Polar Bear Walking Photo Journey (Canada)

While this trip is marketed as the ultimate photographic opportunity for Polar Bears (which it is), it is by no means limited to hard core photographers; it is perfect for people who just want to get up close to Polar Bears in their environment and spend time with them, learning about them and other arctic wildlife. As well as the walking trip, we are offering a three day extension to make the most of the boreal forest around Winnipeg, by heading out to Riding Mountain National Park

Wildly rugged and remote – the tundra coastal lodge at which we will be based for our Polar Bear Photo Journey, provides the discerning photographer and nature enthusiast the ability to dedicate long days in the field getting up close and personal with Arctic wildlife. Ground level photo opportunities are offered for Arctic wildlife, including Polar Bears, in a pristine wilderness setting in the heart of Polar Bear country. Polar Bears, Caribou, Short-tailed Weasel, Arctic Hare, Arctic Foxes, and Willow Ptarmigans in a backdrop of stunning sea and landscapes. Our Lodge’s shoreline location is ideal for photographing bears on ice and snow.


Day 1: Arrival in Winnipeg. After arrival you will transfer to the Four Points by Sheraton at Winnipeg Airport. At 6:00 p.m. you will meet your Tropical birding guide for a pre-dinner drink. Later, dinner will be held at the hotel where you will meet your group and your adventure specialist from the lodge. You’ll need your rest tonight for your early morning departure to Churchill.

Day 2: . Winnipeg to Seal River Heritage Lodge. We will fly from Winnipeg to Churchill, where one of the lodge staff will meet us at the airport and provide us with instructions for the morning transfer. At this point we can also pick up any winter gear, if you anyone is renting any items for the tour. We will then be transferred by fixed wing aircraft to Seal River Heritage Lodge. This exciting flight takes us out over the historic Churchill River, and then northwest up the rugged Hudson Bay coast to Canada’s most exclusive polar bear viewing properties.

This tour offers much better angles at which to shoot Polar Bears than from traditional buggy tours
This tour offers much better angles at which to shoot Polar Bears than from traditional buggy tours (Iain Campbell)

Upon our arrival, our hosts will provide a tour of the Lodge and get us all settled into our rooms. A thorough orientation on travelling safely in polar bear country will be provided prior to any outings. Then it’s time to assemble all our gear. Do not forget to bring extra memory cards, as you can easily shoot through 64 gigs in an outing. The types of lens varies by photographer, but we recommend a setup with a wide angle, a 200mm or 300mm for close ups for bears, and a 400mm, 500mm or 600mm for birds. On the last trip, Iain had a 500mm and he occasionally used the 1.4 extender for birds. He had a 70-300 for bears and foxes which were close. He did not bring a wide angle, and regretted that. However, even if you do not have professional photographic gear, a compact digital camera with a good zoom, will still also many great personal shots of the bears.

A Polar Bear playing peek-a-boo was one of the highlights
A Polar Bear playing peek-a-boo was one of the highlights (Iain Campbell)

Days 3-5: . Guided Walking Tours through the Arctic Tundra. The Seal River Heritage Lodge is a wildly rugged and remote location. The photographic opportunities here are unsurpassed and finding targets to photograph is easy. The biggest challenge will be adapting to changing light conditions to express just how amazing this experience really is. Below is a writeup from the last trip report for this tour, which should give you a feel for this unique experience in Polar Bear country:

“When we went on the guided walks, the leaders talked about all aspects of Arctic biology, history and culture. We found ourselves talking about Inuit and First Nation lifestyle while being watched by another local (a Polar Bear!). The general protocol was to not let new bears get too close (about 100 yards) before the expert local guides used noise to keep them at a safe distance… One particular bear followed us regularly, and would walk to within 30 yards, and usually lie down and watch us before dozing off. Now that is not to say that there were not times when my adrenalin went sky high with a bear not wanting to back off. At no time did the local guides lose their composure, and they were always in control of the situation…

Getting up close and personal with bears is the objective of this tour
Getting up close and personal with bears is the objective of this tour (Iain Campbell)

Sometimes it was not necessary to head out of the lodge compound to have a close bear encounter. Bears regularly walked up and down the Hudson Bay coastline, so every few hours or so, one would walk past the lodge. Now, sitting for a month waiting for ice to form would test even the most “Zen” bear, so having a person to interact with is a pretty interesting way to fill in this time. When a bear was in the area and I went out to the compound and sat beside the fence, the bear would come up to the fence to interact with me.”

