Thompson is a city defined by the untouched boreal wilderness that surrounds it. For locals, it's known as the hub of the north - a industrious mining town with proud Indigenous identity and deep roots in the fur trade. For visitors, it's where the highway ends - a city that evokes images of waterfalls, clear-to-the-bottom lakes, pine-scented forests and mystical howling wolves.
Whether you are visiting for the first time, proudly call it home, or have family connections there - Thompson calls you north. Here are 10 reasons why Thompson is such an alluring destination for your next road trip.
Pisew Falls Provincial Park
The profile of this Pisew Falls Provincial Park, located 75 kms south of Thompson on highway 6, has skyrocketed in the past few years due to the Insta-worthy waterfall that’s so rare to find in Manitoba. You can hear the falls as soon as you exit your car in the parking lot; just follow your ear down a short boardwalk to two viewing platforms to take in the awesome site. Pisew, which means lynx in Cree, is where the Grass River drops 13 meters, switches directions and plunges through a gorge. Once you’ve got your fill of these falls, head over to the 0.5 km trail that leads to lower Pisew Falls, where a rotary bridge offers views of more rapids.
Pisew-Kwasitchewan Falls hike
This ‘Manitoba bucket list’ hike starts as soon as you reach the other side of the rotary bridge. The 30 km (return) Pisew-Kwasitchewan hike is one of the most challenging backcountry trails in Manitoba. The rugged terrain leads hikers down the Grass River, a route travelled for thousands of years by Indigenous peoples and then during the late 1700s fur trade by Hudson Bay and Northwest Company men. Camping is allowed at designated sites, so plan to overnight when you reach the awesome climax of Kwasitchewan Falls, Manitoba’s highest waterfall (14 meters).
Paint Lake Provincial Park
The pristine boreal wilderness of Paint Lake easily rivals the beauty of the Whiteshell and Nopiming in southern Manitoba. Better yet, it is more off the beaten path. At the park’s heart is Paint Lake Marina, the largest in Manitoba, where anglers and avid boaters meet under the scorching summer sun. In winter, Paint Lake makes a name for itself as an ice fishing destination, thanks mostly to the activity at Paint Lake Lodge. This family-run resort offers all-season vacation cabin rentals and one of the tastiest kitchens in the North. Camping abounds at Paint Lake with plenty of seasonal and overnight sites, and yurts with a lake view that make you feel like you are on a private island. Sunbathe at either of the two secluded beaches and when the sun is at its peak, cool off by walking the shaded Coffee Cove Hiking Trail that takes you through a forested rocky outcrop.
Snowmobiling and ATV Trails
The outdoors is a way of life in north country, so it’s no surprise that snowmobiling and ATVing are popular pastimes throughout the year. The Thompson Trailbreakers Snowmobile Club maintain an incredible network of over 350 km of snowmobile trails throughout the region, mostly along highway 6. The fact that the snowmobile season in Thompson extends almost a month longer than it does in southern Manitoba means that there’s more time to ride. If you don’t own your snow equipment, rentals, lodging and fantastic Thai foods are available at Sasagiu Rapids Lodge, 50 minutes south of Thompson. Once the snow melts, these trails welcome at ATVers. If you want an insider’s tip of where to go: join Facebook group Northern Manitoba Off Road Association.
Northern lights viewing
You don’t have to go all the way north to the Hudson Bay to view spectacular northern lights in Manitoba. Thompson’s skies light up just as frequently as anywhere north of the 53 parallel. While no local tour operators offer guided aurora viewing tours, all you really need is a sense of adventure to head safely off the beaten track at night…and Mother Nature’s cooperation. Setting Lake, in all it’s boreal forest glory, proves to be a popular spot to try and capture the dancing lights and their reflection over the water.
Spirit Way walking trail
Spirit Way is a curated pathway and biking trail through the heart of Thompson that takes visitors past 16 points of interest, wolf statues and the iconic 10-storey wolf mural of a Robert Bateman painting that helps the city earn its moniker ‘the wolf capital of the world.’ Plan for about two hours to take in the sites along the two km path. The Spirit Way trail meanders through a forested area, into downtown Thompson and along MacLean Park, beyond the Bailey Bridge (Bailey bridges were a creation of Donald Bailey, designed to be moved and rebuilt speedily during wartime), making its final stop near the Burntwood River, which is integral not only to Thompson’s existence, but to the province, for hydroelectricity. Here you’ll find the Northern Aviation Tribute where a Norseman floatplane sits paying, homage to the mechanics, staff and pilots who are essential in transporting goods and people throughout the northern wilderness.
Heritage North Museum
One of the points of interest along the Spirit Way walking trail is the must-visit Heritage North Museum. While it bears many similarities to other rural museums centred on Manitoba history, Heritage North Museum goes a step further with an exceptional display of wildlife and insects native to the area. A boreal forest diorama at the center of this grand spruce wood log cabin includes a birch bark canoe and traditional caribou hide teepee, offering authentic insight into Thompson’s First Nations identity. A visit to this Manitoba Star Attraction will undoubtedly help you gain a better understanding of how this trap-line-turned-mining-town came to be.
Mystery Mountain winter park
This little ski hill tucked in the boreal forest 20 minutes northeast of Thompson is one of northern Manitoba’s best kept secrets. It's a mystery, in fact. Eighteen runs, four chair lifts and 10 km of cross-country ski runs means Mystery Mountain is a hub of outdoor activity all winter long. The bonus of heading to an off-the-radar ski hill like this: lift tickets are really affordable and you avoid any crowds and line-ups. You feel free as a bird as you carve your way through the pristine boreal forest landscape in silence.
Indigenous spirit and generosity resonates through Manitoba’s North and a visit to Thompson offers an authentic way to appreciate Indigenous culture. For one-of-a-kind souvenirs, the Arctic Trading Post in City Centre Mall is the place to pick up soapstone or ivory carvings, hand-made leather mukluks, slippers and mitts, and custom beaded jewellery. Jasyn Lucas (@jacynlucas) is a well-known Cree painter, tattoo artist and muralist based in Thompson; his contemporary Indigenous art decorates buildings around town in his signature Northern Lights, wildlife and landscape scenes. Cultural events such as National Indigenous Peoples Day Live held every year over the summer solstice at Maclean Park next to city hall offers free programming such traditional dancing, song, art and food. Wake early to participate in a traditional sunrise ceremony.
Thompson’s main industry is mining, and for over 40 years the city celebrates its heritage each June during a beloved summer street fair. Nickel Days features a midway, musical and dance entertainment, games, a parade and talent show that brings the community together for four days. The King Miner Competition is always a highlight: participants show-off their speed, agility and strength in the mining trade by competing tasks such as jackleg drilling, steel packing, pipefitting and nail driving.