Walking with Polar Bears – The Greatest Arctic Safari

Written By: The Planet D

We always thought that you had to see the polar bears in the winter. We had visions of massive glassed-in buggies crossing the white tundra landscape packed with people in search of the great polar bear. We never thought of walking with polar bears.

Everyone knows that the polar bear is a dangerous bear and one of the few animals on earth that has actually been known to stalk humans. In other words, you should stay away from polar bears, right? So when we heard we’d be walking with Polar Bears on our safari with Nanuk Lodge near Churchill, Manitoba we were intrigued, to say the least.

Walking With Polar Bears in Churchill Manitoba

We met our group at the Winnipeg Airport where we spent the night at the attached Grand Winnipeg Airport Hotel before an early morning flight to Churchill, Manitoba. Our trip was taking us to a remote region of the Canadian Province where we flew into a lonely, but lovely lodge on the Hudson Bay.

Flying to see the Polar Bears

walking with polar bears ocean

The journey took us on a flight in a small cargo plane and then another on a tiny twin otter to a dusty airstrip in the middle of nowhere. There wasn’t an ounce of civilization for 100 miles. We were in the middle of the Arctic Tundra surrounded by nothing but hundreds of polar bears, black bears, wolves, and moose.

When we arrived at the lodge, we were immediately escorted to our fenced-in compound and given a hearty lunch with hot tea before heading out on our specially designed rhino vehicles in search of polar bears.

polar bear safari in manitoba

Churchill Wild has been running polar bear tours for 25 years and is the leader in Polar Bear expeditions. Nanuk Lodge is their newest lodge and probably their most interesting tour. Our time on the tundra consisted of a mix of driving safaris and walking safaris, making for the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation.

Polar Bear Safari Video

walking with polar bears

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Safety For Walking with Polar Bears

Before venturing out beyond the fences, our guide Andy discussed all safety procedures. It was imperative that we followed his instructions and listened to his directions when we were out in the Canadian wild.

When walking with polar bears, you don’t want to make any wrong moves. The Churchill Wild guides are experts and kept us safe but it’s important to follow their rules and listen to what they had to say.

Polar Bear Safety

walking with polar bears trek

We split up into two vehicles with one group going with Andy and the other with our guide Albert. Each guide was armed with a shotgun and handgun. But more importantly, they had several means of scaring off a polar bear before having to take any deadly force.

walking with polar bears group

They had polar bear distractions called bangers and screamers that make loud noises and shoot streams of colour when aimed at a polar bear. Should a bear become hostile, these tools would most likely scare them off without having to shoot real bullets.

Our guides were also armed with bear spray, which Andy said he has never had to use. He and Albert instead rely on their knowledge of bear behavior.

The precautions they took while approaching any animal in the wild made everyone feel at ease. Andy told us that he’d been guiding for years and has never once had to shoot his gun and has rarely had to use the screamers or bangers.

We were after all on the animal’s turf and any deadly force should only be as a last resort. None of us were planning on provoking a polar bear to attack.

On an Arctic Safari

Most of our three days at Nanuk Lodge were spent out on the coast of the Hudson Bay searching for polar bears and then walking with polar bears. The lodge was outfitted with binoculars and scopes where the staff kept a constant lookout for polar bears out in the distance.

walking with polar bears cub

It was late summer and the perfect time to spot polar bears on the coastal region of Manitoba.  Nanuk Lodge is situated smack dab in the middle of a denning area for polar bears where mothers and cubs spend their summers.

Each morning, our guides had a clear idea of which way they would head in search of bears. It wasn’t long before we came upon a mother and her cub relaxing on the coast.

bear grass

During our flight out to the lodge, we saw at least a dozen bears walking and during our safari, we saw four polar bears at close proximity during our walking safaris with at least another half a dozen in the distance. It was truly mesmerizing.

