Yellowknife’s Snowking, Anthony Foliot, built his first castle in 1996. Each winter since then he's constructed a new one, always bigger and fancier than before. What started as an offbeat project has become the famous Snowking Winter Festival, drawing visitors to Houseboat Bay throughout the month of March. Within the glittering palace walls you can take in concerts, enjoy plays and art exhibits, or try the lightning-fast ice slide. If you're lucky, you’ll even meet the king himself – one of the North's coolest characters.

Long johns are like a second skin up here. That’s why we pay homage to them during our wildest winter weekend. A vast carnival taking place on frozen Great Slave Lake, the Long John Jamboree has something for everyone. There are igloo-building demonstrations, skijoring races, snow volleyball, talent shows, hot drinks and lots of sweet treats. The shindig ends with “Burn on the Bay,” where an enormous wooden structure is set afire. Hundreds gather around, glorying in the brilliance and warmth.

The season finale of the North’s dog-racing season is the Canadian Championship, when the best mushers from Yellowknife and across North America join up for this celebrated mid-distance event. For three days in a row, competitors start in Old town and race their 10-dog teams across 50 miles of ice-covered Great Slave Lake. For spectators, the best part is the mass start, when hundreds of howling dogs take off down the chutes, making fur fly.

You have to see them to believe. Huge sometimes delicate art, sculpted from Great Slave Lake ice using chainsaws, chisels and scalpels. The ice-sculpture competition is one of the signature events of Yellowknife’s Long John Jamboree, attracting professional carvers from across Canada and beyond. After the judging, the finished carvings are illuminated in a spectacular display of coloured lights.

With seven months of snow, Yellowknife is heaven for cross-country skiers. Glide over groomed trails or make your own way over frozen lakes wrapped in silent, snowy serenity. The city boasts an impressive web of track-set trails for everyone from casual wanderers to seasoned Nordic athletes. Out of town, the Northern Lights wash over snowy paths and well-packed snowmobile trails. Pack some hot cocoa, strap on your skis, and go.

“The lights are on!” That should be Yellowknife’s motto, a cry that echoes night after night, ringing through our hotels, tour buses and Aurora-viewing lodges. When you hear it, pull on your parka, grab your camera, and scramble out into the snow. Now crane your eyes skyward. Ghostly greens and pinks wrap the heavens – slowly twisting, then shimmying, then erupting into a frenzy. You might gasp, laugh, or feel tears on your cheeks. By the time you go back inside your life will be changed forever.

You’ve seen the show Ice Road Truckers – but our ice roads aren’t just for big-rigs. With Yellowknife’s winter comes a network of frozen highways to places previously out of reach. Head out on the road to Dettah, a broad gleaming boulevard that cuts across frigid Yellowknife Bay. Or, if you’re well-prepared, travel the Ingraham Trail to the Tibbett-to-Contwoyto winter road, where the real ice-road truckers roll. Tour operators will gladly take you for a spin (not literally!).  

By January, Great Slave Lake is locked tight as a drum. That’s when anglers get giddy. If you’re keen on winter fishing, guides will lead you to a cozy fishing shack at the outskirts of town, or welcome you aboard a Bombardier or Sno-Bear – tracked vehicles ideal for over-the-snow fishing excursions. All winter long our waters abound with world-class trout, pike and whitefish, some tipping the scales at 20 kilos or more. Pulling one up through the ice is a thrill like no other.

In a secret valley just across Back Bay from Yellowknife’s Old Town, a frozen wonder forms each winter. Mineral-rich waters seep down the steep, dark cliffs of Jackfish Draw, evolving into fangs of ice, glittering white pillars, and surreal caves. Explore these crystal grottos and take photos of the surrounding eerie landscape. Local guides will lead the way.

For a true Canadian experience, go for a “joy glide” on an outdoor rink in the heart of the Northern wilds. There’s a groomed ice surface on Frame Lake beside City Hall, or head down to Yellowknife's houseboat bay and carve figure hights on the ice rink by the Snow King's castle.

There’s nothing so invigorating as strapping on snowshoes and hearing the resonant crunch of fresh snow on a silent winter morning. Trek a trail through stately spruce at a luxury wilderness lodge. Follow snowmobile tracks across a frozen lake in the pink light of mid-day. Or take the road less travelled, blazing a path through trackless drifts for a total nature experience. Guided snowshoe tours are available.

In winter, our northern waters freeze solid – meaning the world opens up for snowmobiling. “Sledheads” will find Yellowknife a perfect place to go for a rip. You can buzz across powdery lakes, follow frozen rivers, or zigzag down forested trails. There’s a good chance you’ll witness winter critters: foxes, wolves, lynx and more. Several operators offer snowmobile tours, and they’ll even teach novices how to drive one. Winter clothing is included: cold-proof boots, puffy parkas, cozy mitts and of course a helmet.

Wanna hear the call of the wild? Then hitch up a team of loyal huskies and go “mushing” through our winter wonderland. Dogsled tours will carry you through silent forests, over ice-locked lakes, and beneath the haunting Aurora. If you want, you can take the reins: Shout “gee” to turn left, “haw” to turn right, “whoa” to stop, and “mush” to go. Prefer the passenger seat? Curl up in a comfy canvas-enclosed cariole and watch the frosty world slide by.

While in Yellowknife, don’t miss the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. One of Canada’s premier museums, it highlights Arctic history, art and science in a range of intriguing, interactive galleries. Also, be sure to tour the Legislative Assembly Building, showcasing the distinctive Indigenous and pioneer culture of the Northwest Territories.  Wanna stay indoors? Browse our art galleries, buy Northern books, and dine on the catch of the day in one of the more than 30 restaurants in Yellowknife.