Apr 08

Road and Train to Churchill, Manitoba (The Looooong Journey to Churchill)

Churchill is known as “The polar bear capital of the world” and I wanted to go there in late summer.  My parents live just south of Manitoba in Minnesota so I asked if they would like to road trip to Churchill and they joined me for the adventure.  There are not many ways to get to Churchill…the only ways to get there are by expensive flight, or by much cheaper train ride on Canada’s VIA rail.  The Train to Churchill starts in the capital of Winnipeg and takes almost 48 hours of riding but I found a hot tip on the internet that you can do a much shorter trip – about 17 hours, if you get to the city of Thompson, MB in the center of the province.

The Drive to Thompson

We took close to 2 days to drive to Thompson from Minnesota.  There is a very low population between Winnipeg and Thompson.  There are many, many trees and a few bodies of water.  The first night we stopped in a dumpy motel in the town of Grand Rapids, MB.  It was a depressing city and the motel was more depressing.  The biggest excitement came in the morning when I went to load the luggage in the car and scared a black bear that was rummaging thru the garbage nearby.

 

There was some beautiful scenery north of here – a few beautiful ponds, interesting statues that people put by the road, and some wildlife (a fox and sandhill cranes).

The one must-stop between Winnipeg & Thompson is the powerful Pisew Falls, the 2nd tallest falls in Manitoba.  The tallest falls are only a hike away but we didn’t have time to do the walk.  It’s well worth the stop at this provincial park – the falls are only a few minutes drive + few minutes walk from the main road.

Visiting Thompson, Manitoba

We arrived in Thompson a few hours before our train would depart so we checked out the little museum and did a short walk to see the multi-story wolf mural on the side of the tallest building in town.  There were lots of wolf statues around town, as the town symbol.

We had lunch at the A&W and shopped at Walmart to stock up on snacks for the train ride and for our 5 days in Churchill.

The Train to Churchill

Thompson train station entrance.

The overnight trip to Churchill by train was pleasant.  There was enough room that my parents could stretch out over 4 chairs facing each other, and I grabbed 4 chairs for myself.  We snacked for dinner and watched the sunset over the many water ways in northern Manitoba.

A nice sunny afternoon to enjoy a train ride.

Water ways abound.

Train to Churchill

The train making one of a few turns. Overall, the tracks were very straight up to Churchill.

Sunsets on the way north.

Late at night, the train stops in some of the First Nations villages that are only accessible by train.  Because this is tundra area, there are no roads during the spring to fall as the area is too marshy.  The only way they can get from town to town is by boat or by winter roads on frozen tundra.

Train to Churchill

Deserted station in First Nations land in the middle of the night.

There was a spectacular sunrise over the tundra trees as we got closer to Churchill in the morning, eventually arriving around 9am on schedule.  We were lucky – in the past the train has been a day or more late due to buckling train tracks in the heat.

Spectacular sunrise.

The tundra trees were aglow.

Train to Churchill

 

The trip Back to Winnipeg

The trip from Churchill back to Thompson was uneventful.  The train was fuller so we couldn’t stretch out as much.  We arrived by noon and spent the rest of the day driving back to Winnipeg.   We had seen a Tim Horton’s at a remote Shell Gas station on the way up and had talked about making a stop for donuts only to discover the Tim Horton’s had been closed for over 6 months.  The biggest treat of the drive was the amazing pink sunset.  First it dropped over the Manitoba grasslands, then we discovered a gravel road just north of St. Laurent, MB where we could access a beach on Lake Manitoba for one of the most amazing sunsets ever.

Prairie sunset

How to Take the Train to Churchill:

  • Reserve your train tickets at VIA rail.
  • If driving to Thompson it’s better to do the full drive from Winnipeg to Thompson in one day.  The motel choices between these two cities is dire.  However, this would require a night stay in Thompson the night before the train or a very early start from Winnipeg.
  • Important Note: As of 2017, this train is not running due to damage to the tracks.  I hope this will running soon as it’s the only economical way to Churchill.

8 comments

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    • Diana Crombie on April 10, 2017 at 3:21 am
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    Amazing photos Lisa!

    1. Thanks! Have you been to Churchill? Or are you going?

    • Jas on May 8, 2017 at 1:06 pm
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    I am enjoying you blog. Usefull info, thx. Is there anything to see on the way fromo winniepeg to Thompson…could we stop somewhere (except the falls?

    1. There are some fishing lodges on the many lakes up there if you’re into fishing. There are a few roadside statues that are fun (pix in the blog). It’s fun to stop at the little shop in Ponton to see the tepee and get a cold drink. We also stopped a few times just to take pictures of wildlife (a fox and sandhill cranes) as well as that beautiful prairie sunset. Thompson is also worth a half day. You can see all the wolf statues around town and the big wolf mural. Also there is a history museum. I had done some research and really didn’t find anywhere else to go between those cities.

        • Jas on May 9, 2017 at 11:02 am
        • Reply

        Thank you so much. so I should go to Thompson by car and leave it there…that is the last town I can go to with a car, and than train? Hopefull we Will see polar bears. Travelling with children and i am a bit afarid that they Will get bored. maybe air is better option…

        1. You can go as far as Gillam by car, but the road from Thompson to Gillam is by gravel road and there are no services in between.

  1. This looks like a gorgeous trip! Maybe I’ll take the train from Winnipeg when I go. I’ll have to check if I can get off the train for a night in one of the smaller towns.

    1. Thanks! I don’t have advice for a good town to stop. Certainly, Thompson is the most developed with tourist class motels/hotels and sights to see. I’m not sure how much it would add to the train ticket cost to hop on hop off.

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