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Wapusk National Park: How to See Polar Bear Cubs in the Wild

Canada Wildlife National Parks
by Matador Creators Dec 27, 2022

Polar bears are the largest bears in the world, but if you want to see miniature versions of the majestic and endangered animals in the wild, there’s no better place than Wapusk National Park.

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Wapusk National Park is one of the most remote in all of Canada and is home to many polar bears, a species that has roamed the park’s ice fields since before European explorers first set foot on the continent. The park’s name comes from the Inuktitut word meaning “weed-covered land,” referring to the sparse plants that grow in the park’s tundra landscapes.  Wapusk has a rich history as being home for Inuit and First Nations groups for thousands of years, and there are still several communities nearby where you can take tours or classes to learn more about those cultures.

What makes Wapusk National Park special for most visitors is that it’s home to one of the world’s largest known polar bear maternity denning areas. Those are areas where pregnant female polar bears come during the summer (after the sea ice has broken up and it’s too hard to hunt for seals). They then stay to give birth to their cubs, usually around November or December. Females will fast and use their fat reserves to survive inland until February or March, when they make their way back to the sea ice to hunt.

According to Parks Canada, at birth, a polar bear cub is no bigger than one of its mother’s paws, and weigh between one to 1.5 pounds. Adult male polar bears weigh between 661 to 992 pounds, and females weigh between 331 to 551 pounds. While they’re cute as can be, they’re also extremely deadly, and you’ll want to read up on safety in polar bear country if you’re planning to visit.

How to visit Wapusk National Park

wapusk national park - polar bears

Photo: massimofusaro/Shutterstock

All activities in Wapusk National Park are run through an operator, and Wat’chee Expedition is the main one. It’s based close to Churchill. Tours specifically to see polar bear cubs in Wapusk National Park are offered only between mid-February and the end of March, so you need to plan your trip for that very specific window. The company website is a little light on info, but if you email them, they’ll send you information about all their various tours.

You can also take helicopter tours of the area with Prairie Helicopters, if you’d rather spot polar bears from above.

Those are basically your only options, as there are no roads into the park. There are also no visitor amenities — not even bathrooms. The closest restroom is at the Parks Canada office in Churchill, which is only open between mid-June and usually mid-October.

If getting there seems too complicated, you can try to spot cubs and moms using the park’s live live polar bear web cam.

Other places to see polar bears

polar bears in wapusk national park

Photo: saraporn/Shutterstock

If you can’t swing a trip to Wapusk National Park, you have a few other options for places in Canada or Alaska to see polar bears.

Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill, Manitoba is known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”  and is on the western shore of Hudson Bay, accessible by train or plane. You’ll find lots of options in Churchill for high-end, multi-day polar bear viewing tours and photography classes, or single-day tours in a purpose-built tundra vehicle. Churchill Wild is one the best known operators, and the best time to visit for polar bears and other wildlife is between October and November, when polar bears congregate near the coast waiting for the ice to form.

Baffin Island, Nunavut

Baffin Island is the largest island in Canada in the Arctic Ocean. It’s home to several polar bear populations as well as other Arctic wildlife, including walruses and narwhals. Visitors can take a guided polar bear tours or spend their time hiking, skiing, and visiting Inuit communities.

Kaktovik, Alaska

Kaktovik is a small village on Barter Island in Alaska. It is home to a small population of polar bears that gather near the village in the fall. You can only get there by flying from Fairbanks, and you’ll need to go with a tour operator to ensure your safety. Good choices include Planet Earth Adventures or Kaktovik Adventures. Permits for bear viewing are very limited, so make your plans years in advance. It’s almost as hard to visit as Wapusk National Park.

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