10 Sep Summer Adventures in Churchill, Manitoba
While we love heading north in the winter to experience cold climates, the summer adventures in Churchill, Manitoba, are not to be missed! There’s an abundance of outdoor adventures to experience in Churchill during the summer, and we managed to pack so many excursions into the four days that we were in town. We were hosted by Travel Manitoba for this trip, and it fell during the end of July and the beginning of August.
Churchill is known as “The Polar Bear Capital of the World,” but in the summer there is another type of wildlife that steals the show: beluga whales! We really wanted to see polar bears during our visit (which can be hit or miss during the summertime), but we COULD NOT WAIT to see beluga whales. Beluga whales were one of my favorite animals when I was a kid, so I was giddy with excitement. During the trip, we spotted hundreds…or maybe even thousands of beluga whales, and 11 polar bears. Everything else was just the icing on the cake…and let me tell you, there was a lot of icing! We took the 2-night train to Churchill in a sleeper cabin, which was an adventure in and of itself. We also went on four different beluga whale tours (boats, kayaks, and SUPs), took a town and area tour via truck, explored from above in a helicopter, went on a hike and learned about history at the historic fort, went summer dog carting, rode in a massive tundra buggy to search for polar bears, and wandered around town to see the murals, museums, beach, shops, and more. We even spent two days in Winnipeg—one on the front end of the trip and one on the back end. It was all an absolutely amazing adventure and one that is definitely bucket list worthy.
When people visit Churchill, they frequently go as part of a packaged tour. We’ve heard great things about the group tours, but we ended up creating a DIY Churchill trip by booking everything separately. We were based at the Polar Inn & Suites Hotel, which was a wonderful place to stay. The hotel is affiliated with the tour provider Sea North Tours, and most of our tours were booked with them. There are many tours to pick from (through Sea North Tours or a variety of other providers), and we managed to fit 8 different tours into our trip. A few things we wanted to do but didn’t have time for were renting a car and driving around on our own, seeing the Miss Peggy Plane Wreck site, hiking at Cape Mary, and watching the northern lights. Just remember, if you do venture off on your own, make sure to be aware of bears and don’t stray too far from your car or protective shelter if you don’t have a bear guard with. Polar bears are serious business.
No matter which adventures you pick, you are sure to have an amazing time on your summer adventures in Churchill, Manitoba. Here’s a rundown of our favorite adventures from the trip:
Beluga Boat and Fort Prince of Wales Tour
On our first night in Churchill, we went on the Beluga Boat and Fort Prince of Wales Tour with Sea North Tours. Tours coincide with the time of the tides, and our 3-hour adventure started in the evening hours. One hour of the tour was spent on the water watching whales, one hour was spent touring the Fort Prince of Wales historic site, and the remaining time was spent boating to the various locations. We lucked out with warm golden sunlight and more whales than we could possibly count. Every which way we turned, we spotted groupings of whales swimming and playing in the water. It was mesmerizing.
Because the whales were so active, our guide gave us a bit of extra time on the water, and we loved every minute of it. Soon though, it was time to head to the fort for a history lesson. When we disembarked at the fort, we were met with both tour guides and a bear spotter from Parks Canada. Since polar bears frequent the area, an armed bear guard is a necessity to keep an eye out and make sure everyone stays safe. Our group followed the wooden path from the water to the fort, and throughout the tour we talked about the history of the fort and its surrounding land. Fort Prince of Wales has been standing for 250 years, and in the past, it has been used as both a hub for fur traders and as a fort to protect the area from invasion.
FAQ: 2.5-3 hour tour with Sea North Tours. See current pricing, schedule, and info here.
Zodiac Beluga Whale Watching – Churchill River Estuary Tour
If you want a relaxing, but exciting way to see the beluga whales in Churchill, Manitoba, a two-hour zodiac boat tour with Sea North Tours is a great bet! On a foggy morning, we hopped in a small boat with four other people and our guide. Our destination for the morning was the Churchill River. Almost immediately after leaving the docks, whales swam up to our boat and played in the wake we were making with our whale safe motor.
The whales splashed around us in every direction as we all watched in awe. At one point, the fog got so thick that we couldn’t see more than 10 ft away, but one thing that remained consistent was that we could see beluga whales the entire time. The whales would come up for air next to the boat, do twists and turns underwater, show us their tails, and one even sat upright out of the water with its head sticking straight up!
Our guide put a microphone in the water a couple times throughout the trip so we could hear all the whales chattering. The sounds were so beautiful and are forever engrained in our minds. We watched hundreds of whales throughout the morning, and it was such a magical sight.
FAQ: 2 hour tour with Sea North Tour. See current pricing, schedule, and additional info here.
Kayaking with Beluga Whales
For a more active beluga whale experience, a three-hour kayak tour is another wonderful choice! The tour started with a rundown of the rules and a quick kayak lesson on the shores of the Churchill River. We were told not to chase the beluga whales once we got on the water, that we couldn’t touch them, and to let them come up to us. These rules were repeated on all of our beluga whale tours, and it was nice to see the staff educating the guests about the behaviors that can harm the belugas. Once the rules were out of the way, we were fitted with PFDs, paddles, splash skirts, and a kayak.
