Located on the geographical heart of Canada, at the edge of the tree line near Hudson Bay, the Wapusk Trail is said to be the longest seasonal winter road in the world according to the Guinness World Records. Careful preparation for your trip will ensure that if, and when, things do go wrong, you are prepared for the situation.
The road is built on snow and ice each January giving road access for a few weeks to remote areas. Due to the remoteness of the area, take special care to ensure that your vehicle is ready for the trip. It’s 772 km (479 miles) long and stretches west from the communities of Shamattawa and Gillam in Manitoba and east to Peawanuck. In 2011 the road was made a bit longer, arriving to Winisk. Proper preparation is essential to having a safe, enjoyable trip on this road. The road runs 252 km from Peawanuck to Fort Severn, 234 km from Fort Severn to the Manitoba border, 90 km from the border to Shamattawa, and 196 km from Shamattawa to Gillam. The trail has been featured in Ice Road Truckers TV show.
The ride is rather remote, so you need to be prepared. In case of a breakdown, there is very little in the way of passing traffic or inhabitants around, and no cell phone service in parts. The road is constructed each January on snow and ice, and gives road access for a few weeks to remote settlements around Hudson Bay until the warmer March weather forces its closure. These settlements are normally only accessible by air. Never underestimate this track! Constructed in cold weather, the road follows the path of least resistance, traversing natural terrain features such as muskeg, lakes, rivers and creeks. Winter roads facilitate transportation during the winter to, from and within isolated areas where there are no permanent (or 'all-weather') roads.
The road is very narrow in some sections. There is little room for error on this road. The first 90 km of the road west from Fort Severn is the worst part of the road when the wind is blowing. The road is difficult and it’s a nightmare in the wet or dark (or both). The number of trucks averages between 30 to 40, with 44 trucks being the record number of trucks in one year, transporting consumer goods, fuel and construction materials. It takes about 12 to 17 hours to get to Gillam, depending on the conditions. Conditions can change quickly and be harsh. Road closures can be frequent, so check conditions before traveling to this area. With the seasons getting shorter and shorter each year, it’s getting harder and harder to construct the ice roads and becomes less predictable when they’ll be a reliable thickness.
Winter survival and communication equipment are recommended. This type of ‘temporary highways’ have a crucial role in enabling goods to be delivered to communities without permanent road access. Take emergency supplies and extra parts; make sure you know your route. Know where you are and know where you are going. Warm weather forces the closure of the winter road staring with March, early April. Air transportation is an alternative, but it’s quite expensive. The winter road system dates back to the 1950’s built by private construction companies to provide a means of transporting freight to isolated northern communities that would be less costly than air transport. The weather on this zone is harsh and highly unpredictable and it does not take much time for the bright sun shine to change over to moderate to heavy snow fall.