Have you ever dreamed of seeing the polar bears in Churchill? Watching up close as the bears meander across the tundra?
Known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” Churchill, Manitoba is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
From arriving in Churchill to seeing polar bears, learning about the town’s history and culture, and exploring the incredible sub-arctic terrain on a Tundra Buggy, this post will cover everything that you need to know to plan the adventure of a lifetime!
Seeing Polar Bears in Churchill Manitoba
Churchill, Manitoba is located in northern Canada, right on the western edge of Hudson Bay. With only about 900 permanent residents, the town is quite small, but definitely a unique place.
You will find the locals to be pretty welcoming and they’re great at sharing the indigenous history and stories about the incredible wildlife and the land.
Churchill is truly a special place in many ways. Not only will you find a blend of different landscapes – from the boreal forest to tundra and sea – but the wildlife viewing opportunities are seemingly endless.
Most people associate polar bears with Churchill, but you are also able to see beluga whales, arctic foxes, moose, caribou, arctic hares, and a variety of birds.
Getting to Churchill Manitoba
While you may be excited to see polar bears, Churchill is not the easiest place to reach. But getting there is definitely part of the adventure!
Also, keep in mind that there are no roads connecting Churchill to the rest of Canada. So planning a road trip up north is not an option.
The most common way to get to Churchill is by taking a flight from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Flights to Churchill are typically offered year-round by a few different carriers.
If you have opted to travel with an organized tour (highly recommended), your Winnipeg accommodations and flight to Churchill will be part of the package. If not, you will need to book your own flight, as well as make arrangements to get to your hotel once you land in Churchill.
Your second option is to travel by train. You would catch a Via Rail Train from Winnipeg to Churchill. The train will take 2 days to get you to Churchill with several stops along the way.
If you have the time, the train is a great way to see some of Canada’s northern landscape. The trains run pretty frequently, so you shouldn’t have a problem choosing one that works with your itinerary.
When is the Best Time to See Polar Bears in Churchill?
October and November are prime polar bear viewing months. This is when the bears migrate through the Churchill area on their way to Hudson’s Bay.
While you can see polar bears at other times of the year, October and November offer the greatest possibility of viewing these incredible animals. This is because the polar bears are waiting for the sea ice to form so they can go out and hunt.
As a result, you will see the bears strolling along the coastline, and gathering in closer proximity to one another. During the spring and summer, the bears are more dispersed and harder to find.
Should You Take a Polar Bear in Churchill Tour?
While you can plan your own trip to Churchill with regard to flights and accommodations, you will need to have a guide to actually go see the polar bears.
This is due in part to accessibility and gear, but mostly, for safety reasons. Churchill is not a place to try and ‘go it alone’ – the bears are wild and can be dangerous if not approached with care.
On the other hand, organized tours are a great way to see both the polar bears in Churchill, as well as to learn about the fascinating local culture.
Aside from having incredible guides, local tour operators are experienced in polar bear encounters, and they provide the necessary transportation and equipment for a safe and memorable adventure.
Going with a tour also takes away the stress of planning your entire trip from scratch. Churchill may be difficult to reach, but it has become extremely popular. And for a town of less than 1000, accommodations become extremely scarce during polar bear season.
How to See Polar Bears in Churchill
As was just mentioned above, taking a tour is the best way to see polar bears in Churchill. Companies like Frontiers North Adventures, Lazy Bear Expeditions, and Churchill Wild offer a variety of fantastic tour options.
From day trips in a Tundra Buggy to stays in specialized lodges, or all-inclusive tour packages, these companies have something for everyone.
Tundra Buggy Tours
If you have decided to book your own trip to Churchill, then day tours are a great option for you. Frontiers North offers a full-day tour of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area on a Tundra Buggy.
These incredible vehicles allow the guides to travel safely through polar bear country, to provide you with the best viewing opportunities. Not only are the buggies comfortable, but you will also be provided with an excellent light lunch and refreshments. There is even a bathroom on board as well as an outdoor viewing platform.
If you choose to visit Churchill as part of a group tour, chances are, you will have at least two days out exploring with the Tundra Buggy. This gives you twice the chance to see the polar bears, as well as other arctic wildlife like foxes or ptarmigan.
Another option for seeing polar bears in Churchill is to stay at specialized lodgings. A couple of different tour companies have their own lodgings that are located outside of town and within polar bear country.
These lodges provide excellent viewing opportunities from the safety of a high viewing platform, or a fenced yard. And while the accommodations may look rustic, they are actually pretty incredible. The fantastic meals served at these lodges are top-notch and will give you a taste of locally sourced cuisine.
And if you are travelling with Frontiers North, you are definitely in for a treat! Part of their tour package includes a two-night stay at the Tundra Buggy Lodge.
