Travel to Churchill
There are a few ways to get to Churchill… dogteam, stowing away on a ship, driving a car up the rails… but the easiest options are flying or taking the train. Here are some tips.
Last Update: January 2013
The only real inexpensive option for travel to Churchill is the Economy Fare by train. A sleeper on the train is actually almost as expensive as the flight from Winnipeg which is already kind of expensive. Still, polar bears, beluga whales and Hudson Bay are worth it when its all said and done.
WHY AM I GOING TO CHURCHILL?
Polar bears can be found on land from late July until late November with peak season occurring from October 25th until November 15th.
Beluga whales visit the Churchill River each summer. Here, you can go whale-watching or even snorkel with the whales.
I did not have a ‘life list’ before I moved to Churchill, now I own expensive binoculars and a bunch of bird books. A seven day trip in the spring can result in 100 plus species…
Air Travel to Churchill
Last Update: January 2013
HOW DO I GET TO CHURCHILL, MANITOBA BY AIR?
TRAVEL TIPS, VEHICLE STORAGE AND PRE-TRIP ACCOMMODATIONS
TAKE THE PLANE TO CHURCHILL – The 2-1/2 hour flight from Winnipeg to Churchill takes you over Lake Winnipeg, pristine northern Manitoba’s wide expanse of boreal forest and, finally, the patchwork landscapes of the Hudson Bay Lowlands. On a clear day, it is offers stunning vistas. On a cloudy day, it is still 42 hours less than the train. Sound nice? It is… but it’s also around ±$1,200 CDN even with advance booking.
Calm Air is the primary carrier for the Churchill area. It has recently changed some of its plane to small jets which has resulted in some ‘growing pains’ so expect some delays with luggage, etc. Maybe this will be resolved soon.
Regular flights from Winnipeg to Churchill are: Winnipeg to Churchill – Monday through Friday Flights – Departing 7:30am and 11:30pm Saturday and Sunday departures – 8:30pm
I don’t really recommend driving from Winnipeg to Thompson and then flying to Churchill unless you really have the time and desire to explore northern Manitoba – the drive is about 8-9 hours. Gas is just too expensive now (around $1.30 today…) and lowest fare is still about $700 from Thompson to Churchill. Then again, a group of four people would save about $1500 with that drive… as long as you don’t drive each other nuts on the way.
Calm Air occasionally offers special fares and discounts on their website. Joining the E-Calm Club also helps with notifications and access to sales. Call 1 (800) 839-2256
Regularly scheduled Churchill flights leave from the Winnipeg airport. Charters are usually at the Esso Avitat location but of course your charter tour company will let you know about that…
VISIT MARK THE JEWELLERY GUY. There is a small jewellery kiosk at the airport run by local artist, Mark Reynolds. He does really nice work and has very reasonable prices… at the very least, you can remember to have cash on hand when you are heading back south!
|SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE CHURCHILL TOURISTGRAB A NEWSPAPER… A newspaper with today’s date is gold in Churchill. Read it on the plane then use it to trade with locals for trinkets and shiny things.
BRING WARM CLOTHES… BUT NOT TOO WARM. If it’s summer in Winnipeg, it is autumn in Churchill. If it’s autumn in Winnipeg, it is winter in Churchill. If it’s winter in Winnipeg, well, let’s just say be prepared.
Carry on a change of clothes…We are not trying to scare anyone but sometimes, especially in ‘polar bear season’, luggage gets temporarily misplaced. Usually only a day late, it is still a good idea to bring clothes for one night anyway…
If it is summer, board the plane in Winnipeg wearing a pair of shorts and hawaiian shirt – with a fleece jacket under your arm…
If it is bear season, please do not get off the plane wearing a Canada Goose parka. Its not really that cold until mid-November… I mean, really…
EAT A COOKIE… Calm Air has good cookies!!! If you sit at the very front or the very back, you have a decent chance at seconds.
Train Travel to Churchill
HOW DO I GET TO CHURCHILL, MANITOBA BY TRAIN?
TRAVEL TIPS, VEHICLE STORAGE AND PRE-TRIP ACCOMMODATIONS
Last update: January 2013
TAKE THE TRAIN TO CHURCHILL- Well, the train kind of runs on time now… of course, on-time just means that VIA eventually added eight hours to the schedule! The average train trip is about 44-46 hours from Winnipeg. Economy fare (one-way) is about $180.00 if you book seven days in advance.
Departures from Winnipeg are at 12:00pm, scheduled for Sundays and Tuesdays.
