Enjoying the great outdoors during winter is not a difficult thing to do when you live in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, particularly given our very long winter season. Over the past four weeks (mid-March to mid-April), I’ve been on some exhilarating Yellowknife backyard winter adventures on the ice and snow (and I experienced four “firsts”). Each adventure reminded me of what a truly spectacular place I live in! Although I’ve always known this! No matter the season, my own backyard is rich and overflowing with countless opportunities of fun, adventure, exploration and photography.
Now come along with me to Yellowknife’s snow castle, the Canadian Championship Dog Derby, the Great Slave Lake ice road and the Back Bay ice caves. All four of these outdoor adventures are located on, or accessible by, Great Slave Lake, right in Yellowknife, only a short drive from my house! And they didn’t even cost a penny!
Snowbuddy’s Winter Garden – Snowking Winter Festival
Each winter the infamous Snowking and his large team of helpers design and build a winter wonderland made of snow and ice, all for the community to enjoy during the month-long Snowking Winter Festival in March. The Snowking Winter Festival provides the community with the opportunity to come out and mingle, to enjoy the fresh air, admire the snow sculptures and let the kids (and adults) run around and play on the snow slide.
Usually there is a schedule of events and activities for all to enjoy, young and old, including performances, art shows, art and craft market, and more. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s festival provided a downscaled version, called the Snowbuddy’s Winter Garden. Downscaled or not, every visitor still had a smile stretched out on their faces as they walked through the castle’s “garden.” The architecture always amazes me! For more information about the festival, visit here.
Ice Road Trip on Great Slave Lake
There are many ice roads around Yellowknife. One such road is built each year on the vast Great Slave Lake, connecting Yellowknife to the community of Dettah (6.5km away); it also branches off onto a private road that goes along the lake’s East Arm, servicing a rare earth minerals project (110km from Yellowknife).
One sunny morning, in late March, a friend and I took off on a road trip along this ice road. I had no idea what I was going to see (driving on the 10th largest lake in the world!), but just in case I came prepared, with all of my camera gear, additional outdoor clothing including a big parka, thick snow pants and bit clunky boots (so glad I brought them!!) and some snacks.
We were gone for a total of 5 hours, which included many (photo) stops and a surprise driving lesson! I had no idea that this trip would have me checking off a bucket list item for my year off! The ice road trip and the driving lesson were the first two of my four firsts that I experienced during these adventures (those words don’t sound right, but that’s exactly what it was). Be sure to watch the entertaining video (4:45 mins) for a summary of this ice road adventure!
A Magical World Beneath the Surface
One of my favourite things about the trip was the magical world we found when looking through the cracked ice of the lake. My camera was firing away; I couldn’t get enough! There are such interesting lines and shapes and you never know what you’re going to find! Can you spot the Ice Fairy of Great Slave Lake in the image below?
Here is just a glimpse of what I saw, and this doesn’t even “crack the surface” (get it?!) I plan on creating a print series which will be available to order through my website’s Abstract Gallery.
***NOTICE: I have something new and very exciting in the works. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to my blog to keep posted!
Great Slave Lake is dotted with little islands, and on one such island we stumbled across some frozen trees that were strangely iced up on one side (likely from the waves during freeze up). The frozen trees were too far from the road to get a good shot, so we traversed about 60m through the thick and heavy snow to get a better look!
I didn’t expect we’d be leaving the car much, but when we came across these trees, I was so pleased that I brought a warmer set of outdoor clothing! I changed into my big Canada Goose parka, thick snow pants and clunky boots! Seeing these trees made it seem as though we were on another planet!
Annual Canadian Championship Dog Derby
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s participating mushers came from the Northwest Territories only. Races were scheduled throughout the day from Friday-Sunday, March 26-28, 2021. What a thrill it was to watch these incredible dogs and mushers race; they train all year for this!
I was able to get very close to the dogs as they raced on by; this allowed me to get some great action shots! My camera was firing away at high speed continuous shooting, capturing hundreds of shots! I’m glad I was able to return multiple times throughout the week-end, as it’s very tricky to get sharp shots when you have multiple fast moving subjects coming right at you!
I even went home in between the races to download and quickly review my 100s of images; this allowed me to tweak my camera settings and try out different lenses and shooting perspectives at the next race!
Have a look at the video (1:41) below for a little glimpse of what you can see at the races! For more information on the Canadian Championship Dog Derby, visit here.
Back Bay Ice Caves
Born and raised in Yellowknife, and having lived here my entire life, I can’t believe it took me 43 years to FINALLY visit the infamous Back Bay ice caves! Each winter I saw people’s pictures of the caves posted in Instagram and Facebook and I always wanted to see them…but I didn’t know how to get there!
