Best Time to Visit Churchill Manitoba for Hudson Bay Polar Bears

What is the best time to visit Churchill Manitoba for Hudson Bay polar bears and beluga whales? Chopping at the bit to getaway during COVID lockdowns, I’ve decided to travel to the Arctic town, VIRTUALLY

Since I’m traveling virtually, I can choose the best time to visit Churchill Manitoba. After hours of research, I’m sharing with you what I found:

The Best Time to Visit Churchill Manitoba

Hudson Bay polar bear: White bear with hump on its back and big paws walks on ice next to blue open water
Hudson Bay polar bear at Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada | Photo by Ansgar Walk via Wikimedia

The best time to go to Churchill to see polar bears is between mid-October and late November. That’s when Hudson Bay polar bears pass through town on their annual migration to feeding grounds in the north. Since Churchill is a port town on Hudson Bay, bears tend to gather around town until temperatures drop enough to freeze the waters. Once the ice packs freeze,  the bears can walk over the ice bridge and they head out of town.

But What About Beluga Whale Experiences, Too?

However, since I’m after beluga whale experiences, too, the best time to go to Churchill might be late summer when 58,000 belugas descend on Hudson Bay. During the same period, you could experience bear by traveling south of town by helicopter.  Hudson Bay polar bears are on the “polar bear highway’ in the late summer as they migrate towards Churchill. 

Another advantage to visiting Churchill in the summer is that is when colorful wildflowers fill the coastlands. You might have the opportunity to capture dramatic images of the furry white mammals in fields of purple wildflowers.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) cubs | By US Fish and Wildlife Service | Public Domain via Wikimedia

For those of you who are eager to see baby polar bears emerge from their winter dens, March is the best time to visit Churchill Manitoba. So as you can see, the best time to visit Churchill Manitoba really depends on what you want to experience.

To learn more about polar bear cubs, check out this DVD available on Amazon: Snow Babies / Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice 

Best Time to Visit Churchill Manitoba Calendar

MONTH
BEST TIME TO SEE:
March
Baby polar bears emerge from dens
May
Polar bears on the edge of ice floes far out of town | Birds
June
58,000 beluga whales, the highest concentration in the world, descend on Hudson Bay. See polar bears on the edge of ice floes far out of town.
July
AquaGliding with beluga whales Lazy Bear Expeditions (June-August)
August
Beluga whales | Northern Lights
September
Northern Lights | Fall colors | Beluga whales | Polar bear helicopter tours
Mid-October
Hudson Bay polar bears
November
Hudson Bay polar bears

Since this is a virtual tour, I could choose any place on the planet. However, I chose Churchill Manitoba because of the many Hudson Bay polar bear and beluga whale experiences offered in this arctic frontier town. The live webcams made us feel like we were there, and an abundance of photos, videos and information made it easy for me to create an at-home virtual adventure. 

Come on a long! I hope to give you some tips on how to create your own DIY virtual travel experience. What’s on YOUR bucketlist?

Friday Evening: Fly to Winnipeg, Ontario

"Virtual" Air Canada tickets were printed from free template.

The trip to Churchill, Manitoba, was a surprise for my husband Dan. I told him we were “going” somewhere for the weekend, but he did not know where. That means I had to “pack” his bags. I pulled out ski coats to make our “virtual trip” more realistic.

UNSTOPPABLE Tip: The phoney airline tickets and paper sleeve were printed from a free template that I downloaded from Ayleebits.com. Our destination was unveiled when I handed Dan his tickets on Friday night. I printed his name and appropriate carrier on card stock. The resulting “ticket” felt authentic. Notice that I procured “First Class” seats for this virtual trip during the COVID-19 travel restrictions? Nothing but the best for my Dan!

I found props around the house to make this feel like a getaway. Note the snowflake tablecloth and my Mom’s red mittens. 

Once travel bans lift, you can fly to Churchill from Winnipeg and on charter tours out of Calgary, Saskatoon and Edmonton.