After getting situated in our boats, we pushed off into the river and started paddling. As we paddled along, whales started to pop up next to us to say hi, and one even decided to push my boat a bit. Beluga whales swam around us in all directions—there were so many that at times it was hard to know where to look! We spent a full two hours out on the water before it was time to head back to shore. We weren’t ready to leave the water quite yet, but thankfully, we had one more beluga whale adventure scheduled the following day.
FAQ: 3 hour tour with Sea North Tours. See current pricing, schedule, and additional info here.
SUPing with Beluga Whales
Not only did we get to go kayaking with the beluga whales, we also got to head out and paddleboard with them too. Our SUP tour started out in the same location on the Churchill River, but this time we made our way inside the snorkel shack to suit up, which is now actually the SUP shack because snorkeling with the whales is no longer allowed. Once inside, we hopped in a dressing room and donned 5mm wetsuits with booties. Before getting on our boards, our guide, Erin, gave everyone an excellent lesson on how to SUP. We’ve been paddle boarding many times and own our own boards, but I still managed to learn a few new things from Erin, which I was really happy about! Then, it was time to head out on the water.
Once again, the whales came up to us over and over again to say hi. Seeing them from the higher vantage point of a SUP was an entirely different experience than it was kayaking the previous day. At one point I had a couple adult belugas and two beluga calves following my board, playfully nudging me along! Yes, you might fall in, but the wetsuits will keep you warm and toasty. It might sound scary, but it wasn’t at all—it was so amazing to have the belugas choose to come up and interact with us. They were so friendly, and we still can’t stop smiling about all of these beluga whale experiences.
FAQ: 3 hour tour with Sea North Tours. See current pricing, schedule, and additional info here.
Helicopter Tour Over Churchill
One of the best ways to get the lay of the land in Churchill, is to hop on a helicopter tour. We took a 1-hour tour with Custom Helicopters and covered so much ground during the flight. Our ride took off from the Churchill airport, and our route sent us along the shores of the Hudson Bay, over Cape Churchill and Wapusk National Park, and to the Churchill River before heading back to the airport.
Throughout the flight, our pilot, Alex, pointed out landmarks and wildlife. We ended up spotting more wildlife than we ever expected; we saw 9 polar bears, 3 caribou, lots of birds, and hundreds of beluga whales. Alex made sure to stay a safe distance away from the wildlife, so we didn’t disturb them in any way, but with the floor to ceiling windows in the front and giant dome window in the back, we still managed to get great views. We couldn’t believe our luck and had an absolutely wonderful time up in the air.
FAQ: 1 hour tour with Custom Helicopters. See current pricing, schedule, and additional info here.
Summer Dog Carting
Another adventure that we went on was summer dog carting with Wapusk Adventures. Dog sledding isn’t just for winter when you have a custom-built dog cart to take out in the summer! Dave, an accomplished dog musher and the owner of Wapusk Adventures, picked us up in town and drove us out to the dog camp located four miles from town. When we arrived, we were introduced to Mary, who also works with the dogs, and together they gave us a rundown on dog sledding and their philosophy on taking care of and training the dogs. We learned so much about the sport and it was nice to hear (and see!) how they put the dogs first in everything they do. All the dogs in their care are happy, healthy, and excited to run.
Next, it was time to meet the dogs and hit the trails. We had a blast running the mile long “Ididamile” on the summer dog cart. The backwoods trails were beautiful, the weather was perfect, and we had a blast going for a ride. Now we want to head back for some winter dogsledding fun!
FAQ: Tour with Wapusk Adventures. See current pricing, schedule, and additional info here.
Nature 1st Town and Area Tour⠀
If you want to get an overview of the Churchill area, the Town and Area Tour with Nature 1st is a must. We had a great time exploring with Paul on our half day tour. Paul picked us up in his bright yellow truck and we set out on the tour with one of our friends from the train.
Throughout our tour we learned about the history of this tiny town in the north, we searched for polar bears, learned about polar bear jail and the research center, and so much more. We even had a chance to get out of the truck and walk around the beautiful rocky landscapes. Even though we didn’t spot any bears, we still had a wonderful day exploring the town and all the beautiful landscapes.
FAQ: Half Day or Full Day Tour with Nature 1stTours. See current pricing, schedule, and additional info here.
Summer Tundra Buggy Adventure
One of the most iconic Churchill adventures in October/November during the polar bear migration is the Tundra Buggy. Lucky for us, you can also go out on the Tundra Buggy in the summer! The buggy is essentially a giant monster truck version of a school bus—it’s so huge that you have to board from a large platform in the back.
Inside the buggy, you will find giant windows in the front, two by two seat configurations, a large middle aisle, a bathroom, and an open-air observation deck in the back. Tours last 6 hours, and our driver, Jim, was quite the character. He took us out to the Churchill Wildlife Management Area, and he told us one entertaining story after another along the way.