Hundreds of Willow Ptarmigans may just tempt us away from the bears for a while
Hundreds of Willow Ptarmigans may just tempt us away from the bears for a while (Iain Campbell)

Generally breakfast is served at 8:00 a.m., lunch as required; with appetisers at 6:00 p.m; followed by a veritable feast for the palate at 7:00 p.m. Evenings are spent by the fireplace downloading images, sharing the day’s adventures, or taking in an optional informative lecture or slide show. The entire Lodge area is patrolled for polar bears all night by one of the night watchmen, so be prepared to have your sleep cut short if the “Northern Lights” are particularly good. They have an exceptional number of clear nights for Northern Lights photography, so although it may be very cold, it is well worth the effort to jump into the warm weather gear and venture into the compound for this phenomenal light show. Generally you have your cameras set up ready to take long exposure shots if the lights are “performing”.

Arctic Foxes will sport photogenic winter coats at this time of year
Arctic Foxes will sport photogenic winter coats at this time of year (Iain Campbell)

Day 6: . Seal River Heritage Lodge to Winnipeg. After another hearty breakfast it’s time to pack for the flight back to Churchill, say good-byes and shoot some final pictures. If time permits, you can do one last walk out into the tundra for that last shot of an Arctic Hare, or to chase down images of a ghostly Snowy Owl. After another exciting aerial tour back, you’ll arrive in Churchill where your bags will be stored for you until your flight back to Winnipeg later in the day. We will check out some of the sites around Churchill during the afternoon. If any birds or mammals are concentrating nearby, we will seek photos of them too. If not, we will take time to explore this small, but very interesting, Arctic town. After an early dinner we will meet up with our expeditor and we will be transferred to Churchill airport for the flight back to Winnipeg. After arrival into Winnipeg we will check back into the Four Points by Sheraton at the airport for another night.

Day 7: .Departure from Winnipeg. For those departing morning flights will be taken, while others can stay on for a memorable five-day extension to Riding Mountain National Park.

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EXTENSION OPTION

Riding Mountain National Park Extension (5 days)

Riding Mountain National Park is one of the most spectacular of all Canadian parks; perched on the Manitoba Escarpment, and boasting an array of rich wildlife habitats, from rough Fescue grasslands to boreal forests and deciduous woodlands, and littered with scenic wetlands and bogs. Even in this season, there is plenty of bird and animal life to keep our cameras busy. The park holds one of the largest populations of Black Bears in North America, and is also home to healthy populations of Elk, Moose, and Beaver. Bird wise, the park can rightly claim a list of more than 260 species, which includes photogenic species like Spruce Grouse, Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, and Black-backed Woodpecker. This extension provides some perfect downtime, and, offers a richer diversity of wildlife than experienced in the far north on the main tour. The landscapes birdlife and other animals will be in complete contrast to those seen on the main tour, complementing this perfectly with a host of other species and sights to engage our cameras and our senses.

The extension offers excellent chances to photograph Spruce Grouse
The extension offers excellent chances to photograph Spruce Grouse (Iain Campbell)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

CLIMATE: The main tour and the extension visit the Boreal and Arctic zones in the fall, when extreme cold temperatures, ice and snow are to be expected. Multiple layers of cold weather gear are essential. Some cold weather gear can be rented from Churchill for the main tour.

DIFFICULTY: Very easy. There are no difficult walks on either the main tour or the extension.

ACCOMMODATION: Excellent. Seal River Heritage Lodge, in spite of its remote location offers good quality lodging with 24-hour electricity, plentiful hot water, great cuisine, and a very comfortable heated environment.