Live Webcams of Churchill Manitoba Northern Lights

Churchill Manitoba Northern Lights | Photo courtesy of Lazy Bear Expeditions

When Dan came home from work, the TV was tuned to Churchill’s live webcam. Live Northern Lights were a pleasant surprise for me. Frosting on the cake for an Arctic Animal Safari! I was surprised because I remember the aurora borealis being most prevalent in the fall during the eleven years I lived in Duluth, Minnesota. Shows how the memory fails!

According to Lazy Bear Lodge, Churchill Manitoba Northern Lights make appearances about 300 of 365 days a year. So if weather permits, there are opportunities year round to see the spectacle.

That evening we sipped cocoa and watched a playlist of YouTube videos about Churchill Manitoba polar bear tours, which I’d assembled beforehand.

The frontier town’s culture is so interesting that the Smithsonian made a series called Polar Bear Town. Check it out!

Saturday: Hudson Bay Polar Bear Expedition

Guests view Churchill Canada polar bears from boat | Lazy Bear Expeditions courtesy photo

We woke up early Saturday morning eager to experience the upcoming Hudson Bay polar bear expedition. Lazy Bear Expeditions Arctic Crawler™ would take us on a tundra tour to view polar bears.

But first we needed a hearty breakfast of gluten-free blueberry pancakes, pure maple syrup and Canadian bacon.

UNSTOPPABLE Tip: to create your own virtual travel experience, plan a menu of the specialty cuisine of your chosen destination. Contact hotels or restaurants for authentic recipes.

Blueberry pancakes on plate with Canadian maple syrup behind
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey's gluten-free pancakes | I worked as a cook in a YMCA boys camp and made thousands of these things over the years!

Let’s do this! Recreating Churchill bear tours for "Virtual Travel"

After breakfast, the custom-built Arctic Crawler™ tundra buggy virtually transported us to the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. It is here where bears wait for freezing temperatures to harden up the icepack on the Hudson Bay. During the COVID lockdown we drove our own “tundra buggy” to the forest behind our house, and while social distancing spotted “Manitoba Churchill polar bears.” See below.

Lazy Bear Expeditions Arctic Crawler™ | courtesy photo
Man leans out of truck window to take picture of plush animal toy polar bear on ground
Stalking Manitoba Churchill polar bears in Coconino National Forest with "Tundra Buggy"

Before heading back to our “hotel” we made another stop for some photo ops. Remember when we talked about the best time to go to Churchill to see polar bears earlier? I mentioned that since this is a “virtual” trip, we could see polar bears in any season. In the Arctic Crawler photo above, the season is fall. In the photo below, the season is summer. You decide which is the best time to go to Churchill to see polar bears!

Best Time to go to Churchill to see Polar Bears? Summer, Fall or Winter?

Althought the best time to go to Churchill to see polar bears in town is mid-October to November, there are other seasons to see bears nearby. The photo above shows polar bear expeditions in the fall. Below you can see polar bears in summer. See how the backdrop of the photos change with the changing seasons?

White polar bear sticks his head and upper body out of a filed of purple flowers called fireweed.
Hudson Bay polar bear sits in field of fireweed in the summertime. | Photo courtesy of Lazy Bear Expeditions, Churchill, Manitoba
Plush stuffed polar bear toy sits in "field of purple flowers" which is really a purple blanket
The "King of the Arctic" arises from a bed of stunning "fireweed" | Virtual photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey
Want your own polar bear plush stuffed animal? Then check out Douglas Marshmallow. So cute! Or if a beluga whale plush, stuffed animal is more your style, then grab a look at this 21-inch Cuddlekins beluga.

Lazy Bear Lodge Churchill Manitoba

Guestroom at Lazy Bear Lodge Churchill Manitoba
Bedroom with cedar wood walls - bed has Native design bedspread - pillow with red plaid flannel
I dressed our bed in flannel sheets and replaced the comforter with a Native blanket

We opted to “virtually” stay at Lazy Bear Lodge Churchill Manitoba, although there are many choices for accommodation in the frontier town. My globetrotting friend Todd stayed at the Polar Inn and reported reasonable rates and friendly staff. 

