Photo: Destination Canada

What You Must Know About Seeing Polar Bears in Canada's Far North

Nunavut Wildlife Ski and Snow
by Matador Creators Jan 9, 2023

Nunavut, a Canadian territory in northern Canada, is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of wild polar bears in Canada. The large amount of sea ice, which serves as an ideal habitat for the animals, makes it possible for visitors to witness these majestic creatures firsthand. In addition to being able to observe them from land, there are also numerous tour companies and organizations that offer boat tours through Nunavut’s coastal regions.

There are a lot of outdoor adventure opportunities in Nunavut, but seeing polar bears is one of the most magical.

Regardless of how you choose to view polar bears in Canada, seeing the endangered species in the wild is an unforgettable experience that will remain with you long after your travels have ended.

Where to see polar bears in Canada

Nunavut’s expansive coastlines and seas make it the perfect place to witness wild polar bears in their natural habitat. There are numerous wildlife viewing opportunities throughout the region, both on land and by sea.

On land, visitors can see polar bears from scenic lookouts or on guided hikes undertaken with experienced Nunavummiut (Inuit people). By taking a boat tour, you can view these magnificent creatures up close and personal as they traverse the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean. Tour companies across Nunavut offer a range of packages designed to suit most budgets (though it’s hard to find a “cheap” tour), but if you save up a bit, you can probably find a tour to take you to see the beautiful animals.

How to get to Nunavut, Canada

The only way to get to Nunavut is by air as there are no roads to the northernmost territory’s towns from the rest of Canada. The majority of flights going to Nunavut arrive at Iqaluit Airport (YFB). From there, you’ll need to arrange ground transportation or a charter flight to reach more remote areas such as Arctic Bay, Gjoa Haven, and Pond Inlet. Some tours that leave from other cities may charter private planes to fly guests directly to remote polar bear camps.

For visitors from outside of Canada, the best options are usually flying through Ottawa International Airport (YOW) or Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL), where you can connect with regional carriers offering direct flights into Nunavut. Most of the operators who offer tours to see polar bears in Canada can also arrange your transportation.

Polar bear tour companies in Nunavut

Whether you want to observe polar bears on land or by sea, there are a variety of tour companies that provide unique experiences in Nunavut.

For those who would prefer to see Canada’s polar bears by boat — which is a good way to see them, as they spend most of their time on the water — Arctic Bay Adventures offers week-long boat tours operated by experienced locals who know the area like the back of their hands. If you have no concerns about cost, Arctic Kingdom specializes in luxury tours that include all your transportation, chances to see the northern lights, and gourmet meals every evening designed to fit any budget.

For those wanting to explore Nunavut’s coastlines on their own, Tundra North Tours can help arrange ground transportation services from Iqaluit to several remote locations. They also offer an array of activities such as fishing, whale watching, and hiking for visitors looking for a more immersive Nunavut experience. Polar bear tourism is a big draw in the area, so you’ll find everything from luxury private tours to photo tours. Most organized tours will be at least a few days long since transportation in the area can be slow and impacted by weather.

Safety while viewing polar bears in Canada

tourists in a buggy viewing polar bears in canada

Most companies use reinforced, raised polar bear buggies to move guests, and staying inside them is incredibly important both for your safety and the bear’s safety. Photo: Destination Canada/Frontier North Adventures/Jessica Burtnick

Remember that polar bears are wild animals and should not be approached or disturbed. Visitors should always adhere to safety guidelines provided by tour operators prior to embarking on any wildlife-viewing activities. This will ensure that both Nunavummiut and visitors remain safe when encountering polar bears in the wild. Though they may look adorable, polar bears are one of the most dangerous predators on earth.

In addition, visitors should always respect Nunavummiut culture and tradition while visiting the territory. This includes treating all Nunavummiut people with respect, avoiding taking photographs of private property or sacred sites, and learning about Nunavummiut ways of life from knowledgeable locals. Booking tours and activities from companies owned by Indigenous people is also a great way to ensure your tourism dollars are helping local communities.

When to see polar bears in Nunavut

The best time to see wild polar bears in Nunavut is during the late summer months when sea ice is at its minimum. This period usually takes place from mid-June to mid-September, and the animals can be seen both on land and in the water. Many trips go into October and November; polar bears don’t hibernate, so it’s more a matter of whether you can tolerate the extremely cold weather.

It is important to remember that polar bear sightings cannot be guaranteed: their movements are completely unpredictable, so it’s best to plan for a longer stay if you want to maximize your chances of seeing them.

How to help polar bears

Mom and baby polar bears swimming

Melting ice means polar bears are being forced to swim longer distances than normal to reach ice and food. Photo: Indigenous Tourism Canada

Polar bears and other arctic animals are facing a multitude of threats due to climate change and other human-caused activities. There are many ways in which you can help protect these iconic species. You can support the work of organizations such as WWF (World Wildlife Fund), which works tirelessly to preserve polar bear habitats across Nunavut and beyond.

By making sustainable lifestyle choices, you can reduce your carbon footprint and limit the effects of global warming on polar bears and their environment. Polar bears are being forced to swim enormous distances to reach fewer-and-farther-between icebergs, which can lead to exhaustion and death.

Finally, educate others about the importance of preserving polar bear habitat and population. The more people know about the issues these animals are facing, and how humans contribute to them, the greater chance of growing public support for useful solutions to help protect them.

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