For decades Churchill’s autumn polar bear season has taken centre stage as the chosen time of year to visit this little hamlet on Manitoba’s northern coast. But we’re here to tell you that there is so much more to Churchill than polar bears. Dine under breath-taking northern lights in winter, witness exceptional landscapes and wildlife in the summer, and find out why Churchill is considered the "Polar Bear Capital of the World" with an autumn adventure.
Tour Season: February and March Temperature: -27˚C to -20˚C (-13˚F to -3˚F)
The winter travel season is Churchill’s best kept secret and we're here to spread the word. During these admittedly chilly winter months Churchill has very little in terms of wildlife to view, but what it does have makes it all worth the trip.
Churchill is located directly below the Auroral Oval making it one of the best places in the world to view the dancing northern lights. Although it is technically possible to see the northern lights at any time of year in Churchill, February and March in particular are known as the best months due to the relatively low chance of cloud cover during the cold, crisp nights.
There are many different ways to view the northern lights in Churchill. Hop on board a Tundra Buggy and travel across the frozen Churchill River to Thanadelthur Lounge (pictured above), a warm and cozy haven with a gorgeous panoramic view of the surrounding landscape and the night sky; spend the evening at a working dog sled yard complete with a traditional teepee—a perfect backdrop for photos and an excellent place to warm up by listening to stories around the fire within; or be one of the lucky few to experience a remote culinary experience like no other at Dan’s Diner (pictured below), a pop-up restaurant nestled on the banks of the frozen Churchill River.
If the dancing night sky isn’t enough to pique your interest (but seriously, it should be) there are also many cultural and learning experiences that Churchill has to offer: Churchill’s famed Itsanitaq Museum is home to one of Canada’s finest Inuit collections dating from pre-Dorset, Dorset, Thule and modern Inuit times; the Parks Canada Visitor Centre has incredible wildlife dioramas and fur trade exhibits that tell the story of Churchill; an afternoon of snowshoeing through the boreal forest showcases the beauty of the surrounding area; and of course no visit to Churchill would be complete without an interpretive program with a local Métis dog musher, including a mile-long dog sled ride across crisp snow.
Tour Season: July and August Temperature: 10˚C to 12˚C (51˚F to 54˚F)
If cold weather is not your cup of tea, maybe Churchill’s incredible summer wildlife and landscapes will be more up your alley.
During the summer months of July and August Churchill is teeming with colourful flowers, droves of migrating birds and a multitude of northern wildlife. But the crown jewel of Churchill’s summer season are the thousands of belugas whales that swim into the Churchill River estuary to feed, give birth and generally just be their super curious and friendly selves.
So you want to see the whales, but how? Churchill has lots of options to offer. Choose your level of adventure by boarding a boat or Zodiac, get closer to the action by hopping in a kayak or feel the current beneath your feet on a paddle board. There’s no wrong way to commune with these vocal visitors.
©John Gunter/Frontiers North Adventures
Now that you’ve spent time on the water, it’s time to head inland to see all the other amazing wildlife that a Churchill summer has to show you. Hop on a Tundra Buggy as it makes its way into the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA), the summer and autumn resting area of Churchill’s famous polar bears. But it’s not just bears! Caribou, arctic hare, a wide variety of foxes and more birds than you can imagine all can be found in this enormous protected area.
Summer in Churchill also offers more chances to get on the ground to explore the incredible landscapes. Follow in the footsteps of northern explorers on a tour of Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site (only accessible in summer), enjoy a guided hike to the shipwrecked Ithaca on the tidal flats of Hudson Bay, or whip through the lush boreal forest on a custom-made cart pulled by a team of experienced sled dogs.
Tour Season: October and November Temperature: -13˚C to -2˚C (9˚F to 29˚F)
As you may already know, Churchill is most well known for being the Polar Bear Capital of the World. This is due to the large population of polar bears that migrate through the Churchill Wildlife Management Area during the summer and autumn as they await the freezing of the Hudson Bay. In fact, this is the most accessible population of polar bears in the world.
During October and November you can see these huge white beasts from the comfort of a Tundra Buggy. These custom-built vehicles were specially designed not only to navigate the rocky terrain of the CWMA, but more importantly to provide a safe way for tourists to get up close and personal with polar bears and other incredible northern wildlife in their natural habitat.
The CWMA is breathtaking at any time of year, but autumn really demonstrates how this vast landscape can change. Early autumn (October to early November) on the tundra showcases beautiful fall hues of red, orange and yellow. Polar bears stand out against these incredible colours making for lovely photos with lots of colour. Late autumn (mid-November and on) is a completely different story; ice and snow blanket the area, providing the crisp white backdrop you might be more familiar with when picturing polar bears. If you’re planning on visiting Churchill make sure to keep this in mind to get the photos you are after.
Yes, polar bears are the main draw for autumn visitors, but don’t forget about everything else that Churchill has to offer! Dash through the snow on an amazing dog sled ride through the boreal forest, get lost in history while studying ancient Inuit artifacts at the Itsanitaq Museum and learn about Churchill’s role in Canada’s fur trade at the Parks Canada Visitor Centre.
©Frontiers North Adventures
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Header Image: ©Abby Matheson