Where to See Polar Bears in Canada – A Complete Guide

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Where to See Polar Bears in Canada

Although I have always been in awe of polar bears, I became absolutely smitten after visiting the Journey to Churchill exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg. And learning that polar bears are now on the list of vulnerable species, really sparked a fire in me to want to see these amazing animals up close. And since I am not alone in this quest, we have put together a guide on how to see polar bears in Canada.

Our Pick

Classic 5-Night Churchill Polar Bear Adventure

❄️ Don’t have time to read the whole article? Classic 5-Night Churchill Polar Bear Adventure is the best tour in Churchill Manitoba for seeing polar bears.

Where to See Polar Bears in Canada

Within Canada, Polar bears are normally found within the Arctic Circle. This is due to the fact that the Arctic has the largest amount of annual sea ice, as well as an abundant seal population.

In fact, Polar bears can actually be found in 7 out of 13 Canadian provinces and territories. These include Newfoundland and Labrador, northern Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nunavut, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories.

Of course, we should mention that most of these locations are very remote and accessibility is definitely a challenge. Also, you will have a difficult time finding tour operators or outfitters offering polar bear excursions anywhere other than in Churchill.

Of course, there are several zoos in Canada that have polar bear exhibits including the Toronto Zoo, the Zoo Sauvage de Saint-Félicien in Quebec, and the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Manitoba. Zoos are easily accessible, and many have really great exhibits where you can learn all about polar bears and conservation efforts.



Polar Bear Provincial Park is one of the places in Ontario where polar bears can be seen. However, not only is the park only reachable by air, there are no visitors facilities and special permission is required before visiting.

Aside from the Toronto Zoo, another place to see polar bears in Ontario is the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat. Located in Cochrane, Ontario, the habitat is home to 3 male polar bears, as well as a variety of other exhibits.

This non-profit organization is dedicated to bear polar bear conservation and regularly collaborates with other conservation and research institutions from within Canada and Internationally. During your visit, you will have the opportunity to listen to Bear Talks from the animal care team or book an additional experience such as a private tour of the facility, or a photography tour.


Baffin Island, Nunavut, is not only the largest island in the country, but because of its arctic location, it is also a popular place to spot polar bears. Resolute, a small Inuit community on Cornwallis Island in Nunavut, is also an ideal location for polar bear spotting.


There are a few outfitters like Arctic Wilderness Guiding, Nunavut Experience Outfitting and Arctic Kingdom that offer polar bear tours and excursions at different times of the year. But just a heads up, because of the remote locations, the cost of these tours is quite high.

Churchill Manitoba

Located on the 58th parallel north, Churchill is located in northeastern Manitoba. Due to its proximity to Hudson Bay, and the migratory patterns of the bears, the town of Churchill is the best place in the country to spot polar bears.

We will go into a little more detail about Churchill Manitoba and the variety of tours offered, later in this post.


Best Time to See Polar Bears in Canada

Depending on what part of Canada you are visiting, this will determine the best time for viewing the polar bears.

In Nunavut’s Arctic region, polar bear tours take place between May and July. During this time, there is 24-hour daylight on Baffin Island, and the polar bears are usually still out hunting on the sea ice.

If you are heading to Churchill, the best time to see polar bears is from October until mid-November. This is when the annual polar bear migration happens.

Because the sea ice has not yet formed, the polar bears will hang out in the Churchill area on their way to Hudson Bay. Approximately 1,000 bears will make their way through the Churchill every year.


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Why See Polar Bears in Canada?

Today, there are between 22,000 and 31,000 polar bears living worldwide (not including the 300 or so bears in captivity). These bears are mostly found in Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Svalbard.

With the exception of Alaska, Canada is the most accessible of all of these locations. In fact, you have the absolute best chance of seeing polar bears in Churchill during the fall, than anywhere else in the world.

