THE CITY LIFE
On the edge of downtown, you'll find a now empty blue building that used to house the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre - an excellent resource for all things Yellowknife. I'll spare you from the drama of why, but they have now closed. The staff were seriously great, very well informed, worked with indigenous peoples to offer authentic handicrafts, as well as host an interactive space weather/aurora display set up, but their website is still up with useful information - for how much longer, we're not sure. If you're as outraged that a city self proclaimed as 'the aurora capital of the world' won't house a visitor centre, especially with the million of dollars they'll begin collecting through an accommodation levy on your stay, write our mayor here.
Moving on, the Prince of Wales Heritage Museum itself is absolutely worth your time - even if, like me, you don't reaaaally like museums. The attached cafe is actually a great, highly rated lunch spot. The Legislative Assembly, also a short walk from the visitors centre & museum, offers an excellent free tour (I know - again, if you're like me, it sounds just a little dry, but it's worth the hour - seriously) on weekdays, but you will have to get yourself out of bed early for it at 10:30am. Downtown Yellowknife is also home to the NWT Diamond Centre if you're curious about the diamond mining up here or are in the market for one (a diamond, not a mine).
And then, there is old town - which is where I really fell in love with Yellowknife. It's super quirky, it's artistic, it's authentic.... It's 'Yellowknife' to me. It's a good place to just wander - wander down some of the side streets there (including Ragged Ass Road), check out the architecture, the painted pallets and rocks on the side of the road, walk up the big hill in the middle to Pilot's Monument for gorgeous sweeping views of Yellowknife and Great Slave Lake. If you're visiting Yellowknife when there's ice on the lake (November - April), walking out toward the houseboats from the boat launch may rendezvous you with the Snowking - a man who works tirelessly on constructing a castle built from the snow and ice on which it stands. He begins harvesting blocks of ice as early as November for the opening every March, and still at the end of April you'll notice his melting kingdom collapsing in on itself before melting entirely back into Great Slave Lake.
Handicraft shops and experiences in old town are abundant and definitely unique. The Down to Earth Gallery is filled with all local artists' work. You can find everything from recycled glass making workshops at friendly Old Town Glassworks, to creating little dream catchers at Mother Earth Rocks.
NATURE IN THE CITY
Literally just out the back door of the Explorer & Nova Hotels is beautiful Niven Lake with a well maintained and easy trail. The birdwatching here outside of the winter is wonderful and it's a peaceful spot for a small picnic in the middle of the afternoon with a few of your favourite snacks.
The Frame Lake Trail accessible from behind the visitors centre, or the western edge of downtown is a stunning, approximately 5km, trail, beautiful both in the summer and the winter. From downtown, make a day of it and enjoy warming up over at Tim Hortons on the other side of town. If you're here through the winter, you can always walk across the lake on the way back as a shortcut.
Becoming more well known are the Yellowknife ice caves/ice falls. They can be tricky to find, but our visitor centre can help with directions if you feel confident walking across a frozen lake and navigating some trails. Alternatively, you can book a guided tour with My Backyard Tours.
If you're thinking of hiring a rental car, especially in the fall, then oh my goodness, you'll definitely want to head out on the Ingraham Trail. But you'll want to head out on the Ingraham Trail regardless.
This begins just 3 kilometres from downtown Yellowknife, and will take you about 70km north east of Yellowknife through the countryside, all our rock - billions of year old rock, and boreal forest. There are countless lakes on the way out - all worth pulling over at to enjoy the serenity and crisp air of, but some of the more notable ones for hiking are Vee Lake, Prelude Lake, and the Cameron Falls area. Turning down the Prelude Lake access road, you'll find a 3km loop trail with breathtaking views and informative signage along the way. Further down the road to the boat launch will be a few minute trek up a boardwalk to a couple stunning viewpoints right out over the lake. Back to the Ingraham Trail, further along at about 46km you'll find the Cameron Falls Hiking Trail car park. There begins a well marked and well travelled trail that is a leisurely 25 minutes in to Cameron Falls, and this is worth the time for sure. I think it's easy to spend all day around here, bring some lunch and enjoy. Continuing on again, you'll pass a few forest fire burns areas literally on the side of the highway - at about KM 56(ish?) and 62. Then not long after you'll come to the end of the road (literally), and you'll also see on the left side where the ice road to the diamond mines in the winter begins.