Spotting polar bears in the summer is not always a guarantee, and if you do see them, it’s usually from a far distance. The bears have just come off the ice where they spent most of the winter hunting, and they are usually fat and relaxed during the summer. But luck was on our side and we spotted a nice, plump bear not long after our tour began. When Jim spotted the bear, we stopped to observe her as she swam across a large lake. Once she made it to the opposite side of the lake, she kept walking closer and closer to our buggy. She ended up coming within 40 feet of us!
We ended up spotting one other polar bear in the distance, and then we parked the buggy next to the beach for a fresh, delicious lunch of sandwiches, soup, cookies, and a wide range of drinks. It was such a fun day and we were so happy that we got to see a polar bear up close.
FAQ: 6 hour Summer Day Tour with Frontiers North. See current pricing, schedule, and additional info here.
Exploring the Town of Churchill: Museums, Murals, Beach and More
We weren’t expecting much from the actual town of Churchill, but we left completely smitten by this tiny, northern town. We couldn’t get enough of the colorful Sea Wall murals scattered all over town, the cozy cafes and pubs, the rocky beach with giant bonfire pits, and a grocery store that sells everything from produce to snowmobiles.
There are a couple of museums in town—the Parks Canada Visitor Centre, and the Itsanitaq Museum. We enjoyed browsing the museum and displays at the Parks Canada Visitor Centre. And unfortunately, we ran out of time and couldn’t make it to the Itsanitaq Museum while it was open, but we did hear great things about it.
Another fun thing to do in town is to head to the post office to get your passport stamped with a “Polar Bear Capital of the World” stamp. There are also several great gift shops around town that are worth a visit, as well!
Sloop Cove Historic Hike
The Sloop Cove Historic Site and Nature Walk tour consisted of a 2.5 mile hike from Sloop Cove to the Prince of Wales Fort. During the hike, we learned all about the history of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Company men involved in the fur trade that frequented this area in the 18thcentury.
To get to the beginning of the hike, we jumped in a zodiac boat and rode across the Churchill River to Sloop Cove. The entire hike is rich with history, and it starts off right away with the rocks at the hike’s starting point. If you look closely, you will see 18thcentury graffiti by Hudson Bay Company men—their names are scrawled out artistically over the rocks. Some of the engravings were from famous explorers such as Samuel Hearne and others were from sailors, captains, carpenters, and more.
We continued the hike and walked through the tundra meadow, along the beach, and past a gravesite, before reaching Prince of Wales Fort. Along the way, our group leader decided to take a detour and head up towards a hill to give us a beautiful overview of the landscape surrounding us.
Once we made it to the fort, we had a chance to head inside for another look around and more stories about life here when the fort was active. This was our last adventure during our trip to Churchill and it was a great way to close out our visit!
FAQ: 3-3.5 hour tour with Sea North Adventures. See current pricing, schedule, and additional info here.
Ride the Train to Churchill in a Sleeper Cabin
Our journey to Churchill was quite the experience, and we loved every minute of it! It took us 48 hours and two sleeps to get to Churchill on the VIA Rail Train from Winnipeg. We were in a Double Sleeper Plus Cabin that was set up with chairs during the day and bunks at night. Our cabin had a small bathroom, a sink, and a vanity, and there was a shared shower down the hall.
The back portion of the train was reserved for Sleeper Plus guests. The caboose had glass dome windows, and coffee, tea, and cookies were served on endless supply. We also had a dining car where we ate all of our meals—we ended up eating five delicious meals throughout our train journey. We were so glad we were able to take the train to Churchill and we had so much fun chatting with fellow guests along the way!
FAQ: 48 hour train journey in Sleeper Plus Class on the VIA Rail Train. See current pricing, schedule, and additional info here.
Bonus Adventure: Spend Time in Winnipeg Before and/or After Churchill
If you want to add a little more fun into your Churchill adventure, start and/or end your trip in Winnipeg! Winnipeg is one of our favorite cities—the people are wonderful and there is so much to do all year long. This time around, we stayed at the Fort Gary Hotel on both the front and back end of our trip. The hotel is in a convenient location for both the train station and for walking around town.
The night before our train to Churchill we went to a Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball game. They were playing our “home team”, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, so we couldn’t resist a night of outdoor summer fun.
For our last night in Manitoba, we went to the Forks Market for dinner and drinks and then walked along the river. We had pizza and salad at Red Ember Common and drinks on the outside patio at the similarly named establishment, The Common.
There are so many other fun things to do in Winnipeg, too. A few of our favorites are the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Thermea, and attending one of the many festivals throughout the year. Read all about our adventures in Winnipeg here.
If you can’t tell from all of our gushing reviews, we absolutely LOVED exploring all the summer adventures in Churchill, Manitoba. We had so much fun that we are now determined to head back to experience every season in this northern wonderland. We just have to head back to witness the polar bear migration in the fall, the northern lights in the winter, and the ice melt in the spring. Churchill is definitely a bucket list destination, but it’s definitely not a destination that can be checked off with just one visit!
Special thanks to Travel Manitoba and their partners for hosting us on our trip to Churchill. As always, all opinions are our own.