Tips on watching the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in Yellowknife

Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights (北極光) is something that, I would say, you have to experience at least once in your lifetime. Last year, my wife and I went to a little town called Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada. People claimed that it is the best place to enjoy the Northern Lights. The city is located directly beneath the auroral oval, which is a halo-like ring shape that is found in both magnetic poles of the Earth. Also, Yellowknife is a very little town, lots of flat earth. There are almost no mountains. This allows for a higher possibility of good weather, especially in the winter, and of course higher chance to see the Northern Lights.

Remember, there is no guarantee that the Lights will happen every night. There were people spent 4 days/nights without having a chance to see it. We were lucky enough to see the light 2 times in 3 nights. One of the 2 times was the Northern Lights Storm! The green laser-like light was dancing in the sky. It seems like it is saying Welcome to this miracle moment to us! We are going to list out some tips on the trip to Yellowknife. Hopefully, this can help you better to plan the trip.

Quiet and peaceful place covered by snow scene.

1. Northern Light does not only happen in WINTER!!!

Most of the people, me too, think that the northern lights only happen in winter. In fact, it’s not. However, you have a better chance to see beautiful northern lights in Winter. The winter in Yellowknife is not an easy one. The average temperature in January is -26°C. With windchill, it may easily feel like -40°C. Therefore you may need to prepare more cash for the winter jacket rental.

2. It can be expensive $$$

If you go in winter, you may need to follow some local tours. Most of the local tours provide heat and hot drinks while you are waiting for the light (Don’t go with them if they do not provide!). You did not hear it wrong, you may need to wait for hours! Normally, the tour will pick the tourists up at the hotel at around 10 pm. It will take up to 1 hour to reach their private campsite as it is better to get away from the city. The darker the sky is, the better view you can get. Some cheaper tour which does not have a campsite will let you wait on their tour bus. Again, there is no guarantee of the happening of the light. The local tour normally will end the session at around 1 am. If you want to extend the time, you need to pay extra. It will cost around $100 CAD per night per person and again NO GUARANTEE.

Summit Air Float Base

A cheaper option will be to rent a car and go driving yourself. However, you may need to do more research on the locations where you can have a better view. Driving is very simple in town as there are not many cars and streets. You can go anywhere with your GPS. One thing you may want to think about is the weather. If it is very cold, you will have no choice to turn on the heat in your car while you are waiting for the light. This may be a risky option. The good thing is you can drive during the daytime to visit different places.

City Hall in Yellowknife

3. It can be VERY EXPENSIVE $$$$

The FOOD is VERY EXPENSIVE. Be prepared extra cash for the food. Some famous restaurants will cost around $50 per person on average. For other, you may need to spend at least $30 per person per meal. On top of it, the money you paid does not necessarily reflect the quality of the food. Of course, you can still go visit some fast food restaurants, but it may not be easy to go if you do not have a car. Lots of Asian tourists actually bring their rice cooker with them to make their own food!

Museum Cafe – A Cafe inside the most important museum in Yellowknife (Good food and Good deal!)

4. Good news! There are activities other than watching the light

Cross-country Skiing, Kite-skiing, Hiking, Snowmobiling, Ice Fishing, Dog Sledding, Museums, all kinds of water activities (in summer of course)… etc. That’s why renting a car may be a good option. There is also the glass-making workshop, dream-catcher-making workshop… etc. You can know the Aboriginal culture a lot better.

910 Sikyea Tili, Yellowknife, orthwest Territories –
visiting the residential area of the First Nation People

5. Keep your Camera warm too

Your camera and your phone may not work in that extreme cold weather. If you decided to take some nice pictures, make sure you have all the necessary accessories before you go to Yellowknife. Everything in Yellowknife is expensive, you do not want to get any gadget there.

Snowking’s Winter Festival – Swan made by Ice

6. Dress in layer

Remember, you will be outside for at least 2 hours. If you are used to go skiing, then you will understand completely. The following graphics (Made by Ice Breaker) can show you a correct way to dress in different layers. Technically, three kinds of layers you should consider: the base layer to wick moisture away, a mid layer to trap heat, and a waterproof outer layer for protection against the cruel elements.

7. Enjoy your visit

Yellowknife is a very interesting city. Do not only focus on the Northern Lights. It is always good to open yourself to surprises instead of holding yourself up with your own plan. My wife are I definitely enjoy the whole trip. I have never been in such a peaceful, quiet and beautiful place. Especially, at night, the moon was the brightest I have ever seen. Of course, the Northern Lights was amazing. My wife and I stood, watching it, stopped talking, tried to feel it with our heart. We looked at each other and we simply give a satisfactory smile to each other. It was such a romantic scene.


I hope you enjoy reading this blog. Write me questions if you have any and I will try to answer them! Enjoy your trip!

Dettah Ice Road – Road that only exists in winter. We are standing on the iced-SEA!!!

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