Visiting Yellowknife

Yellowknife in March – what to expect and pack

Yellowknife Long John Jamboree Event

Quick facts about Yellowknife in March

Weather, daylight, and Aurora in March

Average Temperature: -18.5°C – Warmest -12.5°C, Coldest -24.6°C
Average Hours of Daylight: 11:50:52 – Shortest 10:19:55, Longest 13:21:47
Average Aurora Observation Nights: 28.1
Tourism Popularity: High and Busy

Welcome to March in Yellowknife my wonderful friends, readers, adventurers and seasoned residents. I write to you about March today with much glee as we shift into one of the best months in Yellowknife, and this post will tell you all about it.

For starters, March pretty much has it all. As you will see it is one of the best, if not the best, months to view the Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights in Yellowknife. Then there is the daylight which is up to a glorious 10 hours a day, featuring pristine blue skies and an intense sunlight. Oh, and the events. Events galore. The Snowking’s Castle will be open all month and the Long John Jamboree – and associated events – will be happening later in the month. Did we also mention the warmer temperatures? Combine all that together and you have a lively little city in the Boreal Forest bustling with people full of energy and enthusiasm.

Oh my, I’m excited and I get to live every day of it. Let’s get into it so you can too.

Yellowknife Festival Burn on the Bay

Weather and Climate

Above I mention that the average temperature in March will be -18.5°C, which after the winter of 2017/2018 we’ve had so far seems generous, but I’m optimistic. I am no meteorologist though, March can still have frigid cold snaps so it is always wise to come prepared.

Of the winter months, March has the lowest recorded amount of snowfall. So you can bet that most of the month with have beautiful blue skies during the day. Combined with the increasing daylight, you might even notice how warm the sun can be, making March one of the most enjoyable winter months in Yellowknife.

Low precipitation, in this case, snowfall, also means better chances of viewing the Aurora Borealis. The increasing daylight will not affect your chances to see the aurora.

Quick Facts: Snow still covers the ground, roads, and lakes. Snow removal is happening daily. All lakes are still frozen. Sunlight will become intense and warming. And it is NOT a good idea to eat yellow snow.

Aurora Forecast and Viewing

The average number of nights the aurora has been observed in March in Yellowknife is 28.1. This is also the highest average number of nights the aurora has been observed per month according to Astronomy North.

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.

Should you worry about the increasing daylight in March? No, there is plenty of darkness, if the skies are clear there is a good chance you will see the aurora. The hours that the Northern Light are active are still very dark.

There are many tour operators who offer aurora tours with varying options from small groups to large and chasing/hunting/roaming tours to stationary tours, such as ones at a tent, cabin or lodge. You can read about the different types of Aurora/Northern Lights tours here.

Yellowknife Online helped launch the local tour company Aurora Zoom and The Great Aurora Tent Tour. You can learn more about it here.

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

Aurora Planning Tip for March

As I mention above, and you will see below, March is chalked full of different events happening throughout the month. One good piece of advice would be to try and plan your trip to Yellowknife to see the Aurora Borealis around one of those events so you can get even more out of your trip. Two popular events are the Snowkning’s Winter Festival, which has many events each weekend happening at the castle, and the Long John Jamboree, which has several events during the day as well as the Inspired Ice Craving Competition and the Canadian Championship Dog Derby.

Yellowknife Aurora Northern Lights

What to wear in March

We will be honest with you, not much is going to change month-to-month in terms of what to wear while outside in the winter.

Eventually, we will write a specific article on the proper way to dress for a Yellowknife winter, but for the time being here is some advice:

Dress 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, note you can have multiple middle layers, 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 is referred to as your shell. 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, however, you’re actively moving, something lighter might be more ideal. This layer should protect you from the snow and wind but also keep in your body heat.

For snow pants, I go with a simpler two-layer system. A thermal base layer and an outer layer, you can, of course, add middle layers.

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.

Because of the increasing sunlight during the day we also highly recommend sunglasses for March, which should always be in your pack.

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.

Yellowknife People Clothing

What else should you pack?

Now that you have your winter 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 cold temperature.

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.

