10 Things I Learned from My Winter Trip to Churchill, Manitoba
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If you plan to visit Churchill, I hope the 10 things I learned from my winter trip there will help you plan the journey to this magical town in northern Manitoba. Several of Churchill’s distinctive features made my visit there different from any of my other travels throughout Canada. I picked up a few tips on the way that I believe will be helpful to others as well.
In this post, I offer you the 10 things I have learned from my winter trip to Churchill, including my insights into the weather, packing, costs, food, the town, tours and so forth.
10 Things I Learned from My Winter Trip to Churchill, Manitoba
It takes a lot to get to Churchill
Churchill, a remote town on the edge of Hudson Bay, has no road connections with other cities. For this reason, your options for reaching Churchill are either to take a plane or a train. Depending on your location, you may spend several days getting there.
Since I lived in Toronto at the time of my visit, I spent a day flying to Winnipeg then another 45 hours on the train, so it added up to a three-day one-way trip. If you live in the west of Canada or other countries, be prepared for a longer journey.
Extremely cold weather
Churchill is in northern Manitoba with its subarctic climate, so it often gets extremely cold. I visited in early March. For six out of the eight days I was there, the temperature was below -40 degrees Celsius. One day after a snowstorm, it dropped to -51 degrees Celsius. It was so cold that I did not feel comfortable taking my camera out to get pictures of the Aurora Borealis.
This kind of weather is not uncommon in Churchill. However, locals have learned to adapt and survive. Since I had been living in Canada for six years, I did not take the cold weather in Churchill seriously before my arrival. It was when I got there that I realized how wrong I had been. I felt guilty about staying put, so when it got really cold, I still tried to embrace the outdoors.
Everything is expensive
Winter is low season in Churchill but do not expect your travel expenses to be significantly lower than in peak season. There are ways to minimize the cost of travel there, but you have to accept that Churchill is not a place for budget travelers.
There are no hostels in the town, so if you plan to spend a few nights there, you must be prepared to pay $100-$200 per night for basic accommodation. I paid $695 for seven nights at the IceBerg Inn, and this was the lowest price I found in town at the time of booking. Groceries and eating out are also expensive and not every accommodation open their kitchens to guests.
I always love seeing the Aurora Borealis and Churchill is a prime location for such activities. The Aurora Borealis is active in Churchill for 300 days a year. At the time I visited, the Aurora circle was at its lowest ebb. Even then I got to witness the active displays over two nights, which were really the best I have ever seen. If you are thinking about a Northern Lights trip, Churchill is the best place for it.
What to wear
First of all, if you visit in the middle of winter, regardless of what you wear, you will feel cold. It is difficult to stay warm when it is below -40 degrees Celsius and the wind is blowing.
I shopped for a fleece jacket, scarves, wool socks, and Canadian Tires tokens. I wore three layers on the top (including a puffer jacket) and three layers on the bottom (including snow pants) and I still felt cold. Luckily, my tour guide from BlueSky Expeditions had extra clothes and winter boots for dog sledding and watching the Aurora Borealis and tried their best to keep us warm with hot beverages and a heater.
Also, the roads in Churchill are extremely slippery in the winter. If you struggle to get across the ice, I recommend you buy ice grips to reduce the risk of slipping. It is cheaper to shop for them on Amazon than to buy them in Churchill. I bought a pair for $48 in the town while the same products were sold half the price or less on Amazon.
October and November are the best months to experience a mass of polar bears hunting on the sea ice off Manitoba. There are times when the polar bears come into town and wander around the streets. So, for the safety of residents, daily polar patrols take place in Churchill until 10 pm. After that time, you venture out at your own risk.
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- Frozen River and Ice: A Walk on the Churchill River in the Winter
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I always liked to get my meals at the Churchill Community Center so I could save on the cost of food. There, you can have a hearty breakfast for $5 and a lunch special for $8.50. The food tasted excellent and you can order take-out and desserts as well. The only downside is that it closes pretty early, and this may leave you having to figure out your own dinner.
Public transport is non-existent in Churchill. However, the town is easily navigable by foot and you can go out of the town on a tour or by cab. Most hotels in Churchill offer a complimentary airport and train station pick-up and drop-off service.
Taking a multi-day tour in Churchill is not uncommon. These tours are extremely expensive (starting from $5,299 with Frontiers North). I could not afford such a trip, so I went to Churchill without booking any tours ahead of time.
From my experience, it is not necessary to pre-book all your tours, especially if you want to see the Aurora Borealis. Moreover, lots of winter activities in Churchill are highly weather-dependent. There are also lots of tour operators charging significant amounts without providing the expected quality of service and guaranteed results. Therefore, be wise when choosing tours and ask fellow travelers about their experiences.
Enjoy Churchill by yourself
The winter season sees fewer tourists and I had this magical town to myself many times. I even went dog-sledding and on an Aurora Borealis tour as the only guest of Blue Sky Expeditions. Popular tourist attractions like the Churchill River and Hudson Bay, which is frequented by bears, empty when winter hits.
Dress warm, walk around, continue to explore, and you will find lots of places where you can enjoy a quiet ambiance and solitude. This is one of my favorite things about visiting Churchill in the winter.
Have you been to Churchill Manitoba before? Share your tips and experience below.
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