Northern Lights & Arctic Cultures
Day 1: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Arrive in Winnipeg and transfer to the Fort Garry Hotel. Built in 1913 by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, the French chateau-style hotel remains the grande dame of Winnipeg, offering first-class hospitality. Enjoy a welcome dinner this evening with your Expedition Leader and fellow travelers.
Day 2: Manitoba Museum / Train to Churchill
In preparation for our northern lights encounters, this morning we attend a planetarium program at the Manitoba Museum that focuses on the science of the aurora borealis. We'll also tour exhibits reflecting the human and natural heritage of the province, including the history of Canada's northern indigenous cultures. Contingent on the train schedule, we board the Hudson Bay Railway to Churchill around lunchtime.
Day 3: Tundra Train to Churchill
Heading northward by rail, we leave the southern prairies behind and enter the landscape of the North. Plains transition to boreal forest, the coniferous zone that circles the planet beneath the Arctic Circle and accounts for one-third of the earth’s forests. Stunted spruce trees and boggy muskeg give way to frozen tundra as we approach Churchill, a frontier outpost town at the edge of Hudson Bay. The “Tundra Train” is relaxing and comfortable, and each cabin has its own private bathroom. At night, we may even have a preview of the northern lights outside our large individual windows.
Days 4-6: Churchill – History, Culture, Nature & Aurora Viewing
On arrival in Churchill we transfer to our hotel and take a brief tour of this historic northern outpost town. The Hudson’s Bay Company established a fort here in 1717 as part of its fur-trading network across the Canadian North, but Native cultures had already been flourishing here against the harsh Arctic climate for thousands of years. We explore this First Nations heritage on a dog sled ride through the boreal forest, on a visit to the Eskimo Museum, and through cultural programs featuring the arts and traditions of the Inuit and Dene peoples. Outside town, our Expedition Leader introduces us to northern ecology and the stark yet alluring winter landscape.
As night falls, we move into varied settings to await a matchless experience of nature’s magic: the spectacle of the aurora borealis, the legendary northern lights. Each evening will include a unique vantage point on the night sky where you'll be able to witness the phenomenon of the lights in warmth and comfort. Enjoy the view in the round from heated Plexiglass Aurora Domes positioned outside town in complete darkness. Relax on the sofas below, or step up to the upper level for an unimpeded circular view of the heavens. We also spend an evening at the Tundra Lodge, situated on the edge of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. This unique "rolling hotel" offers warm, comfortable environs for dinner, with a chance to look for the aurora through panoramic windows or from the open observation platforms.
Often, the lights begin begin as a white glow low in the sky that slowly begins to shift and undulate. Wavy patterns evolve, colors appear and change, until the lights look like shimmering curtains of green, yellow or red. For centuries, the phenomenon of the northern lights was a mystery, inspiring a host of mythical explanations. While we know now that the aurora is caused by the interaction of the solar wind with the earth’s magnetic field, more poetic stories of their origin linger, including the Hudson Bay Inuit’s belief that the lights are the magical display of their ancestors’ souls dancing in the sky. Of course, since the lights are a natural phenomenon, we are never guaranteed to see them, but Churchill has some of the most frequent and intense auroral activity on the planet...meaning our odds are very good!
Day 7: Churchill / Winnipeg
The morning is free to wander Churchill’s main street, where several locally owned shops offer authentic Native handicrafts from traditional mukluks to caribou-hair sculptures. We then transfer to the airport for our flight back to Winnipeg. This evening we'll gather one last time for our farewell dinner.
Day 8: Winnipeg / Home
After breakfast, our northern lights tour comes to a close as we transfer to the airport for flights home.
Please note: All of our activities in Churchill are flexible to accommodate varying weather conditions.
On the Feb. 10 departure, we do not take the train to Churchill. Instead, we fly to Churchill on Day 2. The total trip length for this departure is six days. Churchill inclusions and activities are identical to our regular itinerary.
On our special photography departures, we do not take the train. Instead we fly to Churchill on Day 2. The total length of this trip is 7 days – one day longer than our regular fly/fly departures to allow extra time for northern lights photography.
Physical Rating: Moderate