Welcome to the thrilling heart of the Canadian North—Churchill, Manitoba. Renowned as the ‘Polar Bear Capital of the World’, Churchill offers a unique blend of natural wonders and cultural experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. From polar bear encounters to the majestic aurora borealis painting the nocturnal skies, there are many things to do in Churchill for the wild at heart. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll navigate through the top attractions and hidden treasures of Churchill, giving you insider tips on how to make the most of your visit. Whether you’re looking to embark on a polar bear safari, kayak amongst beluga whales, or dive into the local culture Churchill, Manitoba is your gateway to an unforgettable Arctic adventure.
Things to do in Churchill Manitoba
We have visited Churchill, Manitoba three times. It is a quirky small and isolated town in Canada where nobody locks their doors (car or house) in case they encounter a polar bear and need shelter and where we’ve seen people walking in shorts at 30 below. Dealing with the elements is a way of life here and getting a taste of hearty northern Canadian living makes Churchill Manitoba one of the coolest places to visit in the world.
Churchill, Manitoba is the polar bear capital of the world. Located directly along the Polar Bear Highway, it attracts visitors from all corners of the earth in search of the king of the Arctic. It is the premier place on earth to see polar bears in the wild. When you do make your way to Churchill for the ultimate polar bear experience, be sure to book a day or two before or after your safari to check out all the things to do in Churchill, Manitoba because it will surprise you!
1. Take a Polar Bear Safari
There is no double that the top thing to do in Churchill is to see the polar bears. While most people head out on a tundra vehicle to see polar bears from the safety of a tundra buggy, we travel with Churchill Wild, the only company that takes you out to walk with polar bears. See more at Churchill Wild.
Most people visiting Churchill book Tundra buggy tours from town and this is a good way to see polar bears. We have had the good fortune to not only experience what it is like on a tundra buggy tour while taking Churchill Wild’s Rhinos out in seach or polar bears, but we have also been able to walk with polar bears.
2. Relax at Seal River Heritage Lodge
We visited Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge in winter to see polar bears in their winter setting. It has the best setting on the entire Hudson Bay being the last spot that polar bears wander before heading out onto the Hudson Bay once the waters freeze.
Many visitors don’t even have to leave the comfort of the compound as polar bears walk right by the lodge stopping by the fences to say hello before they are on their way. When the polar bears don’t stop by, we bundle ourselves up to head out on a walk in search of them. There is nothing more exciting than being out in the Arctic wondering what you will encounter around the corner. Check out Churchill Wild for Polar Bear Safaris in Churchill Manitoba.
4. Marvel at the Northern Lights
Many people make specific trips to places like Iceland and Svalbard, Norway, but when visiting Churchill, the northern lights are so frequent in the winter, that you’ll have no problem seeing them on a regular basis. Even in the summer, we had northern lights at Nanuk Lodge. (we were there in late August when days were a bit shorter in the summer). If you haven’t seen the Aurora Borealis with your own eyes, you won’t believe it when you do. To see colorful lights dancing in the sky is truly a spectacular experience. Read more: Best Places To See the Northern Lights in Canada
When traveling with Churchill Wild, our guides kept an eye out for Northern lights and alerted us each night when they were active. So you can go to sleep resting assured that you won’t miss them.
5. Kayak with Beluga Whales
Not only is Churchill the polar bear capital of the world it is also the beluga whale capital of the planet! With so many belugas gracing its waters, there are other ways to go whale watching in Churchill to see the Belugas. You can go Stand-up paddleboarding, and take zodiac tours. Note: snorkeling with beluga whales is no longer allowed.
Churchill is located directly in the migration route of belugas and each year, 30,000 of the 60,000 beluga whales that migrate through the Hudson Bay stop at the mouth of the Churchill River Basin from June to September. They are curious and will bump your boats and play in the wake as you paddle through a sea of white bumps in the ocean.
We had the chance to go kayaking with beluga whales with Sea North Tours and it was one of the most memorable experiences we’ve ever had in our lives. Check out: Kayaking with Beluga Whales in Churchill
6. Fly Over Wapusk National Park
We were lucky to be able to have a scenic flight over Wapusk National Park while flying from Churchill to Nanuk Lodge. If you aren’t staying in a remote Hudson Bay Lodge, you may want to book a helicopter or scenic flight over this incredible National Park. I think we spotted 23 polar bears walking along the shores of Hudson Bay.
To see this sweeping coast from above is an awe-inspiring sight. During your scenic flight, you’ll also see the town of Churchill, the Churchill River, Cape Merry, and Prince of Wales Fort, the Ithaka shipwreck. You can book helicopter tours in Churchill.