The Lazy Bear Lodge, handbuilt of logs, attracted me because of its tour packages, local expertise and personable folk (that I met virtually.)

UNSTOPPABLE Tip: To turn your bedroom into a “virtual” hotel room, replace your bedding with sheets, blankets and fabrics similar to those you would find at your “virtual” destination. The transformation was another fun surprise for Dan.

Canadian Happy Hour

Red drink in tall glass garnished with green olives and celery
Bloody Caesar cocktail made with Clamato juice is popular in Canada.
Bloody Caesar cocktail as created by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey. Nothing virtual here!

For Happy Hour I took a stab (no pun intended) at making a Bloody Caesar. The vodka cocktail, spiced up with Clamato juice, is popular in Canada. However my travel writing colleague Traveling Mel says, “I’ve been to Churchill 3 or 4 times, but never had this yummy cocktail. There seems to be a lot of cheap beer and Crown Royale when I’ve been there.” Mel volunteered in Churchill for Polar Bears International.

Good thing I had some Crown Royal up my sleeve. But we used it more as a table decoration — we didn’t imbibe in the Canadian whiskey. Can you find the Crown Royal in the photo of the table setting below?

Dinner in the Great White North

Outdoor table set with snowflake table cloth, red napkins with Canadian flags, Labatt's beer, Hudson Bay blanket, snowshoes and Croen Royal whiskey in purple flannel bag
How many Canadian-made items can you count in this table setting?

Poutine was our main course for dinner in the Great White North. Cheese curds were definitely hard to find in Flagstaff, Arizona, during COVID-19 shutdowns, but I finally found some.  Labatt’s Blue also took a search committee, but Sam at Majestic Marketplace helped me out. He even wiped my credit card with antiseptic after running it through the reader.

Poutine Routine

Bowl of french fries topped with white cheese curds and brown gravy of onions and mushrooms sits on red placemat.
Poutine, a Canadian culinary specialty

The Poutine recipe came from a Canadian food blogger. But even though, my Québecois amie Melissa commented on Instagram, “A poutine. Not the traditional one if you ask me, but still a poutine.” 

I let Dan talk me into adding mushrooms to the homemade gluten-free gravy. And I’d missed the secret ingredient: ketchup. According to Melissa, who I walked with on Camino Norte in 2018, “Seems like you did everything right, except for the mushrooms and onions which is actually not a bad idea 😉 You even got the cheese curds right which I think is the most important part. Just add ketchup on top of that and it will be perfect!!”

Watching Movies Enhances Your Virtual Travel Experience

Bob and Doug McKenzie, a pair of fictional Canadian brothers host "Great White North", with giant map of North America behind them
Bob and Doug McKenzie, fictional Canadian brothers, host "Great White North" and star in the movie, "Strange Brew."

Since watching movies enhances your virtual travel experience, we watched “Strange Brew.” The 1983 movie features Bob and Doug Mackenzie, fictional Canadian brothers who wear toques and drink Canuck beer. Although not on my list of the best travel movies, it is a fun spoof on Canadian culture.

UNSTOPPABLE Tip: When creating your virtual travel escape, be sure to include a movie about your chosen destination. Freshen up your watch list by checking out 8 Best Travel Movies.

