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Churchill, Manitoba: The Polar Bear Capital of the World

The Town Where Even the Polar Bears Know Your Name

|September 11, 2019
Joe is a proud Michigander that finds himself in unusual, beautiful, and faraway places. He enjoys getting lost, drinking with strangers, and worshipping at the church of rock ‘n’ roll.

Churchill, Canada sits on the edge of civilization, smack-dab in the path of migrating polar bears. A small, rugged town of 1,000 hardy people, Churchill is connected to the rest of the world only by a single rail line and the occasional flight.

Surrounded by wilderness on all sides and taken over by polar bears six weeks a year, Churchill is the final frontier. 

This isolated town is home to one of the largest concentrations of polar bears on the planet. Nowhere else is it so easy to find the world’s largest land carnivore in its natural habitat.

Why Visit Churchill?

Churchill isn’t just known for its extreme climate and conditions. The town is one of the best spots in the world to find polar bears, beluga whales, and the Northern Lights.

Polar bear cub scared by a seal!

Polar bear cub scared by a seal!

Churchill is still a wild and true frontier. Residents still have grit and live much as pioneers did back in the “going west” days. Nature is unspoiled, untapped, and very unpredictable.

Visit in the summer and take a charter into the cool waters of Hudson Bay. Thousands of beluga whales fill the bay in the summer months. Churchill is one of the few places where you can see so many belugas up close and near the surface. Playful and curious, belugas are fun and extremely social creatures.

Bear Country

Polar bear country

Not just a whale sanctuary, Churchill is the undisputed capital of polar bear country! 

Polar bears invade the town for a six-week period in fall and early winter. The bears gather on the coast of the bay and wait for the winter sea ice to form. The bears are hungry and restless while the town of Churchill is vigilant and on guard.

The best time to see polar bears is from October to November, when they begin moving from the tundra out on pack ice to hunt for seals. 

Did you know? Polar bears have an incredible sense of smell — they can smell a seal from over 20 miles (30 km) away!

Belugas and polar bears are lovable characters in this terrifically beautiful setting. The tundra stretches for miles and miles in every direction.

In the winter months, the Northern Lights glow above in the night sky. Fall asleep under the mellow, wondrous glow of the aurora borealis.

Churchill, Canada: Polar Bears, People, and Permafrost

Wreck Of He SS Ithaka Near manitoba in canada

MV Ithaca

Other than wildlife, there are also lots of fascinating wrecks to check out.

The town of Churchill is a survivor. Many of its attractions are ruins and leftover pieces of history stuck in the frozen permafrost, standing resilient against the elements. 

The buildings and historical sites of Churchill, like its residents, have found a way to endure.

  • Visit the historic Prince of Wales Fort, built in the 1700s and still standing after years of harsh weather.
  • Make your way to the York Factory, a National Historic Site of Canada and one of the oldest wooden structures worldwide still standing on permafrost.
  • Other sites worth exploring are the wreck of the cargo ship MV Ithaca.
  • A downed Curtiss C-46 plane dubbed “Miss Piggy”.
  • And the now-closed Churchill Rocket Research Range.

Life in the Deep North is hard, but Churchill is rewarded for the adversity it endures with spectacular wide-open nature, amazing wildlife, and a feeling of freedom that can only be found on the edges of civilization.

Wildlife Safaris in Canada

modified tundra buggy bus in manitoba

Out on the Town

Over the years, Churchill has evolved from a military town to a vital Arctic port city. These days the economy revolves around tourism and, more specifically, wildlife watching. Visitors come from all over the world to see the amazing native wildlife in their natural habitat. 

Travelers come for the polar bears and belugas, but you’ll find all sorts of other Arctic animals while exploring the frozen tundra.  Don’t be surprised to stumble onto wolves, caribou, arctic and red foxes, moose, wolverines, beaver, pine marten, and over a hundred species of birds on your journeys. The number of creatures thriving in such extreme conditions defies imagination.

Lodges all over town offer guided tours into the wild. Many provide ATVs and some will transport you across the permafrost in a massive “Tundra Buggy.” 

This large, all-wheeled, off-road vehicle is capable of crossing even the most difficult terrains. Many are completely enclosed and heated. Travel in complete safety and get friendly with Churchill’s polar neighbors.

Tip! Never approach a polar bear alone. Always go with a guide. 

How to Get to Churchill

old passenger train in canada winnipeg area

All Aboard!

The journey to Churchill is an adventure in itself. No roads lead into Churchill. Travelers and locals alike have two options to get to and from town: take the train from Winnipeg, or hop on a plane and fly.

The two-day, two-night train journey from Winnipeg is a blast from the past. Board the train and embark on a 45-hour journey north. The train runs on nostalgia as you criss-cross the tundra on your way to the absolute edge of the world. Travel the old way on a train with sleeper cars, dining cars, and a panoramic dome roof for seeing the passing countryside.

The frigid air slaps you in the face as you hop off the train in Churchill. You’ll immediately realize how far “out there” you are as you take your first steps into the remote frontier town.

Time to Go Arctic!

Tours for Guided Polar Bear Watching in Churchill, Manitoba

View polar bears from a lodge on the Hudson Bay deep in the Arctic wilds. Enjoy world-class dining in a beautiful lodge surrounded by polar bears. An eight-foot-high buffalo fence surrounding the lodge keeps the carnivores at bay. 

Get face-to-face with any bears that get curious! Book seven days of warm hospitality, plus hiking and ATV excursions to view bears in their natural habitat.

Watch polar bears, beluga whales and more in this exciting wildlife-watching tour in Churchill, Manitoba. This eight-day wildlife adventure includes interpretive walks, extended treks, canoeing and kayaking, boat tours, and aerial tours to get the best views of the wildlife in the area. The lodge provides fantastic viewing opportunities while the bears wile away the summer waiting for fall, sea ice and the return to their hunting grounds.

Take an Arctic safari in search of caribou and polar bears on this tour only accessible by floatplane. Spend nine days exploring The Barren Lands and the rugged coastline of Hudson Bay. Stay deep in the tundra at a self-sufficient lodge exploring over 20,000 kilometers of the Arctic “Serengeti.”

Take the train to the end of the world in Churchill, Canada! Spend your vacation in the company of polar bears and beluga whales.

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