A Churchill Calendar: What to see and when?


Polar bear in Churchill - Credit: William Au

Manitoba's remote outpost of Churchill, located high up in the North of the province on the shores of Hudson Bay, is a huge draw for nature lovers with addiction to adventure. Word has spread that polar bears can be seen here in the fall, but Churchill has much more to offer ̶ in all seasons!


In Churchill, the year begins with a breathtaking colorful spectacle of nature! In February and March, when the Northern night sky is starlit, temperatures are freezing and the darkness couldn't be darker, conditions are just perfect to catch a glimpse of the magical dance of the Aurora Borealis. As if someone has switched on the light, emerald green bands of light suddenly swirl magically through the black night sky. They spin around their own axis, slowly at first, then faster and faster. Due to its location directly under the Aurora Oval, Churchill is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. There are several ways for visitors to view them: For a wonderful 360° panoramic view, head under the Aurora Dome at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, a research and educational facility on the coast of Hudson Bay. On an Aurora tour with Discover Churchill, you are on stand by and will be given a call when the Northern Lights come out at night. Or wait for them in the cozy yurt of Nanuk Operations in the middle of the woods. If you prefer to be en route, join a Tundra Buggy® tour by Frontiers North Adventures across the frozen Churchill River to their Thanadelthur Lounge, positioned away from the lights of town for Aurora viewing . This adventure even includes an evening at Dan’s Diner, an exclusive culinary experience on the frozen river banks.


Northern Lights in Churchill - Credit: Travel Manitoba

In May and June, it's birding time! Over 250 species of Arctic birds nest at the estuary of the Churchill River on the shores of Hudson Bay or cross the region on their annual spring migration. Guided tours by local tour operators invite birdwatchers to catch a glimpse of red-throated divers, Arctic terns, eiders, sanderlings, plovers, hawk skuas, snow geese and gulls. The hardest bird to find is the rare roseate gull. Depending on the weather, a boat tour can be an adventurous alternative to look for birds while the skipper dodges artfully shaped ice floes.


Subarctic bird - Credit: Travel Manitoba

Summer flushes legions of white mammals into Hudson Bay, as more than 50,000 beluga whales spend the warm season in the bay. About 5,000 of these friendly marine mammals come to the Churchill River and Seal River estuaries in July and August to give birth to their young. Visitors can view the playful white whales in various ways: On a boat tour, the belugas’ singing becomes audible thanks to underwater microphones. By Zodiac, you can get even a little closer to the friendly whales. Join a paddling tour by kayak if you prefer to encounter whale pods without the disturbing noise of an engine. And if you don't mind the cold water of Hudson Bay, you can enjoy Beluga AquaGliding™ by Lazy Bear Expeditions. Protected by a warming wetsuit, you can get up close and personal with the whales. They are curious, swim around the visitors and give them their friendly "beluga smile". Local operators like Sea North Tours organize day trips for beluga watching by boat, kayak or even paddleboard. Other operators, like Frontiers North Adventures or Churchill Wild, offer multi-day programs and take their guests on a full Sub-Arctic summer safari in the Churchill area.


Kayaking with beluga whales in Churchill - Credit: Travel Manitoba

But now - finally - the polar bears! Churchill, self-proclaimed "Polar Bear Capital of the World," is the best accessible place in the world to see polar bears in the wild. And that’s not only in the fall, just before winter arrives, but also in summer! The time of travel should be chosen according to the scenery in which you wish to experience these mighty animals. Those who shy away from cold weather will certainly have more fun observing polar bears in summer. The months of July and August are best for this. Typically, however, the bears do not show up near the townsite of Churchill at this time of the year, but further out on the coast of Hudson Bay. Local tour operator Lazy Bear Expeditions offers a wonder summer safari, their Ultimate Bears & Belugas Summer Adventure, which includes a full-day excursion by jet boat along the coast to Hubbard Point in the North of Churchill. Here, polar bears like to stretch their mighty paws into the icy waters of the Bay to cool off, or lounge in the beautiful scenery of pink fireweed. Also Churchill Wild offers summer polar bear programs at two of their remote eco-wilderness lodges, where guests join experienced guides on a walking safari on foot!


Polar bears in fireweed at the coast of Hudson Bay - Credit: Dennis Fast (Courtesy of Travel Manitoba)

If you dream of seeing polar bears in a white snowy landscape, you should come to Churchill in October or November. This is the time of the year when hundreds of polar bears migrate from their summer habitats in the tundra to the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill, where they wait for the Bay to freeze over again. Where the Churchill River empties into Hudson Bay, the water’s salinity is lower than elsewhere, which allows the ice to form first. The young male bears enjoy sparing with their mates, showing off how big and strong they are. Visitors can watch this fascinating spectacle from bear-proof tundra vehicles of specialized operators like Frontiers North Adventures, Lazy Bear Expeditions or Great White Bear Tours. Your heart may beat a little faster when the largest land predator on earth slowly approaches and curiously sniffs at the unusual visitors. If you’re looking for a more personalized and intimate experience and focus on photography and videography, join Discover Churchill on a polar bear tour by 4x4 vehicle. For those seeking even more thrills, Churchill Wild's remote eco-wilderness lodges also offer guided hikes in the fall to explore polar bear habitat on foot.


Tundra Buggy of Frontiers North Adventures - Credit: Frontiers North Adventures

No matter the season, Churchill offers adventures second to none!


Further information on Manitoba and Churchill can be found at www.travelmanitoba.com.

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