2023 Polar Bear Tours

A New Year a new set of tours to the Polar Bear Capital of the World

A polar bear walks along the beach on the shores of the Hudson’s Bay, Oct. 2021.

A little about your tour guide Johnny Hayward and his ultimate small group tours. 

Johnny is a wildlife photographer and a retired Canadian national photojournalist with more than 28 years of experience. As a photographer and a certified guide his approach to wildlife photography is similar to how he covered major news or sporting events—waiting and watching for the subtle moments that tell the story behind the story. Johnny has travelled to the farthest reaches of North America to reveal the humanity in nature, and the nature of our humanity. His aim is simply to bear witness and bring you nature’s most captivating stories as they unfold. Johnny has become familiar with the polar bears of Churchill having had his first trip in 1999, with several visits through the years logging a lot of travel time in the polar bear capital of the world.  2022 was Johnny’s first time leading a tour in Churchill and with the help of local Gerald Azure it was a huge success giving clients a trip of a lifetime with a personal touch of stories, great food and friendship.  Johnny believes in relationships and his friendship with locals like Jennafor and Gerald Azure who are the owners of Bluesky Bed and Sled help him settle into the community with ease.  Jennafor and Gerald also own the best dog sledding company in Churchill which is a real treat if you can get a ride in. Being a photographer himself Johnny works to get his guests into the best location possible looking for clean backgrounds when possible to help everyone create brilliant images.  “I like to try and break away from the other tours when possible and take a chance on seeing something unique.”

On polar bear patrol just outside of Churchill, Mb. Nov. 2022.

The goal is to photograph polar bears and if you want to stay with a particular bear all day to get the moment that you have envisioned then thats what we do.  Safety is our first and main priority, getting the image that you desire comes next and we will spend the time to help you achieve this goal while keeping both the guests and the polar bear safe.  

A special moment between a mother bear and her cub near Churchill, Mb. 2021.

Nanuk, or I like to call him, the “King of the North”.  

This tour is all about polar bears. You’ll view and photograph polar bears walking along the shoreline, testing the sea ice, cubs playing with one another, and if we are lucky adults wrestling and sparring with another. There are endless photography possibilities, including every pose and portrait you can imagine.

Seeing polar bears in the wild is special. But photographing wild polar bears on foot is an experience unlike any other.

From mid-October to mid-November, polar bears congregate near Churchill to test the newly formed sea ice. It’s been months since they’ve eaten a seal, their primary source of food, and they are eager to hunt. Unlike most other popular bear populations, these bears are tolerant of human activity, which allows for close encounters and amazing photographic opportunities.

blog spar
Polar bears sparring with one another.

I provide some of the nicest and cleanest accommodations in Churchill along with amazing home cooked meals.

I work with a new full sized pickup truck for a max of 3 guests so everyone gets their own window and door to make easy access when you want to quickly get in or out of the truck to make an image.  This gives everyone plenty of space for photography gear and large winter jackets.  The back of the truck gives ample space for tripods and also can act as a bit of a step up if needed to see over a rock or grass when photographing the bears. I bring lunches and coffee with us so we can stay out in comfort till the daylight fades away.  Your vehicle is equipped with oversized tires perfect for the terrain, a lift to give better clearance, towing equipment, shovels, two way radios, first aid kit and a booster battery.

Guests are to arrange their own transportation to and from Churchill, MB.  Please note that flights to Churchill, Manitoba normally leave Winnipeg early am Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.  This early departure means that you will have to overnight in Winnipeg the night before your flight to Churchill, I recommend the Courtyard by Marriott right at the Winnipeg airport as its new clean and well priced.  

One of the clean and cozy rooms at Blue Sky Bed and Sled, queen sized bed.

2023 Polar Bear Tour Dates: (NOTE: these dates are based on flights historically scheduled by Calm Air, 2023 official dates won’t be posted till later this year)

Friday, Oct. 27, 2023 – Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023.

Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023 – Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

Monday, Nov. 6, 2023 – Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.

Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 – Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023.


Day 1

Arrive in beautiful Churchill, Manitoba.  

Your polar bear adventure starts midday when the Calm Air flight from Winnipeg arrives. For the guests arriving by plane, I will pick you up at the airport in a clean new truck and I will bring you to your room at the Bluesky Bed & Sled. After a quick check in, we will head out in the afternoon to search for polar bears until sunset. 

