What kind of clothing should we wear?
“There is no bad weather; only inadequate clothing.”
So you can undoubtably guess what I’m going to stress to you here.
You can rent winter clothing in Yellowknife (scroll down), but should you choose otherwise, you’ll need to pay special attention to what you’ll wear. It’s important that you layer properly, and you focus more on insulation than water proofing. You should start with good base layers tight against your skin, avoiding cotton. Layer with synthetic fabrics or wool that will keep you warm and dry, even if they get wet (because you will inevitably sweat while you’re getting dressed). Above your base layer, try to layer sweaters without hoods (hoods will create uncomfortable bulk around your neck, because I’m assuming you don’t want to pull 3 or 4 different hoods up over your head).
Immediately beneath your windproof shell or parka should be a down or synthetic down jacket/pant to trap all your body warmth.
Your fingers and toes will become the coldest first, and it’s essential you don’t wear cotton socks or too many pairs of socks. Have a thin, light synthetic sock against your skin with a thick woolen sock overtop. Don’t pull your socks tight - keep them a little loose to create warm air pockets and to allow for good circulation. Your boots should be insulated and have a thick rubber sole.
Mittens will be warmer than gloves, and you’ll probably want a liner glove on your hands inside your mittens. Have enough space so you can curl your fingers into the palm of your hand inside your mitten for warmth.
Please remember to bring a toque or beanie. You’ll want to be able to pull it down over your ears (so you don’t have to listen to me talk about science), and your parka or outer shell should have a hood that you can pull up slightly in front of your face to shelter you from any wind.
And finally, don’t forget a balaclava or warm scarf.
Can we rent winter clothing from you?
Not yet. It is an area of interest, but it's also an extremely expensive area of interest. I'll keep you posted here should things change or progress further.
I do highly recommend My Backyard Tours for winter clothing rentals, and I do believe it's about as good of an investment as you can make. Especially for those of you traveling from places like Australia, where, you know, a goose down jacket will never, ever be of any use to you. You will want to make arrangements with Margaret well in advance however, since renting winter clothing is a popular option among all tourists visiting Yellowknife in the winter months.
What hotel would you recommend for us?
While you won’t find swimming pools and jacuzzis inside glass atriums with views out to the snow covered boreal forest, the Nova Hotel & Explorer Hotel are generally regarded as the nicest options in town.
The Nova opened only just in the fall of 2017. Not surprisingly, you’ll find a modern decor style lacking much character or cosiness. Amenities here are good and include a work-out & steam room. The hotel does house two restaurants and a bar.
The Explorer has been around Yellowknife far longer and maybe is more engaged in the community and locally connected. You may find the rooms are more dated here, however they are just completing a 78 room expansion wing and will renovate the remaining rooms following that expansion. There is a certain cosiness about the hotel extending all the way into the bar and two restaurants - one of which has a fireplace in the centre of the dining room. If you can manage a room on a higher floor, you’ll love your view.
Would you recommend any bed and breakfasts?
The Yellowknife bed & breakfast scene is seeing growth, but the Bayside B&B and Embleton House are my favourite choices for each old town and downtown - where you’ll want to be spending most of your time.
The Bayside B&B was always my first choice of accommodation when I was routinely travelling here. The rooms are simple but comfortable, one of which is an en-suite. The guest lounge has gorgeous views over Great Slave Lake, but it’s the included breakfast downstairs in the cafe that you’ll really fall in love with.
The Embleton House, just a few minutes walking off the main street downtown, is run by absolute sweethearts and long, long time Yellowknifers, Faith & Ken. They have a variety of cosy suites, most with kitchenettes, where you’ll cook breakfast on your own from the included groceries left for you.
Our flight arrives at 19:00/20:00, can we still make your tour?
Of course I cannot make any promises here for you, but I can tell you that your pick-up for tour will mostly likely be between 20:45 and 21:30, and I can't make exceptions to any late arriving guests.
Some good things to know (you are reading an FAQ, hopefully this page is full of them) are that in the fall, these flights seem to be on schedule within 15 minutes. In winter, there have been a number of delays an hour or more. Keep in mind that airlines today (especially with smaller aircraft like the ones that operate the flights into Yellowknife) do keep their aircraft on tight turn schedules so delays to that aircraft through the day can become accumulative. And remember if you're travelling in winter, de-icing is not uncommon in Canada, which can add extra time to your journey.
If you staying at a hotel that offers a free shuttle, consider instead taking a taxi ($20, and they will be waiting outside the terminal) to save time. Obviously you can save a lot of time by taking just a carry-on so you aren't waiting for your bag to be delivered at the baggage carrousel too. If you decide to book and you leave me a note in your reservation, I will try to make you my last pick-up to give you as much time as possible.
Ultimately however, if you can not make your tour - even to the airlines fault - I still have to charge you, but if I have empty seats on a coming night, I'm happy to move you over to those.
We're on the 5:30am flight leaving Yellowknife, can you drop us off at the airport straight after our tour is over?
I cannot. All of my guests must have accommodation booked on the night of their tour. Unlike other major airports, ours is not open 24 hours.
Your safety and your warmth mean a lot to me, and I'm not willing to make compromises here. So when we say goodbye at the end of tour together, even if it's at 3:30am and your flight leaves in two hours, I must have somewhere warm to drop you back off to.
If you do not have accommodation booked for the night of your tour, your seat will be forfeited and no refund will be given.
There are no exceptions here, so please don't ask via the contact form at the bottom of my website.
What if we have to use the washroom while on tour?
Make it quick, and enjoy the view. That would be my advice.
Generally, washrooms will not be available while we are on tour. Some territorial parks do have outhouses, but these are mostly locked during the winter and spring. If we do end up chasing clear skies, we may pass the airport (open until 1am) at some point through the night, and I'm happy to make a quick stop when this is the case, but it shouldn't be relied upon.
Can we follow you in our rental car? (we’ll still pay)
All licensed tour operators in the Northwest Territories must submit a variety of paperwork to the territorial government for approval each year. This includes things like our guest capacity, number of vehicles, environmental impacts, and safety plans. Any deviation of what I have submitted would put me in violation of my approved license.
Do you guide any other tours, or have recommendations for other tours?
I guide only where my heart is, and what I whole-heartedly believe I know and am entirely dedicated and devoted to - the chase of the northern lights, however there are some other wonderful operators in town offering almost anything you can imagine wanting to do.
Enodah offers wonderful dog sledding adventures through the beautiful countryside of Yellowknife. This is an intimate experience with caring guides and animals who are treated right.
You want fishing advice from a vegan? Fine. Both Greg Robertson and Shawn Buckley offer authentic ice fishing experiences, and either of these two should keep you clear from more commercial feeling tours of just standing back while fish tangled in some netting is pulled from a pre-drilled hole in the ice.
Do you have any tips for photographing the aurora?
More than a few, and even if you don’t consider yourself anything close to an amateur photographer, you may be surprised at what you can achieve with some basic understanding of, and a little practice with, your point and shoot. Have a read through this small guide I've written for you.