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Aurora Borealis - and so much more - in Yellowknife, Canada

Aurora Borealis - and so much more - in Yellowknife, Canada

Old Feb 26, 11, 1:16 pm
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Aurora Borealis - and so much more - in Yellowknife, Canada

When the weather is a balmy -20C outside and you’re riding through the woods outside Yellowknife, Canada with your head hanging out the window and not feeling the cold at all there must be a good reason for it. In my case that reason was the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. If you have never seen the aurora borealis then you are missing out on an amazing event of nature. Watching as the sky is painted in watercolor-esque shades that shift before your eyes is simply amazing.

One of the most popular places to see the aurora is Yellowknife, NW Territories, Canada and the surrounding countryside. It isn't particularly easy to get to - figure a 2ish hour flight on a CR2 from YEG or YYC - but award seats are surprisingly easy to find and AFAIK every *A program considers it part of a typical North America award so it is just 25K points to get there, which is a great deal considering the fares are ridiculously expensive otherwise.

You will need a rental car while you are in Yellowknife. There really is only one decent hotel in town (The Explorer) and it isn't cheap (~$180/night). Oh, and the food and beer are surprisingly expensive since most everything comes in by air or on a very long truck/ferry/truck route. And there isn't a whole lot to do in town. But there is just enough going on during the day - and there is the Aurora at night - to make it completely worth the trip!

If you happen to be in Yellowknife for an Aurora viewing and you’ve got a rental car at your disposal (which you do because you read what I wrote above!) skip the Aurora Village and just head to Vee Lake on your own. It is essentially the same view and a heck of a lot cheaper. Sure, no heated pods to sit in but they weren’t all that warm to begin with. And you can pack a thermos of coffee or hot cocoa for a lot less than $125/person. Plus, you can leave when you’re ready. Definitely an easy trip to do on your own. Maybe drive out to the lake once in daylight to familiarize yourself with the route, but it is pretty easy. And completely worth it.

As I noted above, there isn't a whole lot to do in Yellowknife outside the aurora. But that doesn't mean there is nothing. We managed to pass two quite lovely days there - spending much of the time outside in bitter cold temperatures - and have a great time doing so.

About 45 minutes out of town you'll find a path that leads up into the woods and eventually to Cameron Falls. Getting to the falls involved a 25 minute hike through snow-covered hills and amongst some rather amazing scenery. Birch and conifers lined the well marked path – mostly just earthen but raised boardwalks in some areas – and their ice-covered branches sparkled in the low sun barely peeking over the top of the hills. About 15 minutes into the hike the sounds of the running water coming from through the trees spurred us on and we were very soon upon a clearing at the top of a hill overlooking the falls.

From here we continued on the path, walking a bit upstream from the main falls as well as descending down the hill until we found ourselves on the banks of the river. Keeping an eye out for what was land and what was an ice shelf was particularly important at this point as it was obvious the ice was not particularly solid across the river. Still, getting up close to the falls meant some phenomenal views of the different sections and their various states of freezing over.

Downtown Yellowknife does not have a lot to recommend it. The old city is quaint but almost all residential with a couple art galleries scattered throughout. The lakefront scene might be fun in the summer but in the winter the few houseboats out there are ice-bound and there really isn’t much going on to speak of. It is that ice, however, that provides for some excellent recreational options as well.

The two main winter sports represented in town are snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. We didn’t do much research into the former but the latter was quite accessible and incredibly fun. Not far from the center of town and most of the hotels is Overlander Sports. For CAD$25/day ($40 for a weekend) they rent out skis, poles and boots for cross-country skiing. And the region is literally covered with lakes, most of which are small enough that they freeze over pretty early in the season, leaving nearly limitless options for where to go out skiing.

We walked about 100 meters from the front door of the shop, through the parking lot for the local RCMP branch and we were standing on top of Frame Lake. It is a few miles across and a great cross-country skiing facility. Oh, and smack dab in the middle of town, too.

If you've got the time or inclination there are many more lakes in the area. And later in the season (we were there at the end of November) there are a number of groomed trails that become available, too. But just walking across the street from the outfitter to Frame Lake is a great place to start!
sbm12 is offline  
Old Mar 2, 11, 3:11 am
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sbm12, at your suggestion, I have moved this to the Trip Reports section, where I think it will get the attention it deserves. I like the report and the pics. ^
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Old Mar 2, 11, 9:07 am
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What a nice report...with great pictures to match. ^

It's just the type of trip I would love to do. Which month is the best time to see it? I would hate to go all that way and not see anything.
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Old Mar 2, 11, 10:34 am
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Wow... thanks for sharing. I would love to see that in person, but there is a reason I live in Phoenix - cold weather doesn't agree with me. At least I can see the pictures in trip reports!
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Old Mar 2, 11, 2:40 pm
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Nice TR, thanks for posting.

i will probably not go that far (living in France) to see Aurora Borealis, Iceland is much closer, but it is definitely something i want to see and enjoy.
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Old Mar 4, 11, 2:28 am
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Thanks for the Trip Report
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Old Mar 6, 11, 6:24 am
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Really nice report and pictures. Thanks for posting. ^
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Old Mar 8, 11, 10:03 am
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I really enjoyed reading about this, as it is one of my "to do" things to discover the Canadian north and see the northern lights. Thanks for sharing!
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Old Mar 8, 11, 10:13 am
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Incredible scenery. good report to read.
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Old Mar 9, 11, 9:55 am
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Superb report and pictures. I would love to see the aurora borealis
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Old Mar 9, 11, 1:39 pm
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Amazing! Thanks for the pics and report. I was planning to do a similar trip to northern finland but I will keep canada as an option too.
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