Without a rental car, I would highly recommend looking into a few different tours to get out this way. Still a favourite of mine is My Backyard Tours for how genuine, educated and caring their guides are. Rosie also guides smaller groups through the wilderness and is an enthusiastic wealth of knowledge. And one day when I can bank my sleep, I'll finally book a tour with each of them.
HIGHWAY 3/ROLLER COASTER ALLEY
It's all fun and games in a rental car isn't it? The 100 kilometre stretch between Yellowknife and Behchoko is a great place to test your spatial reasoning and notice how quickly those dips in the highway caused by melting permafrost sneak up on you at 90km/h with the 'BUMP' signs in all the wrong places. If you're looking for more than that immediately sinking feeling in your stomach, continue on past Behchoko at least another 20-50 kilometres bringing yourself nearer to the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary. While there is no official entrance to the park itself, or guaranteed bison sightings for that matter, wild bison are very rarely not scattered all across and to the side of the highway.
There are also acres upon acres of forest fire burn areas right to the edge of the highway out past Behchoko - stunning anytime of the year, but particularly so when the ice fog rolls in.
I do often hear from guests about how the restaurant scene here has exceeded their expectations, and it's something Yellowknifers are really proud of, so here's a little look at my favourites.
• Zehabesha - our favourite - for when you're craving something different and definitely delicious - you'll find our much loved Ethiopian restaurant in town (don't act like you're surprised). The food is wonderful, the staff - genuine, and portions - generous. Vegan friendly. Morgan and I have been eating here once a week for nearly three years now, we love it that much.
• The NWT Brewing Co/The Woodyard serves it's own brews and a small but delicious menu of food, including vegetarian options (The portobello & fish burgers, and tofu nachos have been some of our favourites). The atmosphere in here is great and you'll always find it packed with locals. It may not be the place for a romantic evening whispering into your lover's ears though - it can be a little bit loud - not rowdy loud, but atmosphere loud.
• Bullock's Bistro was my favourite place to eat in Yellowknife, and maybe the world - before I went vegan - or it still would be. Everyday they receive fresh fish from Great Slave Lake, and whatever is caught, is on their menu with salad and fresh fries via a potato press hanging off the wall inside. You may have to queue, but it was always worth it. They do accept a limited number of reservations in advance now. Go when you have time and you're ready to enjoy a new experience (probably completely unlike anything you've had before).
• The Fat Fox Cafe - had tried again and again to save their rickety old building they called home, but without help from their landlords, they've had to temporarily close while they search for a new space - opened over the summer of 2016, and, as the owner Jeremy put it, tried for something of a soft opening but failed miserably because of the immediate and unwavering popularity of everything from their curries and homemade soups, to the coffee (the cardamom latte!!!), all their constantly changing fresh baking, and of course the homey atmosphere. On Saturday mornings, they do a full English breakfast that is essentially to die for. Everything here - from their syrups for fancy coffees, all their baking, and every single sauce or jam, is homemade from scratch. There are plenty of vegan options across the menu, and they're happy to substitute almond or soy milk for any dairy. If you want a place to snack through a cosy afternoon or watch next door neighbours bump into one another, look no further, I promise you.
· The Dancing Moose Cafe (part of the Bayside B&B) in old town has a wonderful breakfast and brunch in a small dining room that overlooks Yellowknife Bay/an ice runway in winter. Their online menu shows some wonderful vegan options - both for breakfast and lunch. Be sure to call in advance and confirm their opening hours - they have been a source of confusion for a guests in the past.
· The Yellowknife Farmers Market runs every Tuesday from mid-June to mid-September, beginning at 17:15 in the park beside city hall downtown. You'll find home baked breads, pastries, and sweets, home cooks offering delicious full plates, some handicrafts, and later in the season, fresh produce from garden boxes around town that do make it into local restaurants like the Fat Fox.
· Elke's Table on 47th is home to some Mediterranean/German cuisine and has received a lot of positive attention with a lovely owner who worked at Bullocks for almost two decades.