The Polar Bear Safari

We set out each day on our Arctic rhinos in the direction of the last polar bear spotting and eventually saw what we were looking for on the horizon. Andy and Albert would then drive towards the bear until we reached close enough to start a hike towards it.

walking with polar bears field

When we got out of the rhinos, we had strict instructions to walk in single file and to avoid making sudden movements or noise. Plus we had to stay behind Andy at all times while Albert kept a lookout in the back.

It was exciting to walk across the tundra through streams and rough terrain. We saw wolf and moose tracks along with the massive polar bear tracks. We may not have always seen the wildlife that surrounded us, but it was all certainly there.

walking with polar bears paw print

The polar bears knew we were coming, they could sense us and they took notice. But for the most part, they didn’t bother with us. They went about their daily business of sleeping or swimming in the sea as we watched on from 50 to 100 metres away.

Polar bears are the largest carnivores on earth and to see them with your own two eyes as you stand exposed on the stark Canadian landscape, makes you realize just how small and vulnerable we are as human beings.

These creatures are at the top of the food chain, but even though they are massive, when you are standing in a group at a safe distance with knowledgeable guides, you can truly appreciate their beauty.

walking with polar bears dave

We never felt frightened or worried. We had complete trust in the skill and experience of Albert and Andy.

When one guest asked if we could go closer to the bears, Andy firmly replied. “This is a distance I feel safe at. We won’t be walking any further.” Polar bears move fast and they could be at our location in a heartbeat.

I felt safer watching from afar and I believe a safari is about putting as little impact on wildlife as possible. Farther away is also less stressful for them.

bears photos

We could watch the bears for hours and we often did. But driving along the tundra was just as exciting as seeing the polar bears.

Other Things to See on our Polar Bear Safari

We searched for and ate fresh strawberries, visited a shipwreck on the shore and even spied a bull moose in the middle of the bush for one split second.

shipwreck

We got stuck in the deep mud and we explored countless miles along the coast as Albert told us stories of his life growing up as a Cree in North America’s First Nations. He knew this land like the back of his hand.

walking with polar bears fire

The Arctic is his home. I could listen to Albert talk for hours.

Inside Nanuk Lodge

We weren’t outside 24 hours a day though. The Nanuk Lodge is a cozy and comfortable lodge with wood-burning stoves, an excellent chef and kitchen staff preparing three meals a day.

walking with polar bears wine

Our evenings at the lodge were as informative as they were entertaining. They put on presentations to keep us occupied at night as we sipped wine by the fire. Andy talked to us another evening about polar bear habitat and global warming.

Even as we sat inside, we were treated to wildlife encounters. Black bears circled our compound foraging for berries and having heated standoffs with one another as they claimed their turf.

black bear

We even had a large black wolf stop by to say hello. We had to stay inside the fence, but we could go outside and watch them from just a few feet away as they peeked in our direction every so often to see what we were up to.

Northern Lights

northern lights

At night another show started. May people visit Canada’s North to see the Northern Lights. The staff keeps a lookout for the Aurora Borealis and if they are active, you’ll get a wake up call with a knock on your door.

We were up at 2 am watching the lights dance in the sky. We had only seen the Northern Lights one other time in Greenland and this was a highlight for us to actually witness the dancing hues of green and magenta on our own soil.

We could have easily slept through the display, but thanks to Churchill Wild, we saw it all unfold before our eyes.

storm chasers

Visiting Nanuk Lodge to walk with polar bears was truly a magical experience. It reminded me of an African Safari, only with different majestic animals and cooler temperatures.

While the prime viewing times are October and November for polar bears in Churchill, late August and September give you the opportunity to experience Polar Bears like you never thought possible.

You don’t have to sit behind the glass of a tundra vehicle to snap a photo of them in the snow, instead, you can walk right up to them within just a hundred or so feet and see them surrounded by the layered colours of summer on Hudson Bay.

walking with polar bears manitoba

Either way ,you decide to see polar bears, you won’t be disappointed. They are truly one of the most spectacular creatures on earth. To walk with polar bears is a dream come true and something we recommend everyone do!

