Churchill, Manitoba is the land of the polar bears. Located directly along the polar bear highway, it attracts visitors from around the world in search of the king of the Arctic. Being the premier place on earth to see polar bears in the wild, hopping on a tundra buggy, or heading to a lodge on the Hudson bay is the top attraction in Manitoba for good reason! When you do make your way to Churchill for the ultimate polar bear experiences, be sure to book a day or two before or after your safari to check out all things to do in Churchill, Manitoba because it will surprise you!
Things to do in Churchill Manitoba
We have visited Churchill Manitoba in both summer and winter. 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.
Walk with Polar Bears at Nanuk Lodge
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 or rhino, we had the opportunity to walk with polar bears with Churchill Wild. 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. Book your Polar Bear Trip with Churchill Wild here.
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.
Relax at Seal River Heritage Lodge for Polar Bear Watching
We visited Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge in winter to see polar in their winter setting. It has the best setting on the entire Hudson Bay being that 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.
Kayak with Beluga Whales
Polar bears aren’t the only arctic animals worth seeing in the Arctic, one of the most exciting things to do in Churchill to interact with the playful and adorable beluga whales. 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. Churchill is located directly in the migration route of belugas and each year, 3000 of the 60,000 beluga whales that migrate through the Hudson Bay stop at the Churchill River Basin. 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. Visit Sea North Tours to book your Beluga Whale excursion.
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, Beluga AquaGliding™, and take zodiac tours. Note: snorkeling with beluga whales is no longer allowed.
Other Arctic Wildlife
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 white arctic fox frolicking in the snow is one of the cutest things you’ll ever see in your life. 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!
But 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.
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.
Polar Bear Hotline
A year ago, they used to shoot bears that came into town, but now there is a polar bear hotline where if someone spots a polar bear, they call a hotline. It is then 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the 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.
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, 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 colourful lights dancing in the sky is truly a spectacular experience.
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.
Churchill SeaWall Murals
During our first visit to Churchill, we didn’t see these because they hadn’t been curated yet, but upon our second visit, 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.
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.
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 in out of the cold.
Who would have thought that the arctic would be so filled with 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.
Buy a Souvenir at 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 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.
Say Hi to the Park’s Canada Staff
Located in Churchill’s VIA Rail Station, The Park’s Canada Visitor Reception Area houses exhibits about the history of the area’s land and people. The Hudson Bay Company played a huge roll in developing the area and the centre displays weapons and gear used by fur traders.
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.
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 went! It was designated a National Heritage Site in 1988 because as it was Canada’s foremost upper atmosphere research center.
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.
- 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.
Where to Stay
We didn’t stay in Churchill as we stayed at local lodges with Churchill Wild. 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
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.
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 / mereno 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
We visited Churchill in late fall and it is freezing already. 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
- Insulated Snow pants
- Winter boots
- Glove liners
- Winter hat
- Mereno Wool Base Layer – top and bottoms
- Thick Wool Socks
- Mid layer fleece or wool sweaters / pants
- Hand and Toe Warmers
- Lip Balm
How to Get to Churchill
No roads lead to Churchill Manitoba, the only way to get to Churchill Manitoba is by rail or plane.
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.
Read More About Polar Bears in Manitoba