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Thompson is Manitoba’s fifth largest city and a hub for culture, recreation and industry in the vast boreal wilderness of the North. There is a mystique about Thompson that draws in the uninitiated - travellers keen to make the 750 km drive north from southern Manitoba are chasing scenes of waterfalls, howling wolves, master anglers and dancing northern lights.
Fall comes early and winter lasts longer this far north in Manitoba, and there are plenty of ways to fill a couple of days exploring Thompson during the off season. The boreal forest in all its fall glory is reason alone to plan a roadtrip to Paint Lake Provincial Park and Pisew Falls Provincial Park. In winter, snowmobiling culture runs deep and the trail system around the Grass River outside of Thompson are some of the most scenic and well-maintained in Manitoba.
Mystery Mountain Winter Park is an affordable gathering place for families and offers the most mountain-like views in Manitoba for skiers. In the city, Indigenous and fur trade culture is celebrated at Heritage North Museum, as well as during community workshops and events at the Boreal Discovery Centre.
Thompson is fortunate to have two breathtaking provincial parks within an hour’s drive. One of Manitoba’s greatest natural wonders is Pisew Falls, a 13-meter waterfall where the Grass River plunges down a rock gorge. There are two viewing platforms near the falls and every season offers a different backdrop for witnessing these awesome rushing waters.
Closer to Thompson, Paint Lake Provincial Park is a popular gathering place for hardwater anglers and snowmobilers. Modern cabins with a lake view at Paint Lake Lodge are the perfect homebase for a winter weekend. The lodge also offers four-person ice fishing shack rentals, along with guiding services for any guests needing an experienced hand. The 100-seat at restaurant at Paint Lake also features one the most sophisticated menus in northern Manitoba.
Snowmobiling is a popular winter pastime thanks to nearly 400 kms of trails through scenic boreal forest and precambrian shield. Maintained by passionate volunteers of the Thompson Trailbreakers, these trails have optimal snow conditions that extend for many months.
A hub for snowmobilers is Sasagiu Rapids Lodge, a motel and guest cabin accommodation located 85 kms south of Thompson on Highway 6. Sasagiu is one of few places in the region that offers hourly snowmobile rentals. Before you head out, be sure to pick up the local club’s snow route map or reserve a guided tour with Sasagui’s experienced staff. Snowmobile friendly hotels in Thompson include the Quality Inn and Best Western.
While the wilderness draws visitors north, travellers need to be sure to spend some time in Thompson, too, to fully appreciate northern culture. Spirit Way is a curated walking trail through the heart of the city that takes visitors past 16 points of interest, including the iconic 10-storey wolf mural of a Robert Bateman painting that helped the city earn its moniker ‘the wolf capital of the world.’
Another point of interest is the must-visit Heritage North Museum, a Manitoba Star Attraction. At the center of this spruce wood log cabin is an impressive boreal birch bark canoe and traditional caribou hide teepee, which offers authentic insight into Thompson’s Indigenous heritage.
Look up for nature’s greatest light show. Travellers needn’t go all the way to Hudson Bay to view spectacular Northern Lights. Thompson is located above the 55th parallel north, which means the skies are just as capable of showing off, particularly on winter nights when they are dark and clear.
There are no guided aurora viewing tours in Thompson, but all travellers really need is a sense of adventure to head safely off the beaten track at night. Don’t forget your camera! Northern Lights are best photographed with a treeline in the foreground, and Thompson has plenty of those.
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