t get trapped right against your body. Merino-wool is often hailed as the best material for this, but other synthetic fabrics also work. Avoid cotton.

Your middle layers: can have multiple middle layers and should be something like a long sleeve shirt, flannel shirt and/or a fleece sweater. You want these layers to be very breathable so moisture can escape. We often wear two or three middle layers and add to them as it gets colder.

Your outer layer: refers to the shell you wear. More often than not in Yellowknife you will notice this being a goose-down Canada Goose jacket. They are by far the best for sitting around and aurora gazing. If you are coming at the beginning of April we might still suggest a good winter shell like a Canada Goode. If, however, you’re actively moving, or it is later in the month of April, something lighter might be more ideal. Like a fleece lined windbreaker. This layer should protect you from the wind but also keep in your body heat.

If you are frolicking in the snow, snow pants are recommended. A simpler two-layer system works well. A thermal base layer and an outer layer, you can, of course, add middle layers. As things start to melt you might really want to make sure your outer pants layer is waterproof.

Let’s not forget your extremities. You’ll want a windproof hat, or toque, scarf/neck warmer/balaclava, and mitts, not gloves, or at least small gloves with larger mitts over them. Your boots should have good insulation. You will be standing a lot and maybe in the snow. Sorels, Stegers or mukluks are all a good idea. Hiking boots are NOT ideal for this time of year in Yellowknife. Later in the month though, when things are wet, put away the Stegers and break out the gumboots. Gumboots = rubber boots.

With all that sunlight reflecting off the white snow, we recommend sunglasses too.

What if you don’t have any of that and don’t want to buy it? There are places in Yellowknife that rent winter clothing.

What else should you pack?

Now that you have your cold weather clothing covered, what else should you bring to Yellowknife?

Camera – This is a must for any trip but if you want to take photos of the Aurora you will need a camera that you can control the ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.

Extra Camera Batteries – Your camera will be outside as much as you will be, extra batteries will help combat the below zero temperatures.

Tripod – If you want to get stable photos of the aurora borealis a tripod is almost a must to get your camera still enough for longer exposures.

Sunglasses – Funny to think at a time of year with so little daylight you would need sunglasses but when the sun is out and bouncing off the white snow it can be blinding. You’ll thank us later.

Hand-warmers – Pro tip even if you have great gloves or mitts. Hand-warmers are a lifesaver in those moments when your fingers or toes just won’t work anymore. Or look up our friends at Aurora Heat for a northern take on hand-warmers.

Extra Socks – Never put on socks that might be damp. Fresh socks will help keep your feet warm, even if you are changing them multiple times throughout the day. This applies all year-round.

Long Johns – These should be included in what you’re wearing already but long johns are essentials for keeping you cozy no matter where you are.

Moisturizer – Yellowknife has a dry climate and your skin can dry out quickly. Pack yourself a moisturizer of choice. Lip balm is also widely used in Yellowknife.

Snacks – Odd thing to pack, but if your flight is arriving or departing very late at night or early in the morning sometimes there is nowhere to eat. Simple snacks will help you get through those times. Or when you’re out exploring the wilderness.

Flashlight or Headlamp – Yes, daylight is coming back at a rapid rate but it will be dark when you’re out aurora viewing. A flashlight will be your best friend when trying to adjust your camera settings in the middle of the night. Or for light-painting while you wait for the aurora to come out.

Annual Community Events

April does not boast a lot of community events but does have a couple annual events that are long-running and worth checking out if you want to spend time with longtime locals.

Balsillie Cup Old Timers Hockey Tournament

The Balsillie Cup is an annual hockey tournament featuring teams from all across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The tournament takes place more often than not over the first full weekend in April at both arenas. There is a daily entrance fee, which goes to supporting the tournament. You can learn more at ykoldtimers.org.

Ptarmigan Ptheatrics Spring Production

Ptarmigan Ptheatrics is a Yellowknife theatre company that has been putting on theatre productions for many years. They often put on a production in the spring which is quite popular in the community and a great show for visitors and locals alike. Learn more on their Facebook page.

Days of Pink

Days of Pink is an outreach festival hosted primarily by the Rainbow Coalition of Yellowknife. Over the course of several days, events, workshops, discussions, and a gala takes place throughout the city supporting the LGBTQ2S community.

More information can normally be found on their Facebook Page @RainbowCoYK

Earth Week

Earth Week is a week-long celebration around International Earth Day. Throughout the week events are hosted throughout the city with Earth-friendly programming, workshops, and discussions.

More information can be found at ecologynorth.ca.

Other things to do in April

1. Explore the Winter Wonderland

Take hint form any local you might encounter and embrace the sunlight and warmer winter weather. Walk, ski, bike or explore Yellowknife by any means. Wander through downtown and the historic Old Town, or pick a couple activities from our list below and just get out there. You will thank us. The views are pristine and surreal. These activities will keep you moving and warm. As April progresses though, be cautious of slippery conditions. Check with local officials regarding lake ice safety. Try out a local hiking trail, but wear proper gear and be safe.

