Adventure, Canada, Destination, Manitoba

In Search of Polar Bears in Churchill

Mother and cub polar bears

24 massive polar bears! That’s the number of sightings during my one hour helicopter tour yesterday with Hudson Bay Helicopters in Churchill, Manitoba. I’d never seen a polar bear in the wild before. I’d expected to see a few during my trip to northern Manitoba; that’s why I came. It’s what I signed up for, but I never expected to see two dozen in one hour.
Hudson Bay, Churchill, Manitoba

I arrived in Churchill yesterday morning and began my 7 day adventure with Churchill Nature Tours. Our first major experience was a one-hour helicopter flight over the city and the surrounding area. By luck, I was with the Vice President and pilot at Hudson Bay Helicopters, Derek Longley. He has a vast knowledge of area and knew exactly where to take us to see the most number of bears. I assumed the polar rovers would give me the best views, but I might have been wrong. The helicopter was able to take us places we couldn’t go in the rovers and in a much shorter time.
Churchill sights from the air

We arrived at Hudson Bay Helicopters at 2:45 for a 3 o’clock flight. Most tour flights that I’ve experienced in the past were about 20 minutes, but this was a full hour of air time. I worried about being cold in the helicopter but there was a heater next to my leg and I was warm and toasty the entire flight. Everyone had a window seat and the windows opened for the best photo shots.
Three polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba

Every time we saw a bear or a group of bears, Derek would give the people on the right and the left equal viewing time. I spent most of the time taking photos but I did put the camera down and take it in for myself. How many people have the opportunity to see polar bears in their natural environment while flying around in a helicopter? It’s moments like this that I need to take time for myself and enjoy it with all of my senses.
Polar bear sightings in Churchill, Manitoba

The first bear that I saw made my heart race. I couldn’t believe that he was directly below me. I was a guest in his home, but unlike the welcoming gorillas and chimpanzees in Uganda, these bears wouldn’t allow me to walk freely among them. They would rip me to shreds in seconds if I was on the ground and in the open. This isn’t Disneyland and they are man-eaters. Wild. Free. Hungry. They are beautiful from the safety of a helicopter.
Polar bears on the tundra in Churchill, Manitoba

Derek made sure that our group had the best flight experience possible. He didn’t rush or worry about the time. It was easy to see his passion for flying and for the wildlife in Churchill and it was contagious. I was giddy with excitement every time I saw a new bear. I was amazed at their size and surprised by their huge, furry paws. I don’t know what I expected for an animal of that size, but they were truly spectacular.

When I heard about the helicopter flight over Churchill, I was excited but I thought it would be mostly scenery and maybe a couple polar bears in the distance. This flight was polar bear after polar bear after polar bear in perfect view. It ran over the slotted hour and the pilot maneuvered like he wasΒ part of The Elite Helicopter Unit. We couldn’t stop talking about it for the rest of the day. It was an unbelievable way to set the tone for our polar bear adventure in Churchill.

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29 thoughts on “In Search of Polar Bears in Churchill

  1. Billy hines says:

    Very interesting. I’m going to check into this

    1. Lesley says:

      Are polar bears in your list, Billy?

  2. Jen says:

    This has been on my list for years but I read a few reviews that said people only saw a few bears or none at all. I want this to be my birthday gift next year. I read the article to my husband and he’s on board now! Thanks!

    1. Lesley says:

      I met a man last night at the restaurant that was here for his birthday and this was his second year in a row celebrating here. He’s from Alberta and a huge group of them come over on the train to see the bears and explore Churchill. It seems like a great birthday celebration πŸ™‚

  3. Christina says:

    I’m speechless. That must have been unbelievable. You are living my dream right now.

    1. Lesley says:

      Me too. This has been on my list since I lived in Manitoba almost ten years ago. It’s a dream come true.

  4. Beth says:

    I’m so jealous!! This was high on my bucket list and it just went to the top of the list.

    1. Lesley says:

      You should start planning it now for next year, Beth. It’s definitely bucketlist worthy.

