Visiting Yellowknife

Yellowknife in May – what to expect and pack

Quick facts about Yellowknife in May

Weather, daylight, and Aurora in May

Average Temperature: 5.0°C – Warmest 10.01°C, Coldest -0.01°C
Average Hours of Daylight: 17:54:20 – Shortest 16:29:38, Longest 19:11:11
Average Aurora Observation Nights: 4.9
Tourism Popularity: Slow but with the start of summer road travelers

If we could use some descriptor words to describe May it would be these: gravel, dust, short rain showers, brown grass, hot sun, and long days.

The sun can get so intense at the end of April and at the beginning of May that it actually evaporates much of the snow. Like April, May is a bit of a transitional month from Winter to Summer. Yellowknife doesn’t have much of a Spring season, but if we did, it would be May.

May is the time when many Yellowknifers are out cleaning up their yards, racking up the cobwebs, gravel and dog pop that accumulates throughout the winter. It is also the time to get ready for summer. Get the boat, canoe, kayak, bike, camper and gear ready for endless summer night relaxing and forgetting that we all have to work the next morning.

Come the middle of May, campgrounds open and smaller lakes start to open up, welcoming the eager locals and road travelers who want to make the most of the short northern season called Summer.

So let’s plan that epic canoe trip route and get into May.

Weather and Climate

May is the first month of the year where temperatures aren’t constantly below 0ºC. This is very exciting. It is 30 days of Spring. This is also a time of year where you will see a larger temperature difference between day and night as the sun, now spanning around 17 hours a day, will warm us up during the day but still cool down at night.

As for precipitation, May is the first-month Yellowknife will also see any type of rain. It won’t be a lot, but it will be some. According to statistics, May and October receive the lowest amount of rain – 19mm – in comparison to the other months also consistently above 0ºC.

Quick Facts: Snow is pretty much gone, small piles will still be melting. Early on there will be lots of gravel on the streets until the City of Yellowknife can sweep it up. Lakes will still have ice on them, stay off of them! Ice does not melt equally and rotting ice is very dangerous. Hiking trails will be wet and mucky.

Aurora Forecast and Viewing

This will be a quick section for the month of May. Viewing the Aurora Borealis in May is near impossible. It is not an ideal month to visit Yellowknife if you would like to see the Northern Light.

It is so hard to view the aurora in May that the astronomy organization, Astronomy North, that tracks viewable aurora nights throughout the Fall and Winter stops tracking at the end of April.

If you would like to view the Northern Light during warms temperatures look into visiting in August or Septemeber.

Camping

May is the start of camping season in the Northwest Territories, and especially in Yellowknife. Most Territorial campgrounds open around May 15th, with three campgrounds within 60km of Yellowknife all with varying services.

We have published a short guide on where to camp around Yellowknife, including where those campgrounds are. You can find that article on camping in Yellowknife here.

It is often a good idea to reserve a campsite if you already know the dates you will be in Yellowknife as campsite often get booked quickly. You can reserve a site through the website NWTParks.ca.

What to wear in May

The real question here is: can I put away my parka now? The answer is mostly yes.

If you are a climatized local than that parka can go away. May temperatures are not completely summer-like but after -30ºC for months anything above 0ºC is a warm day.

May can be breezy and when the wind is coming off the still frozen Great Slave Lake you will want a good windbreaker. At the same time, the sun can get so warm during the day you’ll be wanting shorts and a t-shirt.

The best advice is always to layer up, but less than the middle of winter:

Base layer: short-sleeved shirt – t-shirt or active-wear button up

Mid layer: hoodie, fleece, long-sleeve flannel. Something that can provide some warmth

Outer layer: Windbreaker, with a removable liner depending on the conditions for the day.

Legs: Pants for going to be desired most of the time, with little snow and rain regular pants are ideal. If you are susceptible to cool nights, possibly lined pants.

Footwear: Depending on what you’re doing will dictate your footwear. Walking around town good walking or hiking shoes will be great. Hiking will require something with some good tread but also potentially waterproof at this time of year. Cleaning up the yard or making a trek to a houseboat might require some gumboots to keep your feet dry.

Eyewear: Sunglasses are always a good choice no matter the time of year.

Carrying light gloves and a toque isn’t a bad idea for those early brisk mornings or down by the lake.

What else should you pack

Packing for the warmer month in Yellowknife is much easier than the winter. You need much less. During May, and depending on why you’re visiting, you really only need your essential clothing as mentioned above. Everything else is up to you. Here are some ideas:

Camera – A good camera is a requirement for taking good photos of the Aurora Borealis, but without them, most phone cameras work just as well, unless you are specifically looking to photograph the landscape and wildlife.

Telephoto Lens – If you’re a photographer looking for some good shots, bring a good telephoto lens for those opportunities to photograph wildlife and birds

Tripod – With that telephoto lens you will want some stabilization, even a small tripod will help.

For Hiking

If you are planning on going hiking at all there are some basic things you should carry with you at all times.

