I’ve spent a great deal of time in Churchill during the past couple of years. I was there just a couple of days ago. The company that I work for has a base of operations at Churchill airport.
It’s a quiet little town with some interesting stuff to see and do. If you’re interested in Canadian history the Hudson Bay Company, the fort, rocket base and port are all remnants of the development of the region and the country.
The landscape and wildlife are unique. Churchill is at the very edge of the tree line. People come from all over the world to see polar bears of course, but there are also some pretty serious bird watchers. The beluga whales are quite a sight. The northern lights are spectacular, but timing is everything as they are not always visible or present.
Personally, I wouldn’t think about taking a train. It’s very slow over the tundra and one mile looks just like the next. However, if that’s your thing don’t let me talk you out of it. But long and uncomfortable and long.
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If I was you, I would make my own travel, hotel and tour arrangements. Package tours are good quality, but you will pay a premium. If you were going on a bear tour in the fall, I would say go with a tour package. Shouldn’t be a problem getting hotel rooms in August, but don’t wait until the last minute.
Keep in mind that Churchill does not have the amenities of a city. There is no cell service (yet). There is a hospital, but if you have anything more than a broken arm, you’re getting airlifted to Winnipeg. Make sure you have insurance covering air ambulance transportation. There are a couple of taxis, but rental cars are few and far between. A couple of restaurants with reasonably good food.
Cost? Expensive. Maybe prohibitive. The tourists who make their way to Churchill are typically wealthy and seasoned travelers. Weather is usually decent, but cool. Be warned that weather systems move into the region and sometimes last for days at a time. This can affect sightseeing and travel arrangements. Be prepared to be flexible with travel.
As you noted, bear season starts a little later in the year, but there may be one or two around for you to see. Be wary if you are out on your own. Polar Bears are smart hunters. And they do hunt humans.
I suggest that if you are going to go to Churchill that you do so because you’re passionate about the idea of going there and research the things that you want to see and do. I think you can see and do most everything once with 3 or 4 full days in town.
Let me know if you want any additional information.