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Winter in Canada’s North: 7 reasons why people in the NWT can’t wait for it

Winter in the Northwest Territories - Credit: NWT Tourism & Pierre Emmanuel Chaillon

Cold weather is by no means a constant in the Northwest Territories, but the snow and cold temperatures are an iconic part of everything the people up North look forward to as the sun starts to dip below the horizon earlier each day. The anticipation for true Canadian winter activities is palpable as people start to fantasize about their plans “after freeze up”.

It’s a good thing winter starts early, because here are 7 of the spectacular reasons why locals simply can't wait for winter in the Northwest Territories:

7. Cross-Country Skiing

Getting out on the scenic trails around the NWT’s communities is possible any time of year, but for some nothing beats the feeling of zooming around the backcountry terrain with your skis and poles. Whether you’re taking a tour with one of our operators, making tracks out on a frozen lake, or following the well-worn path of a groomed trail, cross-country skiing keeps you moving and warm while enjoying our great outdoors.

Cross-Country Skiing - Credit: Martina Gebrovska

6. Driving the Ice Roads

Driving on ice, often on slick city streets, is something most drivers dread, but driving on the ice roads in the NWT is quite the opposite. Nothing beats the surreal satisfaction you’ll get when your GPS says you appear to be driving in the middle of a lake. Watch for traffic as you find a clear patch to stare down through the ice into the nearly-black waters below, through the lattice-work of beautiful cracks. It’s also a great way to get away from city lights to see truly spectacular Northern Lights, without straying too far from your warm car. The frozen waters of the NWT become the staging grounds for many of our winter adventures, but maybe none are as popular as our next one...

Iceroad in the Northwest Territories - Credit: Sherry Ott

5. Lake Hockey

There are few things that signify the true start of winter more than playing hockey outside on the frozen water. As soon as the ice is thick enough, people are out shovelling off the ice and building embankments to form make-shift hockey rinks. With thousands of lakes across the territory, the locals are never too far from a rink to skate on. On Yellowknife’s Houseboat Bay, the houseboaters come together to build a truly impressive outdoor rink. Whether you’re skating around by yourself, practicing your stickwork, or taking part in a game where the losing team buys drinks for the winners, the hockey rink is where rivalries are formed, friendships are cemented, and legends are made.

Lake Hockey in Hay River - Credit: Hannah Eden

4. Dogsledding

A dogsledding tour is a can't-miss experience in the NWT. On a day tour, meet the dogs and be taken on an amazing high-speed journey through the pristine boreal forest, the iconic winter landscape of the North. At night, ride out into the crisp night air and catch a spectacular showing of the Aurora. With a tour operator, you’ll be treated to warm tea and bannock on your arrival back from the outing. Not sure who’s more excited for dog-sledding season, the people or the dogs.

Dogsledding in the NWT - Credit: Adam Pisani

3. Ice Fishing

In the NWT, fishing doesn’t stop when the water freezes up. While most of your time ice fishing is relaxing by the fishing hole and waiting, it is an experience like no other. With a hot drink and a good friend to pass the time with, ice fishing can be just as stress-reducing and contemplative as summer fishing trips. While a hot and hearty breakfast will keep you warm on the ice, it’s the rewarding meal after the fishing trip that Northerners look forward to.

Ice fishing in the Northwest Territories - Credit: Martina Gebrovska

2. Snowmobiling

The snowmobile is the winter cousin to the motorcycle. Enthusiasts wait anxiously for the weather to turn in their favour, after maintaining their snowmobile through the summer months. When snow finally settles in and covers the roads and backcountry paths, the distinct sound of their engines begins to tear into the winter air. Snowmobiles are the adrenaline-junkies way of getting around through winter snow, and also probably the fastest! Many Northerners own one personally, but there are several tour operators that offer snowmobile adventures. There is no better way to quickly get off-the-grid and out to one‘s favourite secret fishing spots.

Snowmobiling in the NWT - Credit: Ben Weiland

1. Aurora Watching

Whether you’ve been in the NWT for just a day, a couple of months or your whole life, the beautiful Canadian Northern lights are something you never get tired of watching. Come December, the nights are long and dark, making it the perfect time to bundle up and admire the clear night skies coming to life with the dance of the Aurora. The NWT is perfectly positioned beneath the earth’s “Auroral Oval” - making it a scientific fact that you can see the best Auroras in the world right here in the Northwest Territories. There are a million different places to see the fantastic northern lights, but nothing beats the surprise you feel stepping out of your car, looking up and seeing the Aurora dancing above you. Find the best way to fill your day while you wait for the Northern Lights to return at nightfall with more winter activities to do during your visit to the NWT.

Winter Aurora in the NWT - Credit: Tashina Weagle

Further information on the Northwest Territories can be found at


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