Bucket List: Seeing Polar Bears in Churchill Manitoba

Bucket List: Seeing Polar Bears in Churchill Manitoba

Polar Bears in Churchill Manitoba

I have loved polar bears since I took an elementary school field trip to the National Zoo. I thought they were just fascinating and utterly adorable.  Some years later, when they closed the polar bear exhibit, the zoo became significantly less enjoyable for me.

Oddly enough, a visit to the Baltimore Zoo re-kindled my love for polar bears and put this particular trip on my Bucket List.  The polar bear exhibit there showcased the town of Churchill in Manitoba, Canada (population 800).  Churchill sees an influx of polar bears (and tourists) every year between late October and early November. Churchill enjoys a reputation as the Polar Bear Capital of the World, among other things.

Polar Bears churchill manitoba canada
Photo via Flickr by Emma Bishop

The polar bears in Churchill Manitoba gather at nearby Cape Churchill waiting for ice to form on Hudson Bay. Once the ice is stable, they head out to spend the winter hunting seals. That’s when tourists are able to go out in a special vehicle called a tundra buggy. Polar bears can get close to the buggies (and, therefore, the tourists!) without jeopardizing anyone’s safety. They’re strong animals, but they aren’t strong enough to knock one of these over!

polar bear churchill manitoba tundra buggy
Photo of a tundra buggy via Flickr by Emma Bishop

As you can imagine, living in close proximity to such fearsome hunters means that certain precautions must be taken for safety.  For instance, on Halloween, children cannot wear all-white costumes (such as a ghost), and residents patrol every street. Many residents leave their cars unlocked in case someone needs emergency shelter from a polar bear.

Local authorities even have a “polar bear jail” to hold bears who persistently loiter in or close to town. Authorities release the detainees back into the wild when the bay freezes over.

polar bears in churchill manitoba
Photo of the Polar Bear Jail via Flickr by Emma Bishop.

A lot of the places in Churchill offering polar bear expeditions do a full package with lodging and everything else.  They run in the $5000 range, which I think is a bit steep.  And my Grand Canyon experience has made me leery of spending multiple days in locations that are not highly populated.

Thankfully, you can do a tundra buggy day trip in the fall polar bear season for less than $500 per person. That seems a tad more manageable.

Have you ever been on one of these polar bear sightings? I’d love to hear about it!


polar bears in churchill manitoba
There are few places outside of a zoo where you can get an up close look at polar bears. Churchill Manitoba is one of those places.


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