Best Time To Visit the Northwest Territories, Canada

Are you thinking about your next vacation in Northwest Territories, Canada?

By: Madison Pilling

The Northwest Territories is ideal to visit in any season depending on the activities you want to do!


Yellowknife will likely be your Northwest Territories arrival location, regardless of your final destination, as it is the Capital of the NWT.


Yellowknife is a fun and unique little city with a cold climate for most of the year. It has a Sub-Arctic climate and is located on the Canadian Shield. Precipitation is low with an annual average of just 33cm (13in) .


Yellowknife is the only city in the NWT and sits on the north shore of Great Slave Lake. It is home to approximately 20 of the 40 thousand residents of the NWT. It is a welcoming hub with a mix of people from across the North, and the world, coming together everyday to run the territory and to host NWT-wide events.


With just 40 thousand people over 1.346 million km², we have a lot of room to get away from it all.


Overall Best Time to Visit the Northwest Territories, Canada


There is always something different to see and do in the Northwest Territories based on which season you travel here.

Aurora Borealis/ Northern Lights in the Northwest Territories
Aurora Borealis/ Northern Lights on Highway 1 in the NWT. November 2021. Photo by Madison Pilling

Being in Northern Canada means the winters are long and cold, but they are a great time for Aurora viewing.


The summers are worth the long winter wait and are the ideal time for adventure tourists!


The fall is the time for harvesting plants and animals before winter so it a great time for cultural tours.


Spring is short but messy, so it is not a great time to visit.


The peak tourism season is June through August for summer tours and January through March for winter tours.

The short days in the winter and long days in the summer are because the NWT is north of the 60th parallel! Daylight hours range from five hours in December to twenty hours in June. Twilight lasts all night from late May through early July, resulting in no true darkness.


Visit the Northwest Territories in Summer Pros & Cons

Visiting the Northwest Territories in the summer is by far the most popular time for tourists and it is easy to see why. Yellowknife is a cultural and geographical hub, full of various arts and cultural festivals and events taking place throughout the year.


When: June to August

Folk on The Rocks, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Sunset, stage, event, gathering
Folk on The Rocks, Yellowknife, NWT. July 2021. Photo by Madison Pilling

The Northwest Territories has a ton of restaurants, accommodations, services and licensed tourism operators that can take you on any number of summer adventures! Check out the Spectacular Northwest Territories website below for ideas!

All the communities across the NWT host various festivals and events; be sure to research before you travel to see if you can catch a cool festival while in town!


The Northwest Territories has the sunniest summer in Canada; Yellowknife averages 1034 hours of sunlight from June through August. Communities that are further north than Yellowknife and north of the Arctic Circle experience 24 hours of daylight in the peak of summer.

"Sunset" at 10pm somewhere on the South Nahanni River. Summer 2021
"Sunset" at 10pm somewhere on the South Nahanni River. Summer 2021. Photo by Madison Pilling

The 3 month average temperature in Yellowknife is a low of +7 and a high of +23 degrees celsius, although the daytime temperatures are often in the mid 20s.


There are very few cons of visiting the North in the summer; the two common ones are bugs and the lack of darkness. If you pack some bug spray and a sleep mask you should be the happiest you have ever been on vacation!

If you are planning a trip that is remote and requires a single-engine plane then be sure to plan a few extra days in case of weather delays!


Things to do in the Northwest Territories in Summer:

  • Canoeing, Kayaking & SUP

  • Fishing

  • Swimming

*SAFETY* Additionally, if you are not experienced in back country survival skills and want to adventure into the wilderness, be sure to travel with an experienced and certified tour guide. Check out the Spectacular Northwest Territories website here for licensed operators!



Visit the Northwest Territories in Fall Pros & Cons

Visiting the Northwest Territories in the fall is by far the best time for tourists who are interested in cultural tourism. This is the time of year that various plants and animals are ready to be harvested and preserved for the winter. There are several Indigenous tourism operators in the NWT that will teach or demonstrate traditional gathering practices.


When: August to October

Shaznay Waugh learning the importance of these plants in a traditional Dene fire feeding ceremony from the knowledgable Elder Mary-Jane Cazon of K'iyeli Interpreting, Translation & Transcribing Services
Shaznay Waugh learning the importance of these plants in a traditional Dene fire feeding ceremony from the knowledge keeper and Elder Mary-Jane Cazon of K'iyeli Interpreting, Translation & Transcribing Services. Fort Simpson, NWT. August 2020. Photo by Madison Pilling

The Northwest Territories has a primarily Indigenous populations which makes it rich in Indigenous culture and history. This concentration of mixed First Nations, Metis and Inuit culture makes it unique from the rest of Canada. Many Indigenous people are eager to share their connection with mother earth, the plants people and all the animals.


Through cultural tourism, many Indigenous people in the Northwest Territories are able to continue participating in the traditional economy. It also provides an opportunity to pass on the teachings to the next generation.


Participating or observing everyday skills and knowledge in a new way is always an exciting experience. Indigenous people have perfected a variety of skills related to living on-the-land.