Sunday: Churchill Manitoba Beluga Whales

White beluga whale looks at the underwater camera through green tinted waters -Churchill Manitoba beluga whales
Underwater beluga eyes camera | Photo by Discover Churchill, courtesy of Travel Manitoba
I thought that I wanted to kayak with the Churchill Manitoba beluga whales, but once I discovered “Aquagliding,” I left that dream behind. Isn’t it wonderful when you find something that surpasses your “Bucketlist” hopes and dreams? Aquagliding looks awesome! The three-hour wildlife immersion experience takes you right to pods of inquisitive belugas. You lie facedown on a floating mat. Your face is covered by a snorkel mask so you can see underwater. And your body is covered in a wet or dry suit so you stay warm. I want to write ‘relatively warm,’ but I’m not sure until I actually do it! The lying position is perfect for interacting with Churchill Manitoba beluga whales and taking underwater photos. If I were invited to Churchill, Manitoba, I would definitely buy a Go-Pro underwater camera. If swimming with large water mammals interests you, then you should check out this story that includes swimming with manatees in Florida. On my bucket list! Another Camino friend, Dave, who is a pro photographer from Canada told me to pack , “The best camera equipment you can rent or afford.”

Best Time to See Churchill Manitoba Beluga Whales

Beluga whales are known as "The Canaries of the Sea" because their chirping vocalizations sound like birds | Photo by Steve Snodgrass via Flickr and Wikimedia

It is said that the best time to view belugas is during the second half of July through the first half of August. However, my sister and her husband flew a float plane from Minnesota to Churchill in the late 1980s and saw 100s of the white creatures on Labor Day. “We flew over Churchill and saw hundreds of the white whales below,” said pilot George Nix. “They looked like white cigarettes floating in a basin of water, all lined up in the same directions.”

Lazy Bear Expeditions offers the Aquagliding tour from June through August. 

UNSTOPPABLE Tip: Invite friends or family for a ZOOM visit sometime during your virtual travel tour. I told Dan we had surprise guests that would be joining us on ZOOM. That’s when my sister Dena and her husband George joined us to tell stories about their visit to Churchill. George’s co-pilot had been there before and was anxious to meet back up with a Churchill guy he’d bought drinks for at the local pub. Turns out the local guy was killed by a polar bear since their last get-together. My sister’s version was that the local guy was the town drunk.

Sam Hearne Boat of Lazy Bear Expeditions | Courtesy photo
Unstoppable Stacey poses to replicate photo of Lazy Bear Expeditions -Beluga-Whale-tour. Her husband Dan poses as well - both in red winter expedition jackets
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey and her husband Dan pose to replicate guests on virtual beluga whale watching expedition near their "boat front" home.

Standup Paddleboarding with Churchill Manitoba Beluga Whales

SUP with beluga whales near Churchill | Photo by Daniel Raiti, Courtesy of Travel Manitoba
I would have to do standup paddleboarding  with belugas virtually — because, well,  I’ve never SUP-ed before. Besides, I’m pretty sold on the Aquagliding thing. Thanks so much for joining Dan and me on our UNSTOPPABLE virtual vacation. I hope you’ve learned a few things so you can craft your own DIY virtual getaway. If you share your creative ideas in the comments below, I may include them in my next UNSTOPPABLE post.

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10 thoughts on “Best Time to Visit Churchill Manitoba for Hudson Bay Polar Bears”

    • Thanks so much, Mary. But hopefully we won’t have to be “virtually” traveling much longer! I appreciate your encouragement so much!

      Reply
    • Thanks so much, Donna! Let me know if you end up doing a “virtual vacation” of your own! Blessings to you, Stacey

      Reply
  1. Love your ingenuity and making the best of quarantine! Lots of fun and interesting travels. The Arctic Crawler was so cool, for a Polar bear close up!! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Thanks Kelly! I missed you on Sunday evening for the Social Distancing get together (apart). Hope you had a fun Mother’s Day!

      Reply
  2. Stacey, this is such a clever and creative way to armchair travel during times of lockdown and travel restrictions. I enjoyed virtually traveling with you to several destinations that I wouldn’t otherwise get to!

    Reply
    • Thanks for coming along, Tracy! You’re a good travel buddy! Thanks for being part of the UNSTOPPABLE community.

      Reply
    • Thanks, Valorie. Yes, I always say half the fun of traveling is the anticipation and planning for it. Did it give you any ideas of where you would like to “go” while staying at home?

      Reply

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