Polar bear watching in Canada

Seeing polar bears in their natural habitat is one of the most sought after holidays in Canada and the good news is that it could well be one of the first trips to Canada able to take place from the UK again in 2021.

The best time to see these incredible animals is in the autumn; the bears descend upon the shores of Hudson Bay as they move from their summer habitat on the tundra and head to the pack ice. Churchill in Manitoba, perched on the shores of Hudson Bay, is often referred to as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” and from where there is easily accessible and reliable bear watching.

Polar bear in the snow

You can see polar bears out on the tundra in the summer months, but the prime viewing season is in October and November.

If you do plan to view the bears in October or November, it can get very cold in Northern Canada so you need to be prepared. In October, the average temperature is -1.4 °C, while in November it can drop down to -12.5°C. So you will need lots of layers of clothing, good boots and a hat. TIP: you can rent insulated clothing such as a parka and snow/ski trousers, which will save on luggage space!

Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River Heritage Lodge

Did you know….?

  • Polar bears are the biggest land-based carnivores on the planet – they are 7-8 feet long from head to tail, and weigh-in from 900-1500lbs on average!
  • As the bears spend most of their time around water and ice, they are actually considered marine mammals.
  • A polar bear’s fur is thicker than any other bears’, with a thick layer of blubber beneath which provides insulation and buoyancy, making them ideally suited to their icy habitats.
  • Polar bears generally live and hunt alone; their main prey are ringed or bearded seals but they do eat bowhead and beluga whale carcasses, as well as walrus.
  • Mating between the bears mostly takes place on the sea ice from April until late June and the females usually give birth in winter, after which the cubs stay with them for more than two years. Their drink her milk for at least 20 months, so successful hunting is crucial for the cubs to survive.
  • Polar bears communicate using vocalisation, scent markings and body language. The head wagging from side to side usually is playful and they touch noses when a bear asks another for food. Sniffing and snorting with a slightly lowered head signals aggression while loud growls are warnings. If a polar bear charges forward with its head lowered and ears back, they are ready to attack.

Sparring polar bears

Another little-known fact is that adult male polar bears do not hibernate and along with non-pregnant females, they hunt throughout the year. The pregnant females dig a snow den, mostly in snowdrifts near sea ice, to give birth and then emerge about three months later.

Polar bear mother and cub

There are many ways to view the magnificent polar bear depending on the time you have available and your budget. In the summer you can fly-in to a beautiful eco-lodge and see the bears alongside other wildlife, such as beluga whales or head to the far northern coast of Hudson Bay where you can see the highest concentration of mother and cubs in particular at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

In Churchill, in the peak viewing times of October and November, one of the best ways to see the bears is from a specially constructed Tundra Buggy® where capacity ranges from 18 to 40 people, with the cost varying accordingly. There are also holidays where you can sleep out on the tundra in a converted buggy, a quite amazing experience.

Churchill Polar Bears from Tundra Buggy

However or whenever you choose to see polar bears, you can guarantee that it will be an experience you will never forget.

Julie Thompson
Frontier Canada


 *all images courtesy of our partners at Churchill Wild and Frontiers North