Where to See Polar Bears in Manitoba

If you are looking to see some polar bears, Manitoba is the place to visit. With a couple of notable viewing options, this province is the perfect place to see the majestic animals.

And because Manitoba is one of the most popular places to see polar bears in Canada, we have decided to focus the bulk of this article on this province.

If you only have a small budget, are not the safari type, or want to take your young children along for the experience, then visiting the Assiniboine Zoo in Winnipeg is your best option. However, if money is not an issue, and you are prepared for an experience like no other, head to Churchill, the Polar Bear Capital of the World.


Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg

Located in Winnipeg, the Assiniboine Park Zoo has an award-winning exhibit dedicated to northern species, including the polar bears. It is definitely a must-see if you are visiting Winnipeg, especially if you have children with you.

If you want to learn a little bit more about polar bears and their conservation, then this is definitely the place to visit. And although other zoos in Canada also have polar bear exhibits, we felt that the Assiniboine Park Zoo was worth featuring, as its exhibit was far superior and had much more to offer.

Journey to Churchill

The Journey to Churchill exhibit is by far, the most comprehensive northern species exhibit of its kind in the world. The exhibit not only features natural landscapes and incredible animal viewing areas but also offers interpretive signs and interactive displays where visitors can learn about biodiversity, climate change and conservation.

At the Wapusk Lowlands, visitors are able to experience the vastness of the tundra. The Churchill Coast portion of the exhibit even has a façade that resembles the town of Churchill, allowing visitors to feel as though they were actually standing in town.


Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre

Located within the Journey to Churchill exhibit, the Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre was opened in 2012. The purpose of the centre is to teach visitors about polar bears, the Arctic ecosystem, climate change, and how to reduce human impact on the environment.

The Centre is also part of the Polar Bear Protection Act. They work closely with the province of Manitoba to provide a home to select polar bears that would otherwise not survive in the wild.


Gateway to the Arctic

Also located in Journey to Churchill, is the Gateway to the Arctic. This jaw-dropping underwater viewing tunnel, known as Sea Ice Passage, is where you will have the rare opportunity to view polar bears and seals swimming from below the surface of the water.

We were absolutely mesmerized to watch the bears frolic and play right above the tunnel. The experience was definitely memorable, and if you love polar bears, then this experience needs to be added to your bucket list!

Visiting Journey to Churchill is definitely a great way to see and learn about polar bears. If you are not planning to go to the actual town of Churchill, then this experience is definitely the next best thing.


Visiting Churchill: The Polar Bear Capital of the World

Known as The Polar Bear Capital of the World, Churchill Manitoba is one of the best places to go for polar bear viewing opportunities. From various tours on offer to a research and conservation centre, Churchill is definitely the whole package.

How to Get to Churchill Manitoba

Churchill Manitoba is considered one of the most unreachable places in the world. In fact, most people don’t even realize that Churchill is not accessible by road.

There are only two ways to travel to Churchill. The first, and easiest, is via a 3-hour flight from Winnipeg. There are only a small number of charter companies, including Calm Air, that flies into Churchill, so you will need to book your flights well in advance.

The second way to reach Churchill is by train. This trek from Winnipeg is 1,700 kilometres long and will take you approximately 2 days. Sit back and enjoy the amazing landscape, as you go from lush boreal forests to sub-artic tundra.

Via Rail offers weekly trips from Winnipeg to Churchill Station during peak season. Travel in style with sleeper cars, excellent meals, glass dome cars, and even onboard optional activities like wine tastings.

Photo Credit: Travel Manitoba

When to See Polar Bears in Churchill

If you are looking to do a polar bear tour in Churchill, the optimal viewing times are from October to mid-November. This is when the polar bears are travelling through the area to get to Hudson Bay in hopes of finding sea ice.

Visiting in February and March is also good for those wishing to see mothers and cubs emerging from their dens. The weather is quite chilly at this time of the year (Average: -25C to -20C or -13F to – 4F), so be sure to bundle up!

