A trip to Churchill in Northern Manitoba is not the easiest trip in the world. It can be expensive. There are limited transportation options...and even more limited seasons. But guess what? A visit to this very special region is absolutely worth your trouble. To help you along your journey, here's everything you need to know about visiting Churchill in the summer months:
When to go?
July and August, with some tours extending into early September.
What to see?
Known as the "canaries of the sea" for their underwater whistles and chirps, beluga whales are notoriously friendly and curious creatures. Each summer, up to 60,000 of these amazing animals make their way to the Hudson Bay to feed and birth, 4,000 of which enter the Churchill River Estuary. There are a number of ways that you can experience this natural wonder:
Kayaking: You can hear a blowing breath right behind you? No doubt, that’s a beluga whale!
3 hour kayaking excursions with beluga whales are offered through Lazy Bear Expeditions and
Stand-up paddleboarding: Get a new vantage point atop an SUP (stand-up paddleboard) with Sea North Tours. The belugas may laugh at your balance, but a little hurt pride is a small price to pay for an unforgettable experience.
Beluga AquaGliding™: This experience with Lazy Bear Expeditions gets you closer to the water, allowing you to glide along the surface on a floating mat as beluga whales swim in the river.
Zodiac or Boat: Jump on a Zodiac for a closer look or take a boat tour of the bay. Several companies offer these experiences in their packages. Lazy Bear Expeditions‘ brand new flagship vessel Matonabee even features underwater viewing windows! You can also do Zodiac or boat tours à la carte with Sea North Tours. The Conservation Journey: Beluga Whales tour by Frontiers North Adventures combines authentic field education and adventure for a unique opportunity to experience Churchill’s coastal waters with leading beluga whale researcher and marine mammal scientist, Dr Valeria Vergara. Learn about beluga whale biology, ocean health and beluga behaviour as you come face-to-face with these friendly mammals in their natural habitat by Zodiac.
Summer may not be polar bear season (that title is reserved for October and November), but you still have a good chance to see bears as they lounge on the shorelines and play in the vibrant fireweed.
Join an exclusive tour with Churchill Wild during the beautiful Subarctic summer to witness snow-white bears spending the warmer months in the Tundra on the shore of Hudson Bay. During this special experience, you’ll stay at one of their remote fly-in wilderness lodges enjoying guided tundra treks to view polar bears and other Subarctic wildlife, up-close-and-personal, in their natural habitat.
Alternatively, head into the Hudson Bay on the Matonabee customised vessel for a Lazy Bear Expedition, where the polar bears can be viewed after leaving the melting sea ice. During the summer season, Polar Bears can be seen swimming, exploring around the rocks and wildflowers, as well as sunbathing along the shore. Weather and wildlife permitting, you’ll have the chance to disembark the boat to walk where polar bears roam.
While peak northern lights season occurs from January to March, Churchill sees the sky light up with the aurora borealis 300 days a year, which means there's a pretty good chance you'll see them on your late summer trip to Churchill. The trick is to download the aurora app to track activity, keep an eye on the forecast (clear skies are necessary) and be prepared to stay up late or set an alarm for the middle of the night when the sky is at its darkest.
If you're a birding enthusiast, you may want to consider a trip to Churchill in the spring when activity is at its peak. But that's not to say you can't see an abundance of birds in the summer months, too. Keep your eyes peeled for hawks, falcons, snowy owls, tundra swans and of course the rare Ross's Gull.
Every summer, the tundra comes alive with colour as the fireweed blooms and the snow gives way to the orange lichen, miniature shrubs, scarlet bearberries and glacier-sculpted boulders that lay scattered across this unique landscape.
What else to do?
Hike the coast and tundra:
Explore this remote, breathtaking region of Canada and its rich history on a Discover Churchill Ithaka Shipwreck Hike. This incredible low tide hike takes you out to the MV Ithaka shipwreck, a freighter that ran aground in 1960 half a mile off the coast in the middle of polar bear country.
Discover Prince of Wales Fort’s harbour on the Parks Canada Sloop Cove hike. Zip in a Zodiac to Sloop Cove where you’ll be introduced to Hudson’s Bay Company men through their signatures – 18th century graffiti – engraved into stones. Hike in their footsteps across tundra ablaze with wildflowers, four kilometres along the shores of Hudson’s Bay, watching for seabirds, beluga whales and fossils dating back hundreds of millions of years.
Summer dog carting
Who says you can’t dog sled in summer? Indigenous owned Wapusk Adventures offers a very special dog carting tour – no snow required. Join Dave Daley and his team for an educational talk about these gorgeous canines, Métis culture and life in Churchill Manitoba, followed by an exhilarating dog cart ride through the boreal forest.
The tiny town of Churchill is brimming with history and an eclectic local culture that will make you fall in love with this colourful community. Take a cultural tour of the township with North Star Tours so you don’t miss any of the highlights, including the Polar Bear Holding Facility (also known as ‘Polar Bear Jail’) on the outskirts of town. Once a military morgue, this special building is now a holding station for ‘troublesome’ bears who wander into town, before they are relocated back into the wild.
Cape Merry, overlooking the Churchill River, offers sweeping views of the town, Hudson Bay and the Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site.
Visit the Itsanitaq Museum to see some of the world’s finest collections of Inuit carvings and artifacts, dating back as far as 1700 BC.
Discover the inspirational street art of Churchill, called SeaWalls CHURCHILL, led by celebrated local artist Kal Barteski. These colourful murals are designed to educate on the need to protect the world’s oceans.
Further information on Manitoba and Churchill can be found at www.travelmanitoba.com.