This incredible “hotel” is made up of several tundra buggies linked together to form sleeping, dining, and entertainment quarters. Not only is the stay comfortable and the food delicious but the experience is guaranteed to be one of your most unique. After all, there’s nothing like waking up to polar bears under your window!
If you are really adventurous and more than a little on the brave side, you could also take part in one of Churchill Wild’s walking tours. This is when you actually get to go out on the tundra on foot.
Your guide will take you to within 100 meters of a polar bear! If you are a photographer, this would be a dream come true!
Of course, safety first. Polar bears are wild animals, not your cuddly teddy bears. Your guide will keep you at a safe distance, and it’s pretty important to follow their instructions.
Respect for these gorgeous bears and their habitat is most important.
What Else Can You Do in Churchill?
While seeing polar bears may be your main focus, don’t miss out on other fantastic experiences in Churchill. If you are not with a group, but staying in town, it’s easy enough to walk around, explore the shops, and see some of the incredible murals scattered around Churchill.
You can also learn a lot about Churchill’s culture and history by visiting either the Itsanitaq Museum or the Parks Canada Visitor Centre.
If you are looking for a little more outdoor adventure, you can go dog sledding, take a helicopter tour, or visit the Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site.
Of course, if you opt for the all-inclusive tour, your guides will take you to a variety of other attractions in the Churchill area. From the Miss Piggy plane wreck to the Polar Bear Jail, the MV Ithaca wreck and Cape Merry.
The Northern Lights are also visible in Churchill during the winter months, so be sure to head outdoors during the evening hours.
Summer in Churchill
If you are visiting Churchill during the summer months, you can also add beluga whales to your bucket list. Churchill is home to a large population of beluga whales that come into the bay during the summer months to raise their young.
Not only can you take whale-watching cruises, but you can also kayak with the whales. It’s definitely an experience you won’t soon forget!
Other great activities to do in the summer are dog carting, helicopter tours of Wapusk National Park, and guided nature walks. You definitely won’t be bored no matter what time you choose to visit Churchill.
Where to Stay in Churchill
Churchill isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis, but it does offer some cozy places to stay. The Tundra Inn and the Polar Inn are great options, and both offer a warm and friendly atmosphere.
You will find that many of the local accommodations also have quaint diners or restaurants attached. This makes things pretty convenient if you don’t want to brave the cold for a quick bite to eat.
Booking in advance is definitely recommended, however, as accommodations can fill up during the polar bear season.
Just a piece of advice, this is definitely not a trip that you can book last minute. If you are interested in seeing polar bears in Churchill, then you will need to start planning at least a year in advance. This is true whether you are heading to Churchill as part of a tour group, or on your own.
What is the Weather Like in Churchill?
Churchill’s weather is pretty varied throughout the year. Winters, from November to March, are incredibly harsh.
Temperatures are well below freezing and there is plenty of snow and ice. Polar bears are usually out hunting on the sea ice at this time, so they are definitely much more difficult to track down.
In spring (April to June), things start to warm up, and the snow gradually melts. This is when you will see polar bear moms and cubs emerging from their dens.
Summers (July to September) are surprisingly comfortable, with temperatures usually around 15 to 20 degrees Celsius (59 to 68°F). This is the best time to visit if you want to see the beluga whales.
In the fall (October to early November), the temperatures start to drop again but are still manageable. This is the best time to see polar bears in Churchill.
So, depending on when you visit, you’ll want to pack accordingly for the shifting weather patterns. The good news is, that many tour companies will even rent or loan out parkas or boots for the duration of your tour. This is ideal if you don’t want to purchase expensive gear that you will never need again.
Is Churchill Manitoba Worth Visiting?
Most definitely yes! Seeing polar bears in Churchill is probably one of the most unique experiences you can have.
Having the opportunity to observe these majestic bears in their own habitat is not only bucket list worthy, but something you are guaranteed never to forget.
However, these tours and packages carry a pretty hefty price tag. In fact, many people may find them completely out of their price range. But if it is something that you can swing, and you love polar bears, then it is definitely worth every cent.
Final Thoughts About Polar Bears in Churchill
Churchill, Manitoba is definitely the go-to spot for epic polar bear encounters. And booking a guided tour is your ticket to a safe and unforgettable bucket-list-worthy adventure.
Whether you are looking for a few days out in a Tundra Buggy, or an exciting guided walking tour, being able to see polar bears in their natural environment is guaranteed to be one of the most memorable experiences you will ever have.
The Arctic is waiting, so gear up and get ready for an experience you’ll talk about for years to come. Safe travels, and enjoy every moment of this extraordinary journey in Churchill!
About the Author
Marianne and her family are hikers, campers, and outdoor adventurers. They are Canadians who love to travel in Canada. Follow their adventures on their blog The Journeying Giordanos.