Finally, one morning in early April, I received a text from a friend asking if I’d like to go that very afternoon! Since I’m on a year off from work, I had the flexibility to go whenever I wanted (so grateful for that!) I was stoked once again to experience another “first” in my own backyard!
The ice caves are accessible by snowmobile or a rough foot path through the woods, coming from a couple of different directions (Niven Drive area, walking down towards Great Slave Lake or the Yellowknife ski hill). In order to reach them, you’ll walk through the Heritage Site of Back Bay Cemetery, Yellowknife’s first cemetery (1938-1946). This was another first for me!! I had never known the location!
Have a look at this short video (1:13 mins) where I share some of my excitement as I experienced the ice caves for the very first time!
My visit to the Back Bay ice caves and cemetery were the remaining two of my four firsts during these adventures, all having taken place within the span of only four weeks! And I returned to visit them again the very next day! Now the ice and snow are quickly melting….so I made it JUST in time before the end of the season! I feel so accomplished and reinvigorated, and I didn’t even have to leave my own backyard!
My Very Own Backyard Snow Fort
This winter I was so lucky to have my very own snow fort to enjoy in my own backyard! While not part of my “winter adventures” from the past 4 weeks, it was great fun having a few friends over to enjoy the fire, hot chocolate and FROZEN marshmallows! (We even went out at minus 40 degrees Celsius!) Have a watch of the video!
Announcement: I Do Not Like the Cold
Although I have lived in the sub-arctic for my entire life, it may come as a surprise to you that I do not like the cold; I never have. (Although I could never live anywhere that doesn’t warrant a cozy indoor fireplace!) But when you dress warmly and the intense arctic sun beams down on you, you barely notice the temperature! You get to experience a completely different world. All of these photographs and adventures would have been impossible without the ice and snow.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting this special part of the world, you are missing out! Once it’s safe to travel again, I highly encourage you to just do it! And if you’re not the hardy adventurous type, willing to step outside of your warm comfort zone, we do in fact have four seasons here, as I outlined here in my previous post…. so take your pick!
It is April 21, 2021 and the temperatures are still fairly cool. Today we’re at a balmy minus 5 degrees Celsius (-13 with the wind!) and have a forecasted low of minus 18 degrees Celsius later this week! But Spring is certainly in the air; the ice and snow are melting quickly and my outdoor winter adventures have ended for the season. I am ready for the summer! (Aren’t we all?!)
PS – I’d love to hear from you in comments…Which was your favourite adventure I wrote about? If you’re a Yellowknifer, have you been to all of these places (my backyard snow fort doesn’t count!)?
Spectacular! 🌟 So happy you got to experience 4 items on your bucket list right in your own backyard! There is so much beauty around Yellowknife and to share your incredible adventures, I am thankful! Never knew about the cemetery or the ice cave! I miss the North and can’t wait to come again when it’s safe to do so. Loved your story and all the cool photos/videos, especially the ice!! So happy you’re enjoying your year off in and around your birth place! A++! 👏❤️
Thank you Mom! If you ever do feel like coming back for a visit during the winter time (?!?! might be a solo trip for you though, lol!), I’ll surely bring you out to experience these places!! Xoxoxo
Great dog derby shots! Don’t know how I missed you, but I was there to.
Thank you David! That’s probably because I think you were only there on Sunday (I was there Fri-Sun), and you were likely standing at the start line with most of the other people, while I was down a ways, about 10 mins from the start line, where all the tracks converge. Better vantage point for the shots!
This is all just amazing.
Thanks John! I do have to agree!!
Hi there Rosie cheeks!😊 Great stories and photos. Enjoyed the videos too! Glad to see you are enjoying your year off regardless of the problems we are facing. Keep it up! Hopefully everyone who reads this will be encouraged to explore their own home towns. Wish you well. When it’s time to travel come see us. Lots to do and see here too.
Thank you Chris for taking the time to read through and watch the videos:) I’m glad you enjoyed it! You know, I never planned to do these things, they just unfolded like that! Fun times! And yes, of course I would love to come and see you and check out your stomping grounds!!!
Thank you for sharing your adventures. You are a fantastic friend and always bring such life into experiences. The photo of you with your camera laying down in the ice caves is my fav, so happy you got to experience that for your first time! I haven’t been there in about 9 years and have never visited the old cemetery, so that’s on my list for next year.