Polar Bear Watching Experiences in Churchill

We would like to preface this section by saying that visiting Churchill is not cheap. And unfortunately, there really isn’t a way to make this a budget trip.

But, if seeing polar bears out in their native habitat is on your bucket list, then the trip is worth every penny! And we were quite surprised to note that there were a couple of other families with younger children heading to Churchill as well (our kids were the only ones in our group).


There are several different bear-watching tours and experiences that you can book for your Churchill Manitoba adventure. Whether you book a multi-day adventure that includes accommodations and meals (which is what we did), or you book single-day excursions, your trip will be pretty incredible.

All-Inclusive Trip

We booked our entire trip through Frontiers North. They took care of everything from our hotel stay in Winnipeg, transfers to the airport, charter flights to and from Churchill, and all accommodations, food and excursions while in Churchill.

Our adventure included 2 full days out on the Tundra Buggy, as well as two nights at the Tundra Buggy Lodge. This gave us the best opportunity for seeing polar bears.


Our guides and drivers from Frontiers North were personable, and knowledgeable, and did everything to make us feel at home while keeping the bear’s well-being in mind as well.

To say we had an incredible experience would be an understatement! This was definitely a trip of a lifetime.

❄️ Book your polar bear adventure with Frontiers North here

Tundra Vehicle Day Trips

Also run by Frontiers North, these are single-day excursions. Autumn Tundra Buggy Day Tours begin with check-in between 7:15 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. at Fifty Eight North – Home of the Tundra Buggy.

Guests are then transferred to the Tundra Buggy Dock where you will board the Tundra Buggy. From there, you will journey into the Churchill Wildlife Management Area.


The day will be spent roaming the tundra, exploring the subarctic landscape, and searching for polar bears and other northern wildlife. A picnic-style lunch is also included with this tour.

At the end of the tour, you will be transported back to Churchill and dropped off at Fifty-Eight North. The 8-hour Autumn Tundra Buggy Day Tours start during the second week of October and run through mid-November.

❄️ Book a Tundra Buggy Day Trip with Frontiers North here

Polar Bear Walking Safaris

This experience is a little different, in that you are not watching polar bears from the safety and comfort of a Tundra Buggy. Instead, you are on ground level, and walking with a knowledgeable tour guide.

Run by Churchill Wild Safaris, your home base is one of three ecolodges located on Canada’s Hudson Bay coast. The accommodations are pretty remote, so you will be flown the short distance from Churchill.


Your three-night stay at the lodge includes seeing polar bears while on foot during daily guided hikes. You’ll also spend a day and night in Churchill where you’ll enjoy a chartered Tundra Buggy tour.

All meals are included in this experience. And depending on the weather, the ecolodges are the perfect place to spot the Northern Lights.

What to Pack for a Polar Bear Watching Excursion

Weather in Churchill Manitoba can be a little tricky, and definitely NOT conducive to packing light! And although we had planned to travel with carry-on bags only, we soon realized that this was wishful thinking, and chose instead to check full-sized suitcases.

During our visit in early October, the temperatures ranged from 7 C (44.6 F) to -12 C (10.4 F). In the four days we were in Churchill, we saw bright blue skies and sun, fog, strong winds, and a snowstorm.

Depending on when you are planning to visit, your Churchill Manitoba Packing List may look slightly different. But for the most part, there are several items that you will need no matter the season.



Parka or Warm Jacket: Churchill Manitoba can get pretty cold, especially in winter. Not to mention, when the windchill kicks in it and makes it feel even colder!

Be sure to wear a warm parka or winter jacket. This winter jacket from North Face is very similar to the ones we own.

If you are visiting during the spring or summer, you will still need a warm fall jacket.

Boots and Warm Socks: When visiting Churchill you should definitely be wearing winter boots. The boots should be waterproof with a good grip.

These Sorel boots have been keeping our families’ toes toasty for years. However, if you are visiting Churchill in the summer, you can usually get away with a decent pair of waterproof hiking boots.

