MANITOBA — If you’re planning your next big summer adventure, it’s prime time to look north — way up north. Nestled near the border of Manitoba and Nunavut is the town of Churchill, known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World. But there’s far more to this sub-Arctic outpost than clichéd Canadian chills.
In fact, summer in Churchill is when many of nature’s wonders unfold. Just as the polar bears start leaving the melting sea ice, some 60,000 beluga whales fill Hudson Bay, the largest concentration of whales in the world.
All this makes Churchill a major bucket-list destination for adventurous travelers. Heightening its mystique is its remote location: The town is 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, the province’s capital, and is accessible only by air and rail, yet visitors from around the world make the trek each year.
Thinking of joining their ranks? Consider exploring with an experienced Arctic safari company like Lazy Bear Expeditions. They’ve introduced thousands of people to the region for more than 34 years and know how to turn a visit to Churchill into the trip of a lifetime. Here are some activities and experiences they recommend to get the most out of this unique Manitoban town.
Kayak or Glide with Beluga Whales
Picture this: kayaking through warm, near-coastal waters as beluga whales swim alongside you. Summer is when thousands of whales converge in the Churchill River and the western part of Hudson Bay to mate and feast on schools of caplin, Arctic char, and brook trout. It’s not unusual to come across superpods, or large gatherings of the whales. Kayaking is a great way to get up close and watch them in their natural habitat. But fear not: The whales are very friendly and will sometimes trail behind you as you paddle. (So welcoming!) The adventure is safe for beginners, as the focus is less on mastering a kayak and more on spending quality time with the whales.
If you want to up the thrill, get onto an inflatable AquaGlider instead. You’ll find yourself lying flat on your stomach, observing the ever-curious beluga whales, who in turn love to come and observe you, their funny-looking visitors. Either way, you’ll be equipped with the essentials, including a wetsuit with a life jacket or a dry suit, depending on your preference. All you need is a bathing suit or thermal clothing. Both kayak and AquaGlider expeditions run three hours and include a short instructional session.
Walk Where Polar Bears Roam
Spotting polar bears in their natural habitat is a rarity, which is why Churchill has earned its title as the Polar Bear Capital of the World. An estimated 1,000 polar bears in the region draw wildlife enthusiasts from across the globe. But this isn’t your typical polar bear scene. In the summer, bears can be spotted swimming and walking around the rocks and wildflowers. For a truly immersive experience, the Ultimate Arctic Summer Adventure is a five-day adventure that includes a Hudson Bay Coastal Tour on a custom-built, Transport Canada-certified boat that lets you get right down to the water level to observe the bears. If the weather is right, you can disembark and walk in the footsteps of polar bears. Those are big shoes to fill.
See the Northern Lights
Churchill is also famous for its lit nightlife — Northern Lights, that is. The town sits directly beneath the aurora oval, making it one of the world’s premiere viewing destinations for the aurora borealis. About 300 nights each year, the sky emits dancing curtains of glowing light, the result of a natural phenomenon produced by a collision of atoms and particles in the upper atmosphere. The effect is nothing short of spectacular, with rainbows of colors flashing across the night sky. Nights in the summer might be shorter, but they’re also warmer, making the resplendent light show even more incredible.
If you’re yearning for nature and adventure, this is the year to check Churchill off your bucket list. After you’re done being greeted by the friendly belugas and meeting the kings of the north, the majestic polar bears, take in the landlocked wreck of the MV Ithaca, venture to the enormous sea wall murals, or travel by helicopter over the remote northern wilderness. No matter where in the Churchill area your adventures take you, Lazy Bear Expeditions will make it unforgettable.