Two tourist visiting Fort Simpson and participating in a Dene Fire Feeding ceremony with K'iyeli Ttanslation, Tourism and Transcribing Services.
Two tourist visiting Fort Simpson and participating in a Dene Fire Feeding ceremony with K'iyeli Translation, Tourism and Transcribing Services. Photo by Madison Pilling

Even if you are not traveling to the NWT for cultural tourism specifically, it would be a waste not to sign up for at least one cultural experience while you are in town!


Things to do in the Northwest Territories in Fall:

  • Berry picking

  • Hiking

  • Biking

Thankfully the bugs die down in fall but the con is that it that the weather starts to cool off and can freeze overnight, so be sure to pack warm clothes!


Visit Yellowknife in Winter Pros & Cons

Visiting Yellowknife in the winter is unforgettable and should be on everyone's bucket list. If you want to see the Aurora Borealis/ Northern Lights then your best bet is winter time!


When: November to March

, CanadaThe Dinosaur Wall at the Snow King Festival in 2021. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
The Dinosaur Wall at the Snow King Festival in 2021. Yellowknife, NWT, Canada. March 2021. Photo by Madison Pilling.

There is so much to do in Yellowknife in the winter. Bring your warmest jacket, ski pants, toque (beanie), gloves, neck warmer, socks and long johns for this adventure! Every March, a team of volunteers builds a unique Snow King Castle right on Great Slave Lake!


There is a huge Aurora Borealis tour market in Yellowknife with a ton of options! Check out the Specular NWT Page here about Aurora tours in the NWT!


Aurora Borealis captured on the highway in November of 2021. Photo by Madison Pilling.
Aurora Borealis captured on the highway in November of 2021. Photo by Madison Pilling.

The Northern Lights are absolutely stunning and still take my breath away after 25 years. However, the winter is also a great time for so much more! Yellowknife has a fun Old Town with its own vibrant history and culture. It is really fun to just wonder around and check out the various local shops, restaurants and bars.


Every community has a variety of winter activities available both free of charge and with an experienced local!

Dog Sledding in Inuvik, NT in December 2020 at Arctic Chalet.
Driving my own Dog Sled with Good Girl, Lead Dog, Jasper in Inuvik, NT in December 2020 at Arctic Chalet. Photo by Matthew Skinner.

Things to do in the Northwest Territories in Winter:

  • Snowshoeing

  • Ice Fishing

  • Dog Sledding

The cons of traveling here in winter is that the elements are very harsh, so you need to be prepared. Be sure to pack more clothes than you normally would for your trips!


*SAFETY* If you are not experienced in extreme winter survival skills and want to adventure into the wilderness, be sure to travel with an experienced and certified tour guide. Check out the Spectacular Northwest Territories website here for licensed operators!


Visit the Northwest Territories in Spring Pros & Cons

Cross Country Skiing on the Mackenzie River in Fort Simpson, NT with my dad. March 2020.
Cross Country Skiing on the Mackenzie River in Fort Simpson, NT with my dad. April 2020. Photo by Madison Pilling

Visiting Northwest Territories in the spring is nice because although the North is never very busy, it is the least popular season for tourists since it a transition time for locals.


Since it is a low time for tourists, there will be a lot of availability and lower prices for accommodations and experiences in the city. There is also awesome Aurora in the spring and is not nearly as cold!


When: April & May


Some winter activities like snowshoeing and skiing are the best at the beginning of April because it is warmer than peak winter. The 2 month average was a low of -11 and a high of +2 degrees celsius.


Things to do in the Northwest Territories in Spring:

  • Aurora Viewing

  • Ice Fishing

  • Cross Country Skiing

By May the snow is too melted to use for winter activities and the water is still too frozen for summer activities. Locals like myself spend the spring at home doing equipment maintenance and putting things away from the winter. It is also a time to prepare for the coming summer which is always non-stop for three months straight!


Fort Simpson Flood 2021. Arial Photo. Credit Scott Richards.
Fort Simpson Flood 2021. Arial Photo. Credit Scott Richards.




*SAFETY* If you plan on traveling outside of Yellowknife, I do not recommend the spring because most communities are on flood watch in May. In the spring of 1988 and 2021, my home community of Fort Simpson was badly flooded and multiple homes were impacted by the damage for months. Thankfully most homes have already been rebuilt higher and better than before, including my parent's home.






What are the Hottest and Coldest Months in the Northwest Territories?

The Northwest Territories temperatures vary by season but overall it is quite mild compared to other places globally.


In the summer, you are comfortable in shorts and a tank-top because most days are between 20 and 30 degrees celsius. July is the hottest month with temperatures typically holding in the 30s for multiple days in a row.


In the winter, lots of layers and clothes are required because most days are between minus 20 and minus 30 degrees celsius. February is the coldest month typically, but throughout Canada the temperature range throughout the winter for days at a time. Always be prepared for sudden temperature drops.


six people snowmobiling near Fort Simpson, NWT. April 4, 2021.