Summary : In the same land that hosts the brief, brilliant summer of beluga whales and the polar bears of autumn comes an amazing phenomenon that illumines the dark winter skies. The ethereal northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, meaning “north wind of the dawn,” brighten the night sky in a mystical display of color. Churchill, Manitoba has one of the heaviest concentrations of auroral activity on Earth, making it an ideal destination for a northern lights tour. View the lights from varied heated vantage points including our new custom-built Aurora Pod®, offering 360-degree views on the night sky in warmth and comfort through its geometric glass top and sides. On this exciting Arctic adventure, your days are filled with distinctly northern activities such as dog sledding, and your nights with the potential for the best aurora viewing on the planet.
Activities : Culture
Arrive in Winnipeg and transfer to the Fort Garry Hotel. Built in 1913 by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in the style of a French chateau, this distinguished landmark remains the grande dame of Winnipeg hospitality. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner with your Expedition Leader and fellow travelers.
Today get acquainted with the rich history of Winnipeg, Canada’s fourth largest city, located at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. The region was a trading center for aboriginal peoples long before the arrival of Europeans, when French fur traders built Fort Rouge here in 1738. In the early 1800s, Lord Selkirk, who controlled the Hudson Bay Company, imported settlers from Scotland to farm the fertile land in the Red River Valley. The Red River Colony was later incorporated as the City of Winnipeg in 1873, ushering in a future as a railway and business hub. Today, Winnipeg is the cultural and commercial center of Canada’s prairie region.
Your tour includes the acclaimed Manitoba Museum, with exhibits reflecting the natural and human heritage of the province. In preparation for your northern lights encounters, attend a planetarium presentation on the science of the aurora borealis. The program also features “Inuit: People of the North,” a seminar designed to provide an understanding of the history and traditional lifestyles of these indigenous Arctic dwellers. This afternoon, visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the first museum in the world solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration, and future of human rights.
After a morning spent discovering more of Manitoba’s thriving capital, board your northbound VIA Rail train around noon. Enjoy a relaxing afternoon as you watch the wide-open prairie landscape roll by. As darkness falls, be sure to keep an eye out for possible sightings of the northern lights. You may even see them from inside your own private sleeper cabin, outside the large picture window. Dinner is served aboard the train.
The train rolls northward this morning as you enjoy a relaxing ride with views of the changing ecosystems, as undulating grasslands give way to dense boreal forest dotted with countless lakes. Around midday, arrive in the subarctic town of Thompson, Manitoba, where you transfer to the airport for your flight to Churchill. On arrival, take a tour of this historic frontier outpost town before checking in to your hotel. Have dinner at a local restaurant before your first chance to see the northern lights on the tundra this evening.
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 against the harsh Arctic climate for thousands of years. During the days, 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 Eskimo Museum, and enjoy cultural programs featuring the arts and traditions of the Inuit, Dene, and Metis peoples. On the tundra outside town, your Expedition Leader introduces the gourp to northern ecology and the stark yet alluring winter landscape.
As night falls, 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. The custom-designed Aurora Pod® features 360-degree views of the night sky through its glass walls and roof. Another view of 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 sway. 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 it is now known 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.
This morning, there’s some free time to wander Churchill’s main street, where several locally owned shops offer authentic local handicrafts from traditional mukluks to caribou-hair sculptures. After some final activities and lunch in town, transfer to the airport for your flight back to Winnipeg. This evening, gather for a farewell dinner.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for flights home.
Departure dates and itinerary subject to change. Please contact ExpeditionTrips to confirm departure schedule before purchasing air tickets. Since the northern lights are a natural phenomenon, they are never guaranteed, but Churchill has some of the most frequent and intense auroral activity on the planet—meaning odds are very good. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.
Physical Requirements: Moderate
This adventure does not require a significant degree of physical fitness. However, you will be exposed to extremely cold weather, often experiencing temperatures well below freezing, which in itself can be physically challenging. You may also have to walk in deep snow. Most nights you will stay up past midnight to look for the northern lights, which typically appear late at night. It is necessary to climb 10 steps up a ladder in order to access the upper level of the Aurora Domes, for the best view of the sky from this facility. Travelers must be able to walk up and down stairs. All of the activities are optional.
Train from Winnipeg to Thompson; one-way flight from Thompson to Churchill, one-way flight from Churchill to Winnipeg; airport transfers; accommodations and meals as per itinerary; gear on loan (parka, fleece neck buff, fleece jacket, waterproof pants, mittens and boots); professional expedition leaders and assistants; most gratuities; permits and entrance fees; taxes. Subject to change without notice.
Travel to and from start and end point of trip; alcoholic beverages; some gratuities; optional activities; items of a personal nature; optional travel insurance.
Photos: © Alexander de Vries, © Brad Josephs, © Eric Rock, © Megan Emmett