Find out more about polar safaris at Churchill Wild.

walking with polar bears pin

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

21 thoughts on “Walking with Polar Bears – The Greatest Arctic Safari”

  1. Thanks for sharing. How does Polar Bear viewing in Canada compare to Svalbard? I have only seen Polar Bears in the wild in Svalbard and I have been interested to hear the experience of others that have seen them elsewhere. Thanks.

    Reply
    • We haven’t seen them in Svalbard, but I would love to. Something tells me they’d be very similar experiences. Cheers!

      Reply
  2. That looks like an amazing experience! I’ll definitely be adding that to my Bucket List alongside taking an African Safari and Swimming with Sharks!

    Reply
  3. This is on my bucket list as well but I’m not brave enough to do the walk. I’ve read they can run something like 60 mph and can get to full speed in seconds. I want to see them but no way I’m getting out of a vehicle!! Brave souls…. fabulous post and really clear photos 🙂

    Reply
  4. Hey Dave and Deb, was just reminiscing about our trip to Nanuk (had their book on our coffee table!) and remembering what a cool experience it was. I thought I read somewhere that you guys were heading back up there to a Churchill Wild lodge again? Is that true? I hope so! Keep up the awesome work guys. Hope to run into you again one day.

    Reply
  5. I really love to read your blog. Every time I feel like reading news thing with full interest. Again to people showed that you guys are epic adventurous travellers

    Reply
  6. I love this post so much… I’m going to be heading to Nanuk Lodge later this year to do the walk and this story has made me all the more excited (and answers some of my questions!) so a big thank you for this one. Can’t wait to get over there and see polar bears for the first time in a very special way.

    Reply
  7. “Each time we interact with a bear we have the opportunity to add either positive or negative experiences to her toolbox,” he softly explains. “And that accumulation of knowledge affects the bear’s decision-making process.”

    Reply
  8. It has to be amazing watching Polar bears in the open nature. I saw them in Prague Zoo only so far but this is completely different! I really liked your video and wonderful pictures! Thanks for sharing! This made my day to be happier now! 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you Julius. It was such an amazing experience and we feel so lucky to have had the privilege to see them in the wild. It’s been something we’ve wanted to do for more than a decade. I hope that they adapt and survive so that generations will be able to view them for years to come.

      Reply
  9. Before reading your article, I would never have considered walking with Polar Bears. Now, I may consider trying it. I would love to see them in their natural habitat without the danger. Seeing the Aurora Borealis would also be a great treat.

    Reply
  10. Very nice blog… i loved all the posts which you guys have put. Cheers to the team for putting so much of efforts on creating such a blog.

    Reply
  11. Oh my goodness…what a nice places.. really all are peaceful and best places. mostly i like bears and i need to travel this type of peaceful places.

    Reply
  12. oh my God, your photos are amazing! I love animals and can’t imagine an arctic safari like this, must have been incredible. Keep up the amazing work!

    Reply
    • Thanks Aaron, it was amazing and something we’ve wanted to do for a very long time. One of the most incredible experiences of our lives

      Reply
  13. Nice article you guys put together! I was also with Andy @ Seal River. Awesome, excellent guide, both him & Tara. FYI, on YouTube, there’s an excellent 5 minute clip just on Andy McPherson titled “The Polar Bear Whisperer”. What you see is what you get. Funny guy, too. Cheers!

    Reply
    • That is very cool that you had Andy as a guide. I believe the Churchill Wild Guides are top notch. Thanks for the update of the YouTube clip, we’ll check it out

      Reply
  14. The headline made me think I was going to hear stories about snow and blizzards. Nope. This is doable. I am not a huge fan of the cold so the arctic isn’t something that really captures my heart lol. Interesting to see this could be done in the summer where there’s no snow. I may have to keep that in the back of my head for a potential possibility :P.

    Wicked photos!

    Reply
    • Glad we could let you know about a warmer time to see the polar bears. I haven’t seen them in the winter, but seeing them at this time of year was truly magical. They were so contrasting against the green and brown landscape.

      Reply