Just as important, is a great pair of warm, but moisture-wicking, socks. We love these thermal Merino wool socks because they keep our feet warm and comfy.


Hat, Scarf, and Gloves: You definitely need to make sure your head, ears and hands stay warm, even during summer in Churchill. A warm hat and pair of insulated and waterproof gloves will go a long way whether you are touring the Tundra or spending time with Belugas on the water.

And if your hands tend to get really cold, you could always add a Hot Hands packet inside for an extra boost of heat!


Camera, Binoculars & Batteries: When seeing the Polar Bears in Churchill, this usually means keeping your distance and viewing the bears from afar. With this in mind, having a good pair of binoculars can definitely elevate your experience.

Having a camera with either a long zoom lens or a separate telephoto lens is also important. And speaking of cameras, having an extra memory card and an extra battery is definitely recommended. The cold weather in Churchill will drain your battery a lot faster, and you don’t want to miss that perfect polar bear photography opportunity!


Where to Stay in Churchill Manitoba

If you are going to be staying in Churchill as part of a tour group (which we highly recommend), they will most likely make your hotel reservations. If you are staying in town on your own, there are a few hotels to choose from.

The hotels are all located within walking distance of restaurants and shops. But keep in mind, you need to BOOK IN ADVANCE! The hotels book up quickly during the peak season, so making a reservation up to a year in advance is not unheard of.

❄️ Book your Churchill Manitoba hotel here.

Polar Bears in Canada FAQs

We are including just a few more facts about polar bears in Canada that we didn’t cover in the rest of the post.

How many polar bears does Canada have?

Canada is home to approximately 16,000 of the estimated 22,000 to 31,000 global polar bear population (not including those living in captivity).

How long do polar bears live in Canada?

Polar bears in Canada can live 20 to 30 years, but only a small percentage of polar bears live past 15 to 18 years. The oldest known polar bear in the Arctic lived 32 years. Conversely, the oldest known polar bear in captivity lived 45 years.

How do polar bears live in Canada?

Polar bears in Canada seek out the ice-covered regions of the country. During the winter, they live out on the sea ice, which is their prime hunting ground. During the summer, when sea ice is scarce, they move inland, living along the northern coastal regions.

Is it illegal to lock your car door in Canada?

NO! Although residents in Churchill Manitoba customarily keep their car doors unlocked, it is not an actual law. Because of the small population and low crime rate, residents feel comfortable leaving their vehicles unlocked as an added safety measure against possible polar bear attacks in the town.

Why does Canada have a polar bear jail?

Known as the Polar Bear Jail, the Polar Bear Holding Facility located in Churchill Manitoba was established in 1982. The facility is used to hold polar bears that are considered troublesome or dangerous before they can be relocated.

What do polar bears eat in Canada?

Polar bears in Canada primarily feed on ringed or bearded seals. Aside from a variety of seals, polar bears have also been known to occasionally hunt walrus and beluga whales.

Are polar bears hunted in Canada?

Unknown to most people, Six out of seven applicable jurisdictions in Canada (Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Québec and Newfoundland and Labrador) allow the hunting of polar bears. Manitoba is the only jurisdiction that does not allow polar bear hunting.
The majority of Canada’s polar bear harvest occurs in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, with special allowances made for Indigenous residents.

Polar Bear Holding Facility

Our Pick

Classic 5-Night Churchill Polar Bear Adventure

❄️ Don’t have time to read the whole article? Classic 5-Night Churchill Polar Bear Adventure is the best tour in Churchill Manitoba for seeing polar bears.

Final Thoughts on the Where to See Polar Bears In Canada

With two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population living in Canada, it is no wonder that we have some amazing opportunities to view these majestic animals up close. Hopefully, you have found our guide on where to see polar bears in Canada useful, and maybe inspirational, in planning your own epic northern bucket list adventure.

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