polar bears of Churchill Manitoba

Polar Bears in Churchill, Manitoba (Chris Hendrickson/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images)

What to do in Churchill

Polar bears. Polar bears. Polar bears. The great white beasts are Churchill's main draw, though this Arctic community on the Hudson Bay is also one of the best places in Canada to see the northern lights and get close to beluga whales. There are no roads to Churchill; it's accessible only by train or plane. It hosts thousands of visitors each year and has such an array of good lodging, tours, and services that's it hard to believe the year-round population is just 900.

Indeed, the region may have more polar bears than people. Neighboring Wapusk National Park is home to one of the world's densest collections of polar bear dens, and there are a variety of ways to see the beasts. Tundra vehicles, walking tours, and mobile and fenced-in lodges are all popular options.

Each summer after the ice breaks, beluga whales congregate in the Churchill River. About 3,000 of these intelligent creatures move in and out of Hudson Bay with the tides, and they don't seem to mind curious humans. Companies offer whale-watching tours in Churchill on motorized skiffs (Zodiacs), large passenger boats, and sea kayaks. Those not afraid of chilly waters can even grab a mask, snorkel, and thick wetsuit and swim with the gentle giants.

Churchill is also a hot spot for birding unlike any other in the world. In spring and fall, more than 250 species of birds nest or pass through the area on their annual migrations. Add to this 400 species of arctic wildflowers and boreal plants that explode color across the tundra each summer. For some, the flowers are among the most memorable parts of the trip.

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