Thank you Sam! How have you never visited the cemetery? Don’t you have to walk through it in order to get to the ice caves? Both times I’ve been there (one day after the other), I never saw any other way to get there without seeing or walking through the cemetery. Well, it’s still there anyway! So next winter you’ll have to go:) Thanks for stopping by on my blog!
I never been to the ice caves.. or watch the dog derby and honestly been to the snow castle since 2009. So seeing all your adventures.. makes me want to experience all of this next Winter season 🙂 And the Fairy picture is amazing!!!!!
Thank you Sou! I am pretty surprised with how many Yellowknifers have let me know they haven’t been to many of these places! I should have organized a small group first timer tour for Yellowknifers! Glad to know you have some pending “bucketlist” items to experience next winter here in our backyard!
First it was the “Four Seasons” of Yellowknife. Now your own “Four Firsts” of Yellowknife. I’ll continue the trend with four comments:
1) Your latest travel piece is infused with fun and an upbeat outlook in rather glum times. A great read.
2) You have that ability that anyone who reads your blog can see – you know what makes an artistic and beautiful photograph. Can’t learn that in a book.
3) The ice shack photo is a stunner.
4) You make such a great ambassador for the City of Yellowknife. Wakey-Wakey City Hall!
Oh thank you John for your insightful comments! So glad you enjoyed this story and my others! It sure is “glum times” – but I haven’ let it get the best of me! With Yellowknife’s “Be a Tourist in Your Own Town” program going on right now, these stories are so relevant AND timely! Thanks for taking the time to visit my story and leave your comments:) So much appreciated.
Loving this whole backyard story! So much excitement and wonder lies within the reach of us and yet we rarely explore what is right there! We often feel the need to jump on a plane and see other places and things. I love the photos, especially the ice fairy ones – so beautiful and very magical. Out of all your adventures, I think this blog post was your best yet! I appreciate how your pictures of winter don’t make your viewers feel cold, instead it’s more of a warm and excited feeling. I place I would want to see over and over again (even though I know how cold it was for you to be out doing it all!) Love you. 🌈👏🏻🥶🧚♀️❄️
I think readers can tell by the comments that it’s not just me who feels this way about Yellowknife! Anyone who has lived here or who has had the pleasure of visiting,’knows well enough what a truly spectacular place this is. And sooooo vast! A person would never ever be able to see all the sights and explore the entire land. The NWT holds lifetimes of adventures! While I am a world traveler and miss so many places and people around the world, I know how fortunate I am to be living here I do. I’m so proud and grateful to have called Yellowknife my backyard for almost 44 years!!! Thanks so stopping by sista! If you ever come back to visit in the winter, I’ll bring you to some of these places for sure!! Miss you tons. Xoxoxoox ❤️
I lived in Yellowknife for 8 years and every year enjoyed the Snow King Castle and the Ice Road plus it was always nice when we caught the Sled Dog Derby too. But I never knew about the Back Bay Caves. Great pictures and I just might have to make a trip back to Yellowknife once things are semi-normal again, but I will wait untilBullocks is open and operating again. Great memories, thank you for sharing your pictures with us Tawna. They make me homesick for Yellowknife. Take care.
I’m so surprised how many Yellowknifers have responded similarly- they haven’t been to or known about the ice caves or cemetery! I should offer short tours/experiences tailored specifically for Yellowknifers! Ha ha! Luckily Bullocks has been open for quite some time now, and….they’re opening a big factory to produce thousands of bottles of their famous fish sauce and salad dressing to get to outside markets!! I wonder if you’ll be able to get them in Winnipeg- if so, that might help your homesickness a little:)
I enjoyed reading all four stories. You have a knack for telling stories. The two I enjoyed the most were the snow garden and the ice caves. The latter should definitely be on the bucket list. It’s great you experienced them all.
Thank you Abbas! I can’t believe it took me so long to see the ice caves. It only took about a 15 minute walk from where we parked, and it’s within my own hometown! I’m so glad I’ve been there now:) And there are all kinds of things i could still do for the first time all year here, (and I’ve been here a long time and have done a lot of things), isn’t that crazy? Thanks for coming along with my on these adventures!!
Very entertaining stories Tawna and beautiful photography. I particularly enjoyed the story and images at the dog derby. Your snow fort is an amazing idea…I will keep an eye for your next adventure stories.
Merci Michel!! And Merci beaucoup for making some of these adventures possible!!! I look forward to more driving adventures with you! Ha ha!! So fun:)
Thanks for braving the cold to bring the rest of us experiences we may never have. So beautiful!
I’m glad you enjoyed! It sure would be a thrilling experience for you to come visit in winter!!! I can almost guarantee you’d never regret a visit here!