2. Explore the Culinary Marvel that is Yellowknife

You wouldn’t expect this, but Yellowknife has one of the most diverse culinary scenes in Canada, rivaling big cities like Toronto, Vancouver and, even, Montreal. From Vietnamese and Ethiopian to Northern Fare and just good diner food with a twist. Put on your stretchy pant… or longjohns… and get ready to eat. One benefit of traveling to Yellowknife in April is that the it wont be as busy as February, March or Septemeber, meaning waits will be a lot less.

3. Nestle into a local pub

If you really want to do as the locals do. After a long day of exploring around Yellowknife, or on a night you aren’t heading out to see the aurora, pick a pub and nestle in for the evening. Whether you are with a group of people or by yourself, Yellowknife will welcome you and by the end of the night you to will feel like a local. Or at least like you’ve made a couple new friends.  Did you know that Yellowknife even has a beer brewery? Not a fan of the pubs? We also have more coffee shops throughout downtown and Old Town than you can count on one hand.

4. Take in a show

The Northern Arts and Cultural Centre has year-round programming but it seems to pick up again in February after a slow holiday season and January. Shows range from productions brought up from other places in Canada and the world, and productions put on by local theatre companies. Check out their website naccnt.ca for all their shows, dates and times. Tickets are often best purchased in advance. The Ptarmigan Ptheatrics production mentioned above is performed at NACC.

5. Check out the birds

Yellowknife is an interesting place to go bird watching much of the year, but coming into Spring it gets even better. One particularly interesting activity is spotting the owls that live just outside of the city. If you are patient enough you can easily spot Great Horned Owls and other owls along Highway 3.

Activities to do in March

These are activities that are specific to March or the season. There are often many more things to do in Yellowknife that are not dependant on the month or season.

  • Aurora Viewing – Clearly the first activity you need to do when visiting Yellowknife in February.
  • Drive on an Ice Road – The Dettah Ice road is open until mid-April.
  • Dog Sledding – may not be available after April 15.
  • Ice Fishing – may not be available after April 15.
  • Winter Hiking – get your grips on and don’t slip.
  • Winter Nature Walk/Storytelling
  • Visiting the Ice Caves – weather permitting. Go with a local or tour company
  • Snowshoeing – If there is snow, we go.
  • Cross-country Skiing – Rent them at Overlanders Sport.
  • Snowmobiling – may not last long as snow melts.
  • Fat Biking on Winter Trails/Lakes
  • Skating on Frame Lake  – will close sometime in April weather dependant.
  • Traditional Indigenous Cultural Activities – Depending on operators in April

Driving Conditions in April

If you have decided to rent a car during your stay in Yellowknife here is a little about the road conditions in and around Yellowknife during the spring. April has two conditions: winter and sloppy wet season

In the city

In the city, you will notice that most of the road will now be plowed and snow removed. The remains will be gravel. With the freezing and thawing that might occur in April, there could be patches of slick ice. Here are some tips on how to be cautious of this:

When coming to stop or the need to slow down, give yourself more distance than normal if you see ice or snow on the road. Lightly apply your brakes to slow down. If you slam on your brakes you will most likely break all traction and start sliding, even with ABS and winter tires.

When starting from a complete stop on ice and you notice that your tires are spinning – your speedometer will go up while you’re barely moving – back off the gas pedal. Let your tires get traction and then continue to accelerate.

Be aware of where turning lanes are. Franklin Avenue, in the downtown core, has 5 lanes. Two lanes going either way, with the outer lanes being metered parking most of the day. The lane in the center of the road, which is often unknown, is the turning lane for the side streets. Be aware and don’t block the flow of traffic.

On the highways

Road conditions on the highways are often very good, except for during and right after a good snowfall, but those are rare. The highways, including Highway 3 and Ingraham Trail, are maintained by the Territorial Government, so are cleared regularly. In April you will find they can be very dirty. Watch you pant legs when getting in or out of your vehicle.

Shoulders can be soft and can easily suck in a vehicle if not careful. You should not be parking on the road along the Ingraham Trail so this should not be a problem.

Slowing down on bends in the road is wise as conditions can still be slick even if plowed.

During the winter the Ingraham Trail is also the start of the Tibbit to Contwoyto Winter Road leading up to the Diamond Mines. Come the beginning of April this normally closes for the season, but you should still watch out for large trucks on the highway. And, again, don’t park on the highway.

Follow the Department of Infrastructure (Transportation) on Twitter for updates of potential closures or delays @GNWT_INF.

Things you cannot do in April

Visit the Snowknig’s Snowcastle – Sorry the castle closes at the end of March

Camp at a Territorial Campground – All Territorial Campgrounds are closed for the winter.

Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing or Fishing by Boat – The lakes are frozen.

Swim in a Lake – They’re still frozen. Make a snow angel, hoser.

Drive around with the top down – Suppose you could, but it’d be cold.

Go to the beach – No sandcastles this time of year, just snow castles.

*Note – April is a transitional month so many tour operators close down for the season early in the month so you may not be able to do aurora viewing, dog sledding, etc very easy.

Have something to add? Leave us a comment or send us an email.

Yellowknife by the month is a series we are producing to give you a better idea of what Yellowknife has to offer throughout the year. To learn about what Yellowknife is like in other months follow our tag Yellowknife by the M

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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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