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Polar bear in ice fog on the Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Rick Beldegreen photo.

Polar bear in ice fog at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Rick Beldegreen photo.

by Vanessa Desorcy

Maybe seeing polar bears in Canada has been a dream of yours for a long time. Maybe you know someone who saw them and thought, “Hey, that’s pretty cool. I’d like to do that.” No matter what brought you here, we can help you navigate the way to your ideal safari.

We offer five months of polar bear viewing on Canada’s Hudson Bay coast at three different ecolodges, and during those five months there are 12 different polar bear tours and safaris to choose from. So how do you pick the one that’s best for you?

When Courtney or Doreen talk to potential guests about our trips, there are a few different ways they help them narrow down the options.

On the lookout at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Susan Jenkins photo.

On the lookout at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Susan Jenkins photo.

By Season

The weather fluctuates a lot on the Hudson Bay coast, so during the five months our lodges are open, we categorize our safaris into three main “seasons”: summer, early fall, and late fall/early winter.

Summer (July and August) provides the opportunity to see polar bears against a tundra alive with birds, berries, and blooms. The bears are plump and healthy after a season of hunting and the Bay is bubbling with thousands of belugas. At Seal River Heritage Lodge, guests can embark on marine tours to view the whales up close!

See: Birds, Bears & Belugas | Arctic Discovery | Hudson Bay Odyssey | Summer Dual Lodge Safari

September, that lovely month between Arctic summer and fall when the air is electric with the changing of seasons, is when the tundra and taiga really start to show off. It’s a season unto itself and when you land at your chosen lodge, you’ll see why. The trees and willows start to colour-shift and the mornings greet you with a gentle mist. At Nanuk, you might see moose, wolves, black bears and polar bears on a backdrop of orange willows!

See: Arctic Safari | Wildlife & Wellness | Wading Wild

Front row seat to the fight at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Bill Lyne photo.

Front row seat to the fight at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Bill Lyne photo.

For those who love the challenge of a snowy landscape, opt for October or November when the ground is blanketed in snow. The bears become more active at this time of year, sparring and play-fighting in anticipation of mating season.

See: Fall Dual Lodge Safari | Nanuk Polar Bear Photo Safari | Seal River Polar Bear Photo Safari | Great Ice Bear Adventure

We also have a full-on winter experience that runs for two weeks in March. For the heartiest of hearty adventurers, guests have the chance to see newborn cubs emerging from their dens, scurrying along behind mom as she heads out to the sea ice.

See: Den Emergence Quest

If you’re making your decision based on season, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the weather. There are no weather stations at our lodges, so we base our info on Churchill readings. Keep in mind, that because our lodges are so near the water, weather can vary drastically between town and the lodge you’re at. Sometimes our pilots can’t get to the lodge because of heavy fog in Churchill, but out at the lodge, we’ve got clear skies.

In October and November, you’ll also need to take windchill into account. Calculated based on wind speed (km/h), wind chill can make the air feel 10, 20 (or more!) degrees cooler. Now that we’ve covered weather anomalies, here are the average temperatures and precipitation for Churchill:

MONTH July August September October November
AVG HI 63 F / 17 C 61 F / 16 C 48 F / 9 C 34 F / 1 C 16 F / -9 C
AVG LO 44 F / 7 C 45 F / 3 C 37 F / 3 C 24 F / -4 C 3 F / -16 C
AVG PREC. (IN) 2 3 3 2 1
Meet me at ground level. Jad Davenport photo.

Meet me at ground level. Jad Davenport photo.

By Activity Level

Do you like a more active vacation? Have mobility issues and want to minimize the amount of walking you’ll do at the lodge?

At Seal River Heritage Lodge and Dymond Lake Ecolodge, excursions are done primarily on foot. While the terrain is not hilly, crossing tidal flats or rocky sections of coastline can be tricky for those with limited mobility.

It’s difficult to say how much walking you’ll do each day because that depends on the wildlife! Sometimes the polar bears will be close to the lodge, sometimes they’ll be a few kilometres away. Each day is different! Generally, excursions, done twice daily, will be no more than four to five kilometres roundtrip, and for some this might be too much, especially if it’s a very cold day.

For those guests, we recommend choosing a safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Situated 250 kilometres south of Churchill, the land around Nanuk is streaked with creeks and small rivers. The amount of water makes the terrain quite muddy at times, and frankly, a pain to navigate. For these reasons, we use our custom built ‘Tundra Rhinos’ (open-air ATVs) to move up and down the coast in search of wildlife. Final approaches to observe bears are done on foot, but the amount of walking is reduced by about half compared to the safaris at our other lodges.

If you’re looking for a more extreme adventure, our Arctic Safari or Den Emergence Quest might be more up your ally.

The Arctic Safari is our only trip that includes two nights at a remote tundra camp, just south of the Nunavut border. Here, you’ll sleep in heated expedition tents and embark on long treks to explore the ancient migratory paths of caribou and seek out archaeological sites.

Our Den Emergence Quest involves a lot of snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and trudging through deep snow. Trust us though, the effort involved with finding moms and cubs is more than worth the reward.

Polar bear mother and cubs. Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Virginia Huang photo.

Mom and cubs. Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Virginia Huang photo.

Are you a photographer?

Attention, shutterbugs! The photography opportunities on a polar bear safari are limitless, as you can probably imagine. The wildlife, the landscapes, the vegetation of the tundra and taiga — absolutely dreamy. For avid photographers we’d suggest our Polar Bear Photo Safari, offered at both Seal River and Nanuk lodges in October and November.

Don’t consider yourself a serious or professional photographer? Not to worry! Some departures have the addition of a photography guide on-site to help you navigate the ins and outs of wildlife photography.

Additional Considerations

While July is a beautiful month on the tundra — the polar bears are pristinely white, the fireweed is blooming, the temperatures are warm — some years produce a lot of mosquitoes and/or black flies. If July is your preferred month, we have bug spray and bug jackets available to make you more comfortable.

While there are a lot of learning opportunities on our trips for young and old alike, for safety reasons, we don’t welcome guests younger than eight years of age.

When should you book?

It’s recommended that you start the booking process 12-18 months in advance, especially if you’ve got your heart set on a certain trip or departures.

What’s next?

Check out our polar bear safaris overview for highlights of each package, or just get in touch with us!

We can’t wait to meet you and show you around our wild corner of the world.

The World’s Next Great Safari

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