Departures from Thompson are at 5:00pm (after a five hour layover), scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
WINNIPEG – CHURCHILL RETURN – Normally… Budget travellers, booking seven days in advance, can travel for $370-400 CDN on VIA Rail Economy Class. Berths or cabins (for 1) are available (an additional $400-500 CDN or so…) but are usually booked well in advance during peak tourism seasons. There is also the opportunity to book a roomette once the journey has begun. Your best option is just to ask one of the VIA employees and see what happens. Don’t rely on this option but its worth a shot if you would like a bit of privacy…
THOMPSON – CHURCHILL RETURN – Normally… The ‘Bay Line’ is a bit more reasonable than the 44 hours from Winnipeg. This overnight trip is a great introduction to the north. The dining car temporarily becomes a moving community hall as locals from the communities of Pikwitonei, Ilford and Gillam return from shopping and visiting in Thompson. After Gillam, the ride is quiet with northern lights often decorating the sky. At $130 (seven-day advance), this is an affordable and attractive option – or at least, it used to be until gasoline reached $1.30 plus…
The drive to Thompson is also quite enjoyable. The 762 km (474 mile) stretch from Winnipeg to Thompson is paved with gas stations at least every 200km. The average trip runs approximately 8-10 hours so you pretty much have to leave a day early with the new VIA schedule. If you are ahead of schedule, stop at Pisew Falls, one of Manitoba’s nicest wilderness areas.
|SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR CHURCHILL TRAIN TRAVEL
40 WINKS AT 4 MPH… A travel pillow and blanket (and earplugs) are mandatory for economy class!!! For some reason, the train can range from sauna hot to goosebump cold. A nightcap is optional but be prepared nonetheless…
BOOKS ARE FUN AND MAKE YOU SMART… Bring a book or two or four…or just your Kindle. Then again, an IPad, IPod, IAnything is also quite helpful… What I am trying to say is that its a long ride.
DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE…Get seats that face each other. If its crowded, find a partner in crime or one will be assigned to you (of course, it’s an easy way to meet new people…). If the seats are not facing each other, wait until the train is moving (as in, don’t piss off the conductor) and then ask someone to help you turn the seats to face each other.
MET UP WITH A GAMBLER…The dining/ lounge car is always interesting. Residents from Pikwitonei and Ilford hop on at Thompson and the dining car becomes a big gambling house and gossip room for a few hours.
Bar service is also available until 10:00pm (and ABSOLUTELY NO LATER!!!). Plus thanks to our modern society, it is now smoke-free all the time! (although there are smoke break if the right employees are on board). And speaking of board… it’s a change of scenery if you’re a little bored…
STRETCH YOUR LEGS… Take the opportunity for a walkabout in The Pas, Thompson, or even Gillam. VIA personnel are helpful and will let you know how long the stop lasts. The layover in The Pas is now three hours or so…! The layover in Gillam is about an hour, close to midnight… just enough time to run across the street to the Gillam Legion – no, really, do it!
HEALTHY SNACKS FOR HEALTHY MINDS… There is decent food onboard and not overly expensive but snack food is relegated to chips and chocolate bars. Bring some veggies!!!
BRING SOME SHOES…It is now mandatory to wear shoes when walking around the train – bring some sandals, crocs or slippers.
HOW DO I GET TO CHURCHILL, MANITOBA BY ROAD???
There are actually no roads that lead in to Churchill (and some may claim vice versa as well…). However, you can drive either to Thompson or Gillam, Manitoba and travel from there.
Starting from Winnipeg, you will follow the Number Six Highway north along the western side of Manitoba’s Interlake. The drive is about eight hours to Thompson with gas stations (progressively more expensive) located about every 150-200km.
The terrain from Winnipeg to Gypsumville is quite varying (for Manitoba) changing from marshland to grain fields to mixed boreal forest. Some of my favourite country in Manitoba can be found near Gypsumville. It is rough, one of the few places where farms (most abandoned now) still have clumps of trees and the original shelter belts. A lot of wildlife can be found on the backroads around here – also making it a prime destination for black bear hunters.
North of Gyp, the radio fades so bring your ipod or satellite radio. The land is also now primarily boreal forest and other than a few escarpments, your view is generally spruce and jack pine. That being said, there is an abundance of wildlife along this corridor; on this route, I have variably encountered black bears, moose, deer, porcupine, foxes, wolverine, wolf, coyotes and even a cougar. As well, keep your eye out for raptors, including bald eagles, red-tailed and rough-legged hawks, kestrels and great gray owls.
If you are looking for secure storage for a vehicle and the options to fly to Churchill, then Thompson is your only realistic destination. Gillam does not have daily flight service to Churchill.
Vehicle storage is available for a fee at McCreedy Campground (firstname.lastname@example.org) or for free at the Thompson Municipal Building. I would recommend McCreedy as they also provide shuttle service.