Day 2-5

Churchill, Manitoba. 

For each of the next four days, we will have an early hot breakfast prepared by one of the all time best cooks in the north before heading out in search for polar bears until sunset. This is a ground based tour which gets you up close to the bears to view them at eye level, a once in a life experience to say the least.  Once we spot a bear I will do my best to get the vehicle into the best possible viewing position and when it’s safe to do so, we will be able to get out of our vehicle to photograph polar bears.  Simply amazing.  Other animals that we may come in contact with are arctic foxes, red fox, wolves, ptarmigan, eagles and arctic hares.  Once the light is gone and we have worked up an appetite we will return to our cozy home base to enjoy a fabulous home cooked meal followed by dessert, drinks and chatter of the excitement of the day.  If the conditions present themselves we will go out to photograph and view the incredible Northern Lights, a sight that is beyond words.  

Day 6

Tour Ends

We will have one last morning to search for polar bears. Your tour will end around midday to coincide with the return flight to Winnipeg.

Photo copyright of Johnny Hayward photo and Jonathan Hayward


“Johnny has nailed the ingredients of an amazing tour to Churchill. His experience of over two decades with the polar bears, coupled with his world class photography expertise culminates in a fabulous experience. Each day is wrapped in the warmth of the Bluesky Bed and Sled accommodation. Local, genuine hospitality that is unbeatable. His collaboration with the lifetime local guides results in a wonderful engagement. If you want to truly fill your soul, spend a week with Johnny Hayward Photo.” Paul Wright, Whistler, B.C., Canada. (Nov. 2022)

“I just wanted to thank you again for such a spectacular experience and for your patience, guidance and valuable hints and tips to help us improve our photography. It was so exhilarating and awe-inspiring to be amongst those majestic polar bears, and to capture those images.” -Tony Trott, Calgary, Alberta. (Oct. 2022)

“I had a wonderful time with Johnny Hayward Photo in Churchill. We saw around 20 bears and several foxes,  the photographic experience was amazing. Thank you Johnny for your constant good mood, your endless help in all situations and photographic matters. Johnny is always at the right position at the right moment with the perfect angle! All was very well organized , comfortable and spacious truck, nice and cosy B&B with amazing food (thanks to Jennafor and Gerald from BlueSky Bed & Sled). Hope to come back one day for a new unforgettable experience!” Sophie Rapp, Morocco (Nov 2022)

The aurora borealis is seen in Churchill, Manitoba, Oct. 2022.

Questions and Answers:

What kind of temperature can I expect?

Well its northern Canada so to say it varies is an understatement but typically it can range -5 to -30 degrees Celsius with windchill.  I work with layers so I can adjust my warmth throughout the day this allows me to take something off if I get too warm while in the truck.  A warm truck is always close to take reprieve but for those who like to stay out for a long time warm books and mitts/gloves are a must.   For boots I swear by Fubuki to keep my tootsies warm.

Pack yourself a warm parka with a hood, ski pants or like, the warmest gloves you can find, hat, face cover.  For the environment if you could please bring your own coffee thermos and water bottle as we want to leave the smallest footprint from our visit as possible.  

What is the ability level?

This would be rated as easy for most wildlife photographers and adventure seekers as most of the travel each day is in a heated four wheel drive full sized pickup truck. Guests should be prepared for extreme weather and severe cold.  

What focal length is best to photograph polar bears?

These animals are apex predators so my main lens is mostly a 800mm focal range or a 600mm with a  1.4X.  Thats not to say that you can’t get away with a 100-400mm which I have made some incredible images with especially as a bear approaches and like every photoshoot I always have a wide angle lens ready to make the atmospheric images that may present themselves.  

Johnny learning the ways of the north from good friends and full time Churchill, locals Jennafor and Gerald Azure.

How far are we to the bears?

We can not get closer than 100 meters/300 feet from a bear however bears may close that gap and come closer to us.  This is where you guide will access the situation to keep both the bears and the guests safe while maintaining an optimal place to photograph and view from.  Safety is the top priority.  Our job is to simply view and not to obstruct or challenge a bear in any way.

When is  the best time to view polar bears?

From Oct. to mid Nov. is the best time.  This is because the waters from the Churchill River flow into Hudson’s Bay allowing sea ice to form along the shores of