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When you imagine viewing polar bears in Canada, a warm sunny day might not be what you’re picturing. But summer is when polar bears first return to Churchill, Manitoba. After spending the winter hunting seals on the ice of Hudson Bay, these impressive animals make their way back to the Churchill area in early to mid-summer, when the sea ice begins to melt.

Along with the opportunity to see Canada's famous polar bears, a visit to the Hudson Bay region in summer offers warmer weather than in the traditional fall viewing season (October/November). There’s also plenty of chances to see other Canadian wildlife up close and personal in the ruggedly beautiful tundra and taiga—the forests of cold, subarctic regions—landscapes of the Manitoba coastline. During the months of July and August, the Churchill area is also a fantastic place to see beluga whales who migrate into the warm, shallow waters of the Churchill River to give birth and feed on fish.

An Adventure by Rail

A person sleeping on the VIA Rail train to Churchill
© VIA Rail

As a Canadian polar bear retreat begins in Churchill, getting there is part of the adventure. There are no roads in this part of Canada, so you must arrive by train or plane.

The train ride is a feature in its own right: two days and two nights on board as the train covers the 1054 miles between Winnipeg and Churchill. This means you’ll also have the unique experience of sleeping on the train in a comfortable private cabin. Your chef-prepared meals, enjoyed in the dining car, feature local ingredients and are served with local wines. 

As you travel into northern Manitoba, the scenery changes from forests to plains to arctic tundra. If the weather permits and there are clear skies, you may be lucky enough to see the spectacle of the Northern Lights. This natural wonder also draws many visitors to Canada and would certainly be one of the many highlights of a Canadian polar bear trip.

The train usually arrives into the little Churchill train station in the morning, giving you time to get your bearings and the chance to photograph unique points of interest, such as the Polar Bear Holding facility—also called “polar bear jail” by locals—an old military hangar on the edge of town where wildlife officers hold nuisance bears who won’t stay out of town until they can be released onto the sea ice.

The Polar Bear Capital of the World

A presentation on polar bears at Polar Bear International House
© Madeline Grant / Frontiers North Adventures

As polar bear central, Churchill acts as a home base for conservation and outreach efforts. Polar Bear International House is a public center, which people can visit to learn about polar bears and polar bear research.

While later in the season, bears often make their way into town, in order to see the polar bears in the summer, you’ll need to board a specially designed Tundra Buggy and journey out into the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA). It was the creation of this original tundra vehicle, the Tundra Buggy, that allowed venturing amongst polar bears in Churchill. Specially designed for the northern landscape, these all-terrain vehicles allow access to remote locations, which are best for safely viewing and photographing wildlife.

Since the number of visitors to the CWMA is highly restricted, your chances of seeing the bears up close is excellent. As well as capturing incredible, up-close photographs of polar bears, you’ll see other wildlife such as arctic fox, ptarmigan, and snowy owl. Fresh Tracks Canada works with Frontiers North to bring you this experience. 

Frontiers North guests taking photos out of the window of the Tundra Buggy
© Canadian Tourism Commission