Seeing a polar bear up close in its natural habitat is a once in a lifetime experience. Heading to sea on an expedition ship traveling the Arctic waters of Spitsbergen, Russia or the Northwest Passage is a fantastic way to go. Yet have you considered taking a land trip to Churchill, Manitoba in Canada? If you’re an avid wildlife photographer or if you prefer not to travel by ship, Churchill is an outstanding choice for an ideal polar bear encounter.
Churchill is positioned at the most southerly location that polar bears can successfully live year-round. Polar bears spend most of their time on sea ice hunting seals and occasionally walrus, narwhal and beluga whales. Yet in the end of July or early August, the ice in Hudson Bay melts and polar bears are forced to stay on land for those months waiting for the ice to reform. In summer, polar bears are lazy and focus on conserving energy for the colder months of hunting ahead. In October and November, bears become more active as they prepare to head north to their usual hunting grounds. Before polar bears head away from the town of Churchill for the winter, visitors are in for a treat.
Heading to Churchill to see polar bears in October and November offers some of the most spectacular photo opportunities for capturing bears available anywhere in the world. Travelers ride in custom “Polar Rovers” that cross wide expanses of frozen ground looking for bears. These buggies offer an outdoor balcony for photography and even pro photographers will have plenty of time to set up their gear and capture mommas and babies, lone grandfathers, or curious young males. The Classic Polar Bear Adventure offered by one of Wild Nectar’s most eco-savvy operators has delighted many of our travelers. Dog sledding and seeing the northern lights add even more excitement to this memorable adventure.
Another approach to seeing and photographing bears is to stay in a moveable tundra lodge that travels to sites where bears have been located and offers 24-hour bear viewing and photography. The lodge is shaped like a train and offers small berths or small cabins plus a dining hall and lots of viewing windows. If you don’t mind sleeping in compact conditions, this might be a great option for you.
Travelers also come to Churchill in July and August to see a whole different set of colors. Lazy polar bears lounge and play in vivid purple fireweed just begging to be photographed. July and August bring boating adventures with pods of beluga whales, sightings of herds of bison and visits to historical sites like Prince of Wales Fort, a former outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Great trips for families or anyone looking for a wildly remote adventure, both Wild Canada: Belugas and Bears and Belugas, Bears and the Summer Wildlife of Churchill offer expert guiding, active days, and lots of wildlife viewing.
One of the things that makes visiting Churchill so remarkable is how very remote and isolated this settlement truly is. 1400 kilometers/900 miles north of Winnipeg and with a population of only 900 people, Churchill is a tiny town with only a small number of streets, hotels and shops. Thompson, the closest town is 250 miles to the south. There are no roads heading out of town as there is nowhere to connect to. Imagine living here all year round, as from November 30 - March 18 it gets very cold, -7 degrees F/-21 C! Heading out on daily polar bear treks, staying in the town’s basic hotels, and talking with hearty locals is an experience you’re not soon to forget.
Whether you prefer not to travel by ship, are a passionate photographer, or just want to visit all the possible places in the world to see polar bears, Churchill should definitely be on your bucket list. Contact us and we'll help you locate the polar bear adventure of a lifetime.