Frozen River and Ice: A Walk on the Churchill River in the Winter


Have you ever imagined what it is like to walk on a frozen river in the midst of winter in one of the coldest places on earth?

The frozen river I walked on is Churchill River, a major waterway that connects Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. Parts of the Churchill River connect to Hudson Bay, which is a great place to visit in the fall when large groups of polar bears inhabit the area, making Churchill the polar bear capital of the world.

Churchill River in the winter

Although the river is 1,000 miles in length, it does freeze in the winter. Therefore, it is a favorite winter spot for visitors looking for a low-key adventure activity as it is not as crowded as in the summer and has beautiful ice formations surrounded by pristine white snow. However, you can only visit with a guided tour for safety reasons because polar bears occasionally hide in the area. The walking tour does not operate every day, and it is highly weather-dependent and can be expensive.

Churchill River directions

The Churchill River we visited is in Churchill, Manitoba province, at the entrance of Hudson Bay. The starting point of our visit is opposite the VIA Rail Station. There are lots of free parking spaces, a few houses, and some fishing boats. A gravel road takes you from the town center to the river. There are no restaurants and toilet facilities.

Churchill Train Station

You can see Churchill VIA Rail station from the river.

Churchill River tours and prices

I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to walk on the river. This is not only because tours do not operate on a regular basis, but due to its remote location, make a trip to Churchill requires a herculean effort. Prior to the government building a railway line from Winnipeg, Churchill was one of the most remote places in Canada. The cost of traveling there is unaffordable even for middle-class citizens.

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I went on a tour with Bluesky Expeditions. Our group consisted of six people plus two guides and a watchdog. In case of polar bears, our guide Gerald brought a gun. We stayed in our group all the time as a safety precaution. Gerald has the eyesight of an owl and can spot polar bears two miles away.

Churchill Manitoba in the winter

You can see a gun in Gerald’s back

Walking on the Churchill River

We started walking from the entrance of Hudson Bay before coming to random ice formations. The thing about walking on a frozen river in the winter is that it takes lots of energy and time. A 100 – meter walk on the ice can take a minute or two, which is the longest it’s ever taken me to walk that distance.

Churchill Manitoba in the winter

Walking on this kind of terrain takes lots of time and energy

The terrain is a bit treacherous and the landscapes change every day. This means that there are no designated trails. You just have to find a starting point and begin walking. Where your walk leads and how long it will take is all up to you.

Churchill River Manitoba

Firstly, we stumbled past the deep snow. As we ventured a bit farther, sections of the snow made way for ice. Walking on the frozen snow and ice made a crisp sound, which was so appealing in the absolute quietness.

We walked extremely slow and jumped over the cracks in the snow. The cracks looked like crevasses but the opening was narrower and we could not see too far down. I wasn’t initially worried about falling into a crack but some are hidden beneath the surface. I unfortunately stepped into one and one of my legs immediately fell in. I can imagine how frozen I would have been if I had not worn snow pants.

Cracks on the churchill river

Cracks on the Churchill River

New ice formations are everywhere, formed by the moving tides underneath. Some of the formations have a creamy white hue, making them look like wax sculptures. We climbed on to one and sat there for a group picture. It might not even be there anymore, but it was so beautiful to look at, especially when the sun was out.

Churchill River walk

One of the ice formations on the Churchill River

Walk on the Churchill River in Manitoba

At some point, I had the feeling that time had stopped or had been forgotten. I was surrounded by the pure white snow and the strange ice formations with nobody around in this far-flung place but our group. It was a special moment in a special place.

The challenge of the extremely low temperatures, the unpredictable environment, and being outside my comfort zone was rewarded by the exhilaration of walking on a thick sheet of ice with the river flowing underneath. It was also an achievement to survive hours in an open area in -35° Celsius.

Walking on a frozen river in Churchill Manitoba in the winter

Overall experience

I do not know how long were walking on the frozen river. Despite the extreme weather conditions and the challenge of the terrain, the entire walk was quite thrilling. Our group had a strong spirit of comradeship from the start. Everyone was so relaxed, and we helped each other out during the tour, which made the entire trip unforgettable.

Walk on the Churchill River

Walking towards Nunavut – the largest and northernmost territory in Canada

Have you walked on a frozen river in the winter? Share your experience below. 

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A walk on the frozen Churchill River in Churchill, Manitoba Canadda

Julie Cao

Julie is the creator of Always On The Way. She lived in Hawaii and now resides in London (Ontario, Canada). In 2017, she went on an overland trip from Bogota Colombia to Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world. She believes travel is not only about visiting tourist attractions but more about getting to know the culture, people, and the place.

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