Extra Socks – If you’re out for a walk or hiking you may unintentionally hit a wet spot giving yourself a good soaker. Have that extra pair of wool socks on hand.

Snacks – Keep yourself fueled or as a backup if you’re longer than expected.

Whistle – For those times when you might need to make some noise.

Map – Know where you are going.

Bear Protection – Bears are waking up so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared with a bear banger or spray.

Things you can do in May

May is the beginning of the Summer months so you can start to get some of those summer activities in but not many. Here are some of the key activities you can do in May:

Camping

Campgrounds open up in the middle of May as mentioned above, but nothing is stopping you from packing your bag and heading out on a hike for a night or two. Just note that around Yellowknife there are few designated hiking trails that are more than 10km.

Hiking

As the snow disappears and the ground drys up hiking become a great activity to do in May before the bugs show up. We have a Yellowknife Online Hiking Trail Guide found here. A reminder though, Yellowknife is not a well established National Park. We have an abundance of wilderness but few long-trek marked trails for hiking. If you’re interested in multi-day excursions, canoeing might be more your style.

Birding

An activity that is slowly gaining more popularity around Yellowknife is birding. Throughout May different birds return and are flying through the area for many to watch and photograph. As mentioned in April, owls can often be spotted on Highway 3, while other birds such as gulls, ducks, geese, juncos, cranes, robins, grebes, swallows, terns, loons, flickers, kestrels, sparrows, and warblers also arrive in May. Towards the latter part of May, songbirds usually start arriving in Yellowknife as well. A good resource to learn more about birds in the NWT and Yellowknife is the Facebook groups Yellowknife Bird Arrivals and Birding NWT.

Biking

Whether it be with a regular bike, mountain bike or fat bike, with the snow melting summer biking season begins. Fat Bikes, which are great all year, provide a fun way to crawl over the rocky landscape Yellowknife sits on. Fat Bikes can be rented or you can join a Fat Bike tour. For the regular mountain biker, there are many trails that have been noted or are under development by the local MTB club. Trailforks has most of them mapped out.

Garage Saling

This is loved by locals and might be a little strange for a visitor, but we love garage saling in cities we’re visiting. Yellowknife is a die-hard garage sale community. So if you want a fun Saturday morning activity try your hand at garage saling, and believe me, it is more intense than you think. Best places to find a list of sale: Yktrader.com

Other things you can do in May

Eat Out – Yellowknife is a melting pot of different cultures from all over the North and the World. From Vietnamese and Ethiopian to Northern Fare and just good diner food with a twist. You would need more than a week to successfully eat a different cuisine each day while in Yellowknife.

Grab a Coffee – Like the abundance of eateries, Yellowknife likes coffee too, local coffee. Sure we have two Tim Hortons, but we love our local shops. Be it Luluz, Javaroma, The Fat Fox, Birchwood Coffee K’o, Gourmet Cup, Dancing Moose Cafe, Mario’s Marvelous Movie Emporium or Barren Ground Coffee. Yellowknife has your caffeine fix on lockdown.

Things you can not May

With the change in seasons many of the popular winter activities are no longer doable, and in May we aren’t quite ready for all the fun summer activities we can get up to.

  • Aurora Viewing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Drive on an Ice Road
  • Dog Sledding
  • Ice Fishing
  • Visit the Ice Caves
  • Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Snowshoeing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Skating on an outdoor rink
  • Ski-joring/Kicksledding
  • Kite-skiing
  • Visit the Snowcastle

But in early May it is also too early for…

  • Boating
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • SUPing
  • Swimming in a lake (they be cold!)

Annual Community Events

Gumboots Rally

The Gumboot Rally is a beloved and fabulous annual tradition organized to raise money for the Yellowknife Association for Community Living. The popular event is attended by teams of politicians, unions, business owners and their employees, professionals, government workers, sports teams, school staff, students, and families. The morning features contests of skill – such as The Boot Toss and The Boot Bowl-A-Thon – along with live music, magic shows, and a BBQ.

Annual Community Garage Sale

This is a garage sale that normally happens during the first Saturday of May at the Multiplex Arena. It is a good opportunity for those who live in apartments or condos to have a garage sale. This is normally a very busy event.

Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce Spring Trade Show

This two-day trade show at the Multiplex arena over the Mother’s Day weekend is a popular event throughout the community. If you’re a local it is a great time to catch up with folks you haven’t seen all winter, but it is equally great for newcomers and visitors as a place to get more acquainted with the community.

Yellowknife Guild of Arts and Crafts Spring Sale

In the St. Pat’s Highschool foyer on a Saturday morning in May you can fight for your chance to get some handcrafted pottery and quilts. The products of a long winter and dedicated artisans. The event is always busy and a highlight for many locals to see what their friends have been up to all winter. More can be found at ykguild.wordpress.com.

Driving in May

Road conditions in May are not out of the ordinary. The snow and ice are all gone, replaced by gravel patches and potholes. Some might say those potholes are worse than driving on snow and ice, so don’t get swallowed up in one. Also, try not to spray the vehicle behind you with gravel should you be stopped on some.

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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