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 – It is dark here, we have established that. 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

Snowking’s Winter Festival

The long-running festival takes place on Yellowknife Bay in amongst the houseboats and runs for most of the month of March. The castle is open Tuesday to Sunday from 12 pm to 5 pm. In addition to general opening hours, additional programming is put on throughout the entire month during weekday evenings, during the day on weekends, and during weekend nights. Some of the most popular events are The Snow Sizzler, The Royal Ball, Sugar Shack Brunch, Skake & Shiver, Comedy Night, Craft Show, Hockey Tournament, Royal Rave and The Great Meltdown. But there is snow much more (ha, see what I did there…) and of course, the Snow Sculptures will be on display. Oh, and the snow slide! WHO DOESN’T LOVE A SLIDE IN A GIANT SNOW CASTLE!

You can find the full schedule at snowking.ca.

Snowking Winter Festival

Dead North Film Festival

The Dead North Film Festival is a short genre film-making festival open to filmmakers across the north. Filmmakers have two months to produce a short and over the course of a few days, all the films are shown here in Yellowknife, with some being shown at the Snow Castle. Films often lean to the genre of horror or terror, but always showcase the talent of the north, be it shooting, directing, writing, editing or acting.

More information and ticket information at www.deadnorth.ca

NWT SPCA’s Annual Diamond Dessert Gala

Winters are long in Yellowknife so locals love a good gala. In March the NWT SPCA puts on their Annual Diamond Dessert Gala. It is a fancy evening of cocktails, dinner, entertainment, dancing, silent auction and so much fun all for a good cause. If you happen to bring your dancing shoes to Yellowknife, jump on in. If you didn’t, we don’t judge. Come anyway.

Ticket information can be found at nwtspca.com/events.html

Long John Jamboree

The Long John Jamboree is an annual winter festival on Yellowknife Bay beside the Snow Castle. It is a celebration of the end of winter and features many activities, music, and food throughout the weekend for the whole family, even the four-legged ones.

Within the Long John Jamboree, the Inspired Ice Carving Competition sponsored by De Beers Diamond Mine takes place. Ice Carvers from around the world come to Yellowknife to compete against one another and carve giant ice blocks harvested from Great Slave Lake. By the Sunday of the weekend, the carvings are complete and lit up on display.

Learn more about the Long John Jamboree at longjohnjamboree.ca

Long John Jamboree Yellowknife Events

Canadian Championship Dog Derby

Dog sledding and dog derbies are a long-standing tradition in the north. The Canadian Championship Dog Derby is a 150km, time-trial, multi-day race on Great Slave Lake. The event normally coincides with the Long John Jamboree with the starting point only a short walk from the festival site.

For start times and routes visit their website at canadianchampionshipdogderby.ca

Yellowknife Dog Sledding

Other Things to do in March

1. Explore the Winter Wonderland

Take hint form any local you might encounter and embrace winter. 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, but they will also make you work up quite the appetite.

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.

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.

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 March.
  • Drive on an Ice Road – The Dettah Ice road is open all throughout March
  • Dog Sledding
  • Ice Fishing
  • Winter Hiking
  • Winter Nature Walk/Storytelling
  • Visiting the Ice Caves
  • Snowshoeing
  • Cross-country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Fat Biking on Winter Trails/Lakes
  • Igloo (or iglu) Building
  • Skating on Frame Lake (Or another public outdoor rink)
  • Traditional Indigenous Cultural Activities

Yellowknife Dog Sledding

Driving Conditions in March

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 winter. These conditions are pretty much the same from December to March.

In the city

In the city, you might notice that many of the roads are not actually plowed down to the asphalt. Instead, the snow is packed down and occasionally graded to keep level. The snow can then be very slick and while the municipality does lay down gravel to create traction you should be more cognizant as a driver while on the road:

When coming to stop or the need to slow down, give yourself more distance than normal. 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 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 plowed regularly.

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.

Starting in January, but also running through February and March is the Tibbit to Contwoyto Winter Road, which leads to the Diamond Mines further north into the Arctic. The start of this winter road is at the end of the Ingraham Trail (Highway 4), which means many haul trucks will be driving the highway 24 hours a day. Please be aware of them, follow all road signs and do not stop on the highway itself.

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

Things you cannot do in 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. Try ice fishing.

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.

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 Month.

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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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