Wildlife enthusiasts know that Manitoba is one of the most magical places in the world to visit in the autumn months. And it's not for the wicked fall foliage. 1000 kilometres north of capital city Winnipeg lies the northern port town of Churchill, made famous by its annual congregation of polar bears. Plan your once-in-a-lifetime trek north with this ultimate guide.
When to go
October and November*
*Mid-October to Mid-November tends to be the ideal time to visit
What you can see
If you've been wanting to find out why Churchill is known as the polar bear capital of the world, October and November are the time to visit. Polar bears are beginning to gather in the area to wait for the big freeze - when they can travel onto the ice of the Hudson Bay to hunt for seal (polar bears don't hibernate).
While peak northern lights season occurs from January to March, Churchill sees the sky light up with the aurora borealis 300 days a year. In other words, you'll definitely want to keep an eye on 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.
Come for the polar bears, stay for the (other) wildlife! Don't be surprised if arctic fox, snowy owls, wolves and ptarmigan catch the attention of your camera lens.
Other things to do
Cape Merry provides one of the best views in Churchill, overlooking the Churchill River, Hudson Bay and the Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site. A FREE guided tour of Cape Merry will provide an in depth look at this historic spot and BONUS, bookings are not required at this time of the year.
Meet the dogs and embark on a quintessential winter activity: dog sledding! With snowfall coming rather early in northern Manitoba (compared to the rest of the province, that is), you can enjoy flying through picturesque scenes with one of Churchill's three dogsledding companies: Wapusk Adventures, Churchill River Mushing and Bluesky Expeditions.
This unassuming museum is open year-round and features one of the world's finest collections of Inuit carvings and artifacts. These delicate and intricate works of art date back to Pre-Dorset (1700 BC) times.
Sea Walls Murals
Initiated and led by celebrated Manitoban artist Kal Barteski, SeaWalls CHURCHILL is a collection of murals that not only inspire but also educate on the need to protect the world's oceans. The murals can be accessed by a self-guided driving tour.
Don't leave Churchill without finding that perfect trip keepsake. Must-shops include the Arctic Trading Company, Fifty Eight North and Wapusk General Store. Keep an eye on the Churchill Creative Collective Facebook page for upcoming pop-up markets from local artisans.
While a DIY option is readily available in the summer months, we recommend booking a package tour during the busier polar bear season. Tour packages will typically cover your transportation from Winnipeg, all your meals, accommodations and excursions. Check out these awesome options!
Lazy Bear Expeditions: Ultimate Polar Bear Adventure
Natural Habitat Adventures: Classic Polar Bear Adventure, Classic Polar Bear Photo Adventure, Ultimate Churchill Adventure, Tundra Lodge & Town Adventure, Tundra Lodge Adventure, Churchill Arctic Family Adventure
Frontiers North: Autumn Family Adventure, Churchill Town and Tundra Adventurer, Churchill Town and Tundra Enthusiast, Churchill Town and Tundra VIA Rail Enthusiast, Conservation Journey: Polar Bears, One Day Polar Bear Adventure, Polar Bears at Legendary Cape Churchill, Tundra Buggy Lodge Enthusiast, Tundra Buggy Lodge Specialist, Tundra Buggy Lodge VIA Rail Enthusiast
If you haven't managed to nab a spot on a packaged tour this year, there are still ways to visit Churchill in DIY style. This option is best for travellers with flexibility and requires planning ahead of time, as many hotels will be booked solid well in advance.
Flights: A flight with Calm Air from Winnipeg to Churchill takes approximately 2 hours. Some flights stop in Rankin Inlet, which adds a few hours onto the trip total. (tip: if you have Airmiles and are flying within Manitoba, try searching Winnipeg to Churchill. Typically, flights cost 1400 points, but the seats go quickly. During the week is your best option for finding flights.)
Train: Via Rail offers train service from Winnipeg to Churchill, leaving every Sunday and Tuesday from the VIA Rail Station in Winnipeg and arriving in Churchill 48 hours later. From Churchill, the train departs every Thursday and Saturday. Multiple cabin levels are available. Another option is to combine a train trip and flight with one-way trips!
For getting around town: Tamarack Car Rentals
If you do find yourself in Churchill during this busy season, here are several options to take if you aren't already on a packaged tour.
Frontiers North: Tundra Buggy Day Tours
Nature 1st Tours: Half Day and Full Day Churchill Tours
Hudson Bay Helicopters: Helicopter Tours
Nanuk Operations: Polar Bears & Wildlife
North Star Tours: Town and Area Tour, Private Guiding, MV Ithaca Hike
Discover Churchill: Wildlife and Nature Photography Tours + Ithaca Hike, contact for more details
Great White Bear Tours: Day Tour
Sub-arctic Explorers: Full and half day tours, MH Ithaca, snowmobiling
Where to stay
With limited accommodations in the town of Churchill, it's best to make your reservations as far ahead of time as possible.
Where to eat
For more on summer in Churchill, visit our website!