A Long Weekend Escape to Cochrane

by | Mar 4, 2022 | Attractions and Festivals, Big Blog, Nature and Outdoors, Other | 0 comments

Finding Culture, History, and some Sweet Selfie Spots in the Far North

For a long-weekend escape steeped in culture, heritage and a true taste of Northeastern Ontario life, the small town of Cochrane is an explorer’s paradise. Northeastern Ontario is full of vibrant communities embracing the wild spirit of their secluded northern landscapes, and Cochrane is no exception. Located 1.5 hrs northeast of Timmins, on the traditional territory of the Taykwa Tagamou First Nation, the town is a mecca for outdoor adventure lovers, and a great place to explore some unique and iconic Canadian attractions. 


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Attractions with a Polar Twist


Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat

Majestic, snowy white and fierce, the polar bear is no doubt the unofficial mascot of Cochrane! Catch a glimpse of these incredible creatures up close at the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat, the only facility of its kind in the world dedicated to the care of polar bears. 

Situated on 24 acres of enclosed land, including boreal forest, a spring-fed lake and cleverly designed man-made structures created specifically for polar bears, the habitat offers five large enclosures for its resident polar bears to roam. Only 250 km south of their southernmost natural range, it’s as close to the wild as a human care setting will allow providing the perfect environment to observe these amazing creatures up close. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the bears playing and swimming from a unique vantage point. Bears wander the enclosures freely, so you’ll want to spend a few hours at the habitat to provide ample time to see the bears up close. The underwater glass windows provide striking views of their white fur against turquoise water, and are a great backdrop for a portrait session!

Polar Bear Express

A train route like no other, and a hallmark of Cochrane and the Northern Ontario region, Cochrane provides the jumping-off point for the iconic Polar Bear Express. Since its introduction in 1964, the Polar Bear Express has provided an important link to the lower James Bay region, connecting many remote communities in the north that are inaccessible by road. The epic 300 km journey takes approximately 5 hours and you can make it a day trip, or stay overnight in Moosonee to allow more time to explore this unique region in Northeastern Ontario.

While exploring Cochrane, a stop at the train station in the early morning hours will allow you to grab some selfies with the historic steam Engine 137, check out some historic memorabilia inside the station, and snap some classic photos of the Polar Bear Express. Return after dark to watch the locomotive glide through the night into town after its journey back from Ontario’s far north.

Chimo the Polar Bear

Did you even visit if you don’t have a selfie with the giant Cochrane Polar Bear? When spending a weekend in town, a stop at the Cochrane sign and its signature giant polar bear, Chimo, is a must. Located directly in front of the Tourist Information Centre at the junction of highway 11 East and Highway 11 South, you can’t miss this larger-than-life photo-op. 


Must-see Museums


Cochrane Classic and Vintage Snowmobile Museum


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Dedicated to one of the cherished pastimes and most important forms of transportation in the north, the Cochrane Classic Vintage Snowmobile Museum is the largest of its kind in Ontario. Founded by the Cochrane Classic Vintage Riders Club in 2004, the museum showcases over 100 snow machines from past to present including the original 1960 Ski-Doo, Wedge-like Thunderjets, a Yamaha SSR 440s capable of reaching speeds of at least 160 km per hr, and the “Big Al,” a four-engine Alouette snowmobile designed by George Barris, the creator of the Adam West-era Batmobile. Vintage sleds, historic photographs and unique memorabilia round out the collection and provide a fascinating insight into the evolution of the snowmobile.

Tim Horton Museum


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One of the most iconic Canadians, an all-time hockey great, hometown hero, and creator of the famous coffee and doughnut franchise, Tim Horton was born in Cochrane in 1930. The Tim Horton Museum, located in the Tim Horton Events Centre, is a must-stop spot for any hockey enthusiast, and houses a variety of historic and nostalgic hockey memorabilia. Explore photographs, vintage jerseys, books and 568 hockey pucks, which represent the number of regular season and playoff points Horton scored while playing in the NHL.

Cochrane Heritage Village

Located at the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat, dive into the town’s fascinating history at the Cochrane Heritage Village, built to represent Cochrane in 1912. Stroll through historic buildings including a butcher’s shop, general store, blacksmith’s shop, fire station and doctor’s office, and travel back in time to everyday life in Cochrane over 100 years ago. The train station is an especially interesting exhibit, and provides a great opportunity to learn about Cochrane’s railway history and its importance in connecting, servicing and shaping communities in northern Ontario.

Getting There


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Getting to Cochrane from the Golden Horseshoe area requires a bit of planning, but it’s relatively easy and affordable to spend your staycation exploring the deep north!

The best part is, it’s a two-for-one trip—to get to Cochrane, you’ll fly through Timmins, just an hour away by road. You can drive to Timmins, or take a trip on the Ontario Northland Railway, but for a weekend adventure it’s faster to fly with Porter or Air Canada Jazz. Rent a car at the Timmins Airport, or book your round-trip on the Ontario Northland bus. Arrive in the afternoon on Friday and spend the rest of the day hiking, dining and relaxing before hitting the road to Cochrane.  

Where to Stay

When visiting Cochrane, the Best Western Swan Castle Inn provides a great home base to explore the city and surrounds. With a central location only a short walk from the train station and just minutes by car to all local attractions, this comfortable hotel provides a variety of amenities including a fitness centre, free wifi, parking and complimentary continental breakfast. For those looking for budget-friendly accommodations nearby, the Thriftlodge Cochrane South, Chimo Motel and the Travelodge by Wyndham Cochrane South are also good options. 

Where to Eat

Cochrane has a great selection of restaurants to suit every taste, from mouth watering ribs at JR’s BBQ Ranch, to a delectable ribeye at Terry’s Steak & Fusion House. The Station Restaurant and 49th Parallel Kitchen + Bar are also great spots to fill up on pub classics, and there are plenty of well-known franchise options for quick takeout eats. 

About Sofie Sharom

Sofie Sharom is a photographer and visual artist. With a focus on wildlife, travel and documentary photography, she has visited some of the most remote corners of the world in search of spectacular scenery, unique wildlife, engaging people and inspiring stories.