  5. Rachael says:

    Oh wow! They look pretty massive and there are so many!

    1. Lesley says:

      I expected the size but I never expected to see so many. It made me especially happy to see moms with their cubs.

  6. Jackie says:

    What time of year did you visit? When’s the best time to visit? This is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

    1. Lesley says:

      There is a short season. I’m still here right now. πŸ˜‰

      I think the dates are from around October 12 until November 17th. You can find dates and more information on Churchill Nature Tours website – http://www.churchillnaturetours.com/tours/bears.html

      Or if you have any other questions, feel free to ask. If I don’t know the answer, I’m happy to look it up for you.

      πŸ™‚

  7. Lynn says:

    Hi Leslie,

    I work for Derek at our office in Gimli. Thank you for the wonderful piece you wrote about Churchill and Hudson Bay Helicopters.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed your flight.

    I thought your readers may like to include our Hudson Bay Helicopters website link.

    hudsonbayheli.com

    Lynn

    1. Lesley says:

      Hi Lynn,

      I’m having a fantastic time here in Churchill and Hudson Bay Helicopters was a huge part of that. You might have noticed the link in the post already. You can just click on the words Hudson Bay Helicopters and it leads directly to your site. If I had more time here, the first thing I’d do would be another flight. I was able to take in so much of Churchill from the sky. I loved it.

      Hopefully I can return again in the near future and get back up there with Hudson Bay Helicopters πŸ™‚

  8. Mary says:

    I can’t believe what amazing photos you guys got! I love polar bears and have this very high on my travel goals list. I can’t wait to read more about your time in Churchill! Thanks so much for sharing. I also recently had my first helicopter flight I was so nervous but ended up loving it, never felt scared while in it. How did you feel about the flight itself?

    1. Lesley says:

      Churchill was an amazing experience. We went on the helicopter then the polar vehicles and dog sleds as well. The nights are glorious with the northern lights and the sunrises are equally dreamy. Every moment of the day offers something unique in Churchill.

      I love helicopter fights. I try to get up in a helicopter in every new city or community. It’s the best way to see what’s around and experience it all in a short time. I was sitting facing backwards during this flight but it put the window next to me so I was able to get some good shots. I love flying so much that I’ve been taking flight lessons πŸ™‚

      Let me know if you have any questions about the trip or Churchill. I’m more than happy to answer or find out if I don’t know the answer.

  9. I want to do this trip to Churchill with Hudson Bay Helicopters. I love the photos and think this would be an amazing way to see this area and the polar bears, well they are just incredible

    1. Lesley says:

      You should book it! It was an amazing experience to be there and see the bears and the northern way of life for myself.

  10. Carol Colborn says:

    OMG! I want to do this trip!!!

  11. jen says:

    Wow! What a fantastic experience. I’ve never been inside of a helicopter and to be able to ride in one and see the polar bears in their natural environment would be simply amazing.

    1. Lesley says:

      Helicopter flights are an amazing way to see a new city or area. You should add it to your list.

  12. Erica says:

    Just last week you wrote about sharks…and now Polar bears!!! What else do you have left on your bucket list?!

    1. Lesley says:

      I have hundreds of adventures still on my list. I don’t think I’ll ever run out πŸ˜‰

      These two have been on my list for more than a decade though. To experience both of them in one month is an unbelievable dream come true.

      What’s something on the top of your list?

  13. Holly says:

    Oooo Polar Bears in their natural element. That really is a sight to see.

  14. You saw 2 dozen of these majestic creatures?! How fortunate you are, that would be a such a dream for me. I love these beautiful animals and I’m happy you saw so many of them. Gorgeous photos.

  15. I would love to helicopter around polar bears! What a unique experience. They are so beautiful, and I’d love to see them in their natural habitat. Awesome post!

  16. Elena says:

    I am swooning! I have another friend who has been sharing polar bear pics on Instagram and this experience looks phenomenal!

  17. paranoiasnfm says:

    Perfect photos! <3
    Nature is amazing! πŸ˜€

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