Updated May 2020
When you think of polar bears, does Churchill, Manitoba come to mind?
Never heard of it? You’re not alone. It’s a small, remote hole-in-the-wall town in north-eastern Canada, but for polar bears it’s the cat’s meow.
The tiny hamlet (population 900) is one of the best places in the world to see the white behemoths firsthand, earning it the nickname “The Polar Bear Capital of the World.”
During the high season (October through November), a small group of experienced outfitters offers a variety of polar bear tours that also include an introduction to the region’s vast tundra and arctic wildlife (think wolf, Arctic hare and fox, moose, caribou, black bear, and ptarmigan) while highlighting Churchill’s unique history, heritage, and indigenous culture.
(For a more thorough description of other cool things to do in Churchill, many of which are part of multi-day tours, see 17 Awesome Things To Do In Churchill Manitoba)
To help you choose the perfect polar bear tour for you, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide to the companies and the packages they offer.
Why Churchill is the Polar Bear Capital of the World
Situated at the convergence of the Churchill River and Hudson Bay, the former 18th-century trading post, is smack dab in the middle of a major polar bear migration route.
Why have the bears bequeathed this favored status upon the region? It’s simple. In winter, the area where the fresh water from the river feeds into the salty water of the Bay is the first to freeze.
Polar bears are marine mammals and they use the ice floe for hunting seals––their main food supply––and after months of fasting on land, the sooner they can eat, the better. More time means they’ll, gain more weight, and for females, the potential to bare healthy offspring increases.
From June through August, the bears roam farther inland and are more challenging to see. They are most visible in October and November when the polar bears head toward the coast, and good ole Churchill, Manitoba.
Why a Multi-day Polar Bear Tour is Better Than Booking Ala Carte
The best (and safest) way to experience Churchill polar bears (and all the other cool things around town) is by working with tour operators offering multi-day trips with expert expedition leaders, naturalists, activities, accommodations, transportation, and logistics included. Churchill is not a destination where you should wing it.
Though I’m stating the obvious, you should never try to see these Arctic wonders on your own. Male polar bears can weigh up to 1300 lbs and stand 10 feet tall (female polar bears are smaller but still huge compared to a human), and they have no problem attacking humans without warning––they are stealthy predators. They’re also fast. Really fast. Can outrun you in seconds fast. No Joke.