A Winter Adventure in Churchill, Canada—One of the Best Places on Earth to See the Aurora Borealis
Back to All Itineraries
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 Manitoba's prairie capital, offering first-class hospitality. Enjoy a welcome dinner this evening with your Expedition Leader and fellow travelers.
Day 2: Winnipeg / Tundra Train
In preparation for our northern lights encounters, we attend a planetarium program at the Manitoba Museum focused on the science of the aurora borealis. We'll also tour exhibits reflecting the natural and human 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 midday. As darkness falls, make your way to the train’s new glass-domed observation car for possible sightings of the northern lights. You may even see them from inside your own private sleeper cabin, outside the large picture window.
Day 3: Travel to Churchill by Rail
Continuing northward on the train, leave the southern prairies behind and enter the landscape of the subarctic. Enjoy the view of the wild expanse beyond from the domed observation car. Open plains transition to boreal forest, also called taiga, the coniferous zone that encircles the planet beneath the Arctic Circle and comprises one-third of Earth’s forests. We disembark at Thompson for several hours, with time to eat lunch in town and view the frozen waterfall at Pisew Falls Park. Back on board this afternoon, watch stunted spruce trees and boggy muskeg give way to frozen tundra as we continue toward Churchill, a frontier town on the edge of Hudson Bay that's accessible only by rail or air. The “tundra train” is relaxing and comfortable, and each cabin has its own private bathroom. At night, we may get a preview of the northern lights outside the large individual windows of our sleeper cabins, and from the observation car.
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. The Hudson’s Bay Company established a fort here in 1717 as part of its fur-trading network across the Canadian North, but indigenous cultures were already flourishing here against the harsh Arctic climate for thousands of years. Explore Churchill's heritage and traditions with an array of local activities: Meet a local dog musher and take a dog sled ride through the boreal forest, visit the Itsanitaq Museum, and enjoy cultural programs featuring the arts and traditions of the Inuit, Dene and Metis peoples. Outside town, our Expedition Leader introduces us to northern ecology and the stark yet alluring winter landscape.
As night falls, we await nature’s magic: the spectacle of the aurora borealis, the legendary northern lights. Each evening holds an opportunity to witness the phenomenon in warmth and comfort. Our custom-designed Aurora Pod® features 360-degree views of the night sky through its glass walls and roof. Another view on
the lights takes place in Plexiglass Aurora Domes positioned outside town in complete darkness. Relax on the sofas below, or climb the ladder to the upper level for an unimpeded circular view of the heavens.
Often, the aurora begins as a white glow low in the sky that slowly starts to shift and undulate. Wavy patterns evolve, colors may appear and change, until the lights become shimmering curtains of green. Sometimes we even see yellow, red or purple tones. For centuries, the phenomenon of the northern lights was a mystery, inspiring a host of mythical explanations. While we now know the aurora is caused by the interaction of the solar wind with Earth’s magnetic field, more poetic stories of their origins linger, including the Hudson Bay Inuit’s belief that the lights are the ethereal 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 local handicrafts from traditional mukluks to caribou-hair sculptures. We then transfer to the airport for our flight back to Winnipeg. This evening, gather for a farewell dinner.
Day 8: Winnipeg / Depart
After breakfast, our northern lights tour comes to a close with a transfer to the airport for flights home.
Please note: Specific timing on all of our activities in Churchill is flexible to accommodate varying weather conditions.
On the Feb. 1, Feb. 22, Mar. 1 and Mar 15 departures, we do not take the train to Churchill. Instead, we fly to Churchill on Day 2. The total length of this trip departure is 7 days with 4 nights in Churchill. View that itinerary here
Note regarding train schedules:
In the spring of 2017, the train track north of Thompson suffered damage due to flooding. The hope is that it will be repaired by the time our 2018 Northern Lights season begins, but we cannot be certain this will be the case. Should the northern section of the track be impassable, our plan is to take the overnight train as far as Thompson, then fly from there to Churchill on Day 4, arriving at the same time as on our regular itinerary. Other alternate plans may be necessary should train schedules change further.
Physical Rating: Moderate