Where to See Polar Bears in the Wild

Polar Bear Tours in Alaska and Canada

olar Bears approaching Tundra Buggy Lodge
••• Daisy Gilardini/Getty Images

Polar bears are found in Alaska, Northern Canada, Greenland, Norway, and other locales above the Arctic Circle. Since polar bears spend most of their time in the sea hunting seals, the best time for viewing is when the ice melts and they spend time on shore. These marine mammals, which are on the Endangered Species List, are truly magnificent.

The boars, or males, can weigh 1,400 pounds and the adult sows, or females, weigh approximately 600 pounds.

A boar can stand more than 10-feet tall, which makes it a creature you don't want to see up close and personal, unless you're in the confines of a special viewing vehicle.

Polar Bear Tours in Alaska and Canada

While it's not mandatory to join a tour to view polar bears, it is advisable. Aside from safety (a significant factor) you're more likely to see polar bears when traveling with an established tour company than on your own. The guides know where to look for bears and are more likely to spot them with their white fur against the whit tundra, than the average tourist. Also the special vehicles used by the tour companies do not harass or bother the bears.

Several companies offer polar bear tours in Alaska and in northern Canada. If, for example, you were to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, where there has been a push to drill for oil in an important locale for denning, pregnant polar bears, there are strict federal regulations.

Warbelows Air Ventures flies from Fairbanks, Alaska in September and October and clients stay in an Inupiat village found on the Reserve. If you travel with them, they will guarantee you'll see polar bear.

Wild Alaska Travel has a 6 day/5night trip and a 10 day/9 night trip, both departing from and returning to Fairbanks.

The tours go to one of the most remote villages in Alaska, Kaktovik on Barter Island, which is offshore from Alaska's North Slope. The longer tour includes more van travel and the opportunity to see the Northern Lights. The tour groups are small and they book up early.

The town of Churchill, located in Manitoba, Canada, is often referred to as the "Polar Bear Capital of the World." Of course, this makes it another great destination for watching polar bears and there are several companies that run tours in the region. 

The Great Canadian Travel Company offers a variety of polar bear tours around Churchill. This company's trips range from one day in their tundra vehicle to a longer, guided tour that includes two days on the buggy. Tours start in Winnipeg and travels have an option of taking a train to and from Churchill.

Natural Habitat Adventures leads polar bear tours to Churchill, on the shores of Hudson Bay. The company's "custom-built Polar Rovers" have six-foot tires and special observation decks, as well as a comfortably heated interior for close up viewing of the creatures.

Churchill Wild has excursions to see polar bears in their natural habitat both in the summer and in the winter.

In the summer you may see bears frolicking near wildflowers and grazing in the grasslands. But as things begin to cool off, the Great Ice Bear Adventures take place in October and November. Churchill Wild has its own eco-lodge and the trip includes the 30-kilometer flights to and from that spot. This is a special opportunity to stay someplace other than a Churchill hotel. Check it out and ask questions about the accommodations.

Options in Norway

Alaska and Canada aren't the only places to spot polar bears in the wild. Norway's Svalbard archipelago is also a magnificent destination for this who want to see these animals in the wild. The area is home to a bear population that is believed to number somewhere in the neighborhood of about 3500, making them a common sight for those who live or visit the region.

 

There are several tour operators who lead trips into the Svalbard region, including 50º​ North and even National Geographic Expeditions. As with most other tours of this kind, the trips are handled in an eco-friendly fashion and with an eye on sustainable tourism throughout the areas visited.