7. See the Wolves of the Kaskas Coast
Polar bears aren’t the only wildlife to see in Churchill, we met many people who have visited Churchill many times and during this visit were flying up to the lodge to see the Cloud Wolves of the Kaskas Coast. Making their way to Churchill Wild’s Nanuk Lodge, this Arctic safari not only includes seeing polar bears, but resident packs of cloud wolves that inhabit the boreal forest. At Nanuk you’ll also have the chance to spy on moose!
8. Bird Watching
Who would have thought that the Arctic would be so full of wildlife? It is one of the premier places in Canada to go bird-watching. More than 250 species of birds migrate through or nest in Churchill. The best time to see birds in Churchill is in the summer months. But we saw birds in the winter too. Notable birds to see in Churchill are snowy Owls, hawks, falcons, and tundra swans.
9. Visit The Itsanitaq Museum
One of our favorite things to do in Churchill indoors was ducking into the Itsanitaq Museum. It has an incredible collection of Inuit carvings dating back to 1700 B.C. If you are touring Churchill in winter, it’s also a good place to get out of the cold as it is open year-round. The museum also has a gift shop where you can pick up a souvenir.
Visitors to Churchill will get a deep dive into the history and art of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. The museum not only showcases an extensive collection of Inuit artifacts but also provides educational insights into the traditional lifestyles and spiritual beliefs of the Inuit people. A visit to the Itsanitaq Museum is an essential stop for any traveler looking to understand the region’s indigenous heritage and its continued influence on contemporary culture. Whether you’re a history buff, art enthusiast, or a curious traveler, the Itsanitaq Museum promises a captivating experience amidst the backdrop of the rugged and beautiful Canadian North.
10. Here Be Bears Jewellery and Gifts
When visiting Churchill be sure to stop into the stores to pick up a souvenir. I have an amazing greenstone necklace with a whale tale that I now wear regularly thanks to my purchase in Churchill. We also got some soap and mittens. The jewelry, clothing, and crafts up here are all hand-crafted with care. We popped into all the shops in Churchill including Wapusk General Store, Here Be Bears Jewellery and Gifts, and the Arctic Trading Company.
11. Visit the Polar Bear Jail
As you know, Churchill is the polar bear capital of the world, and citizens have learned to live with polar bears walking through town on a regular basis. While many walk right on through to continue on to the ocean, (with the only evidence of them being there are fresh paw prints in the morning) some polar bears decide to stay and become a threat.
12. Keep an Eye Out for The Polar Bear Hotline
Years ago, they used to shoot bears that came into town, but now they have a polar bear hotline where if someone spots a polar bear, they call a hotline. It is the time to try to scare the bear away from town which usually works.
If it doesn’t, the bear is tranquilized and put into a polar bear holding facility known as the world’s only polar bear jail. Instead of killing the bears that wander into town, they are caught and held for up to 30 days (to deter them from ever coming back). They are then tranquilized and carried far away usually when the ice has formed on the Hudson Bay where they are released back into the wild in time for the ice hunt.
13. Churchill Wall Murals
We took a guided tour through the town where we saw some of the 18 murals spanning 30 km along the Hudson Bay Coast. The murals depict the hardships and life of a northern town to educate and inspire to protect the oceans. The colors make for beautiful displays scattered throughout the town.
14. Say Hi to the Parks Canada Staff
Located in Churchill’s VIA Rail Station, The Parks Canada Visitor Centre houses exhibits about the history of the area’s land and people. The Hudson Bay Company played a huge role in developing the area and the centre displays weapons and gear used by fur traders.
15. Churchill Northern Studies Centre
We took a drive by the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. We didn’t go it, but you can. The Churchill Northern Studies Centre is a non-profit research station offering nature study tours of the sub-arctic. This facility offers University credits and courses, but you can book facility tours too.
16. The Churchill Rocket Research Range
Who would have thought that Churchill had a rocket launcher? The facility was started by the American Space Agency in 1957-1958. We didn’t go to this, but when doing research for things to see in Churchill, I found out about it and wished that I had gone! It was designated a National Heritage Site in 1988 because as it was Canada’s foremost upper atmosphere research center.
17. Miss Piggy Plane Wreck
One of the quirkiest places to visit in Churchill is the Miss Piggy Plane Wreck. The Curtiss C-46 twin-prop cargo aircraft owned by Lamb Airways Ltd got its name of Miss Piggy because cargo planes were often overloaded when flying into Churchill. It crashed just after takeoff on November 13, 1979, after developing engine trouble. It been resting in its place on the edge of a cliff ever since. Today it is covered in graffiti and is one of the most popular things to do in Churchill.
