Get Up Close to Polar Bears in Churchill, Manitoba

For a truly unique getaway, try rubbing shoulders with the polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba — the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”.

From mid-October through November, this tiny burg on the western shore of immense Hudson Bay is home to one of the world's largest concentrations of polar bears. The great animals gather here until Hudson Bay freezes over, which means they can move out onto the ice and hunt for seals.

During fall, bears often wander into town. A polar bear patrol catches the animals, and the more troublesome bears are held in the local — polar bear jail — until the bay freezes over.

Getting to Churchill is as challenging as rounding up polar bears, which weigh an average of 1,320 pounds, stand about 10 feet tall and have no natural predators, making them absolutely fearless.

You see, there are no roads to Churchill, which has a population that ranges from 800 to 1,000 people, depending on the season. To get there, you either have to fly in or take a Via Rail Canada train from Thompson, which is 769 miles north of Winnipeg and some 300 miles southwest of Churchill. Talk about getting off the beaten path!

I boarded the train in Thompson about 7:30 p.m. and arrived in Churchill around 10 a.m. the next day.

The train offers a nice dining car, different types of sleeper cars and a reclining seat area. I was traveling with friends, so we shared a room with six to eight beds — it was like a moving slumber party.

To see the bears, you head out on the tundra in custom-built four-wheel-drive vehicles that travel on 5-foot-tall tires. They're heated and offer rest rooms and outdoor decks, but you must stay inside when the bears are near.

There's no guarantee you'll see bears, but the drivers are in contact with spotters by radio and can usually find at least one. Sometimes the bears stand up and try to look inside your vehicle — you'll definitely want to close your window! We saw several bears during the daylong outing.

Watching them was one of the most fascinating things I have ever experienced. They usually sleep and playfully fight in 45-minute and 25-minute cycles, respectively.

I'll never forget seeing these animals in their native habitat.

Before You Visit

Churchill is in northeast Manitoba, about 300 miles northeast of Thompson. To learn more about the city call the Churchill Chamber of Commerce at 1-888-389-2327.

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