18. Go Dogsledding
There is no doubt that dogs have played a huge role in shaping the north. We have had the chance to go dogsledding on numerous occasions and while visiting Churchill, we stopped at Churchill River Mushing to meet their adorable dogs. You can book dog sledding tours through the northern boreal wilderness in winter.
If you are visiting in the summer months, never fear, you can go dog carting through the boreal forest too! If you don’t want to do a tour, they will also let you visit the dogs. That is what we did during our adventure to Churchill as we were a little short on time and didn’t want to do something we had already done. But if you have never gone dogsledding before, do it in Churchill where dogs were made for this weather.
19. MV Ithica Shipwreck
Another wreck to see in Churchill is the Mv Ithica Shipwreck. Located 19 km (12 miles) east of Churchill, this 1922 steamship ran aground in 1960. The 80-meter long wreck has been sitting off the coast ever since. At low tide, it is completely free of water and you can take a tour out to see it. Note: It is too dangerous to go inside and keep an eye out for polar bears if hiking out. Or better yet, hire a guide who knows what they are doing.
20. Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site
I can only imagine what it was like to build the Prince of Wales Fort built 250 years ago in the harsh elements of Canada’s north. Located on the isolated and unforgiving coast of the Hudson Bay, the remote outpost is a national historic site. It was built as an outpost by the Hudson Bay Company during the fur trade of 1731 – 1771. Sloop Cove and Cave Merry joined the national historic designation in 1933. The Prince of Wales Fort played a key role in gaining control of the territory from the French.
21. Cape Merry National Historic Site
As we said above, Cape Merry was added to the National Historic Designation due to its strategic location and is a good place to head out for panoramic views of Hudson Bay, the Prince of Wales National Historic Site, and the Churchill River. Named after the Deputy Governor of the Hudson Bay Company, John Merry, Cape Merry houses a stone battery, a Commemorative cairn, and a cannon dating back to the 1700s. It is here that Beluga Whales migrate through Churchill, so you’ll even be able to see them from the shore.
22. Spy on Arctic Foxes
Before we move on to more things to do in Churchill, we can’t forget other spectacular arctic wildlife. I know it doesn’t seem as exciting as polar bears, but trust me, seeing a white Arctic fox frolicking in the snow is one of the cutest things you’ll ever see in your life.
We also loved seeing red foxes play. They seemed to tease the polar bears as if they were saying “just try to catch me if you can!”
The Arctic fox is so prevalent in the Churchill area, that when we were visiting Seal River Lodge, National Geographic was there filming them for weeks at a time!
23. Black Bears
Nanuk Lodge is Churchill Wild’s most remote lodge located in the heart of Canada’s Boreal Forest on one side and the Arctic waters of Hudson Bay on the other, this is a lodge that is best for seeing an array of wildlife. Book your Polar Bear Trip with Churchill Wild here.
But the Arctic fox isn’t the only wildlife we saw in Churchill Wild’s lodges, we saw Arctic Hare, black bears, a wolf, seals and moose. It is Canada’s safari capital. Read: Adorable Tundra Animals – The Canadian Arctic Comes to Life
24. Walk with Polar Bears in Summer
What sets this polar bear safari apart is that once our guides spot a polar bear from our tundra vehicle (called a rhino) we all get out from the safety of the vehicle start walking. It is the most incredible feeling to see a polar bear up close in the summertime as it basks in the sun munching on blueberries.
We saw several polar bears during our time at Nanuk Lodge, but one moment was truly special when a mama polar bear allowed us the privilege of watching her take care of her cub as they played in the surf. If she didn’t want us there, she’d either leave or stand her ground. While we sat in silence witnessing this beauty, she was content to give us a glimpse into her life.
ill during this period is a must for anyone looking to marvel at these kings of the Arctic in their natural setting. Remember to book your tours early, as this peak season draws visitors from around the globe, all converging on this small town for an unforgettable encounter with Churchill’s most famous inhabitants.
The best time to see Polar Bears in Churchill
The best time to witness the majestic Churchill polar bears in their natural habitat is during the fall months, particularly in October and November. This is when these magnificent creatures start their migration towards the shores of Hudson Bay, waiting for the ice to form so they can begin their annual seal hunt. However, we have had amazing encounters in August when moms and cubs are relaxing on the shores of Hudson Bay. It is a unique experience to see the contrast of polar bears white coats with the green tundra landscape.
We visited both in August, October, and November. In July and August, you should go to a remote lodge. We visited Nanuk Lodge with Churchill Wild and it truly was a spectacular experience walking with polar bears.
Where to Eat in Churchill
Churchill had a surprising selection of restaurants that we had the chance to sample during our two trips up north.
Ptarmigan on the Tundra – Tundra Pub – offers locally sourced food from Arctic Char to Elk, and they have a vegetarian burger on the menu too. This has a relaxing pub atmosphere. Lazy Bear Cafe – Lazy Bear Café is a good place to sample food indigenous to the regions, where they use locally sourced ingredients such as Arctic char, wild berries, bison, and elk. Seaport Hotel – There are a few options at the Seaport Hotel including the Dark Side Sports Bar, Captain’s Cove Lounge for live music and the Reef Restaurant and Coffee Shop. Dancing Bear –
Where to Stay in Churchill
We didn’t stay in Churchill as we stayed at local lodges with Churchill Wild. Churchill Wild has three lodges on Hudson Bay all with their own unique experiences. Nanuk Lodge, Seal River Heritage Lodge, and Diamond Lake Lodge. But if you are traveling independently, there are B&Bs and motels in Churchill. Here are a few to choose from.
Seaport Hotel – Good base for Churchill with on site restaurants and bars. Check rates and availability on TripAdvisor Iceberg Inn – Closest hotel to the train station with affordable simple and clean rooms. Check rates and availability on TripAdvisor Churchill B&B – A private B&B situated a little away from the downtown core. Check rates and availability on TripAdvisor Tundra Inn Lodge – In the heart of Churchill with restaurant located across the street. Check rates and availability on TripAdvisor Check out all Lodges and BnBs in Churchill on TripAdvisor
How to Pack for Churchill Manitoba
We visited Churchill in both the summer and winter months and packing is very different for both. But the rules remain the same, pack layers with windproof and waterproof clothing. Here is how we packed. We are going to put together a complete packing list, but to get you started here are our recommendations.
Spring, Fall, and Winter in Churchill
We visited Churchill in late fall and it has been different each time. Once was below minus 40 with the windchill and another was hovering around -5 to -10 degrees Celsius. When going on a polar bear safari, the outfitter will check to make sure that your clothing is warm enough, if not, you will have to rent a parka, boots, etc. Heading up to Churchill in the winter months requires heavy-duty winter clothing. Check out 5 Winter Layering Tips to Dress for the Deep Freeze
Churchill Wild Safaris supplies Parkas, snowbanks, and boots so all you need to pack are your merino woll base layers, winter hats, balaclava, goggles, mittens and socks.
Parka Insulated Snow pants Winter boots Mittens Glove liners Goggles Winter hat Mereno Wool Base Layer – top and bottoms Thick Wool Socks Mid layer fleece or wool sweaters / pants Sunglasses Hand and Toe Warmers Lip Balm
Summer in Churchill
Even in the summer months, Churchill gets cold. Especially at night. You will want to pack a good windproof outer layer with varying degrees of mid and base layers. Check out Travel Tips for Winter Packing
Hiking boots Wind and waterproof jacket Wind and waterproof pants to wear over regular pants Fleece sweater Long johns / merino wool base layer tuque/hat peak hat or tilly hat bug jacket Short and long-sleeved t-shirts Bug repellent and/or bug jacket Hat and sunglasses
How to Get to Churchill
No roads lead to Churchill Manitoba, the only way to get to Churchill Manitoba is by rail or plane.
Note: You can no longer take photographs on the tarmac of the runway in Churchill. Phones and cameras must be put away.
Calm Air – We flew Calm Air from Winnipeg to get to Churchill. Make sure to pack your stuff in duffel bags that are easily pliable. And there are weight restrictions. We found that putting our camera gear in our coat pockets and carrying our lenses helped us get through the weight restrictions at security. We had our flights booked with our tour operator, Churchill Wild.
Via Rail offers train service from Winnipeg to Churchill on Sundays and Tuesdays – it takes 48 hours by train to get to Churchill.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. These are all of the things to do in Churchill Manitoba including your polar bear safari and places to see after or before. It is truly a spectacular destination that is one of the final frontiers of adventure travel. If you are looking for an interesting and life-changing trip, consider Churchill for your next epic adventure.
During the Polar Bear migrations, the town of Churchill, Manitoba, becomes a bustling hub for wildlife enthusiasts eager to catch a glimpse of the bears in the wild. The cooler temperatures and the gathering of bears provide an optimal window for viewing, making it an unparalleled experience for any nature lover. As the world’s premier destination for polar bear sightings, planning a trip to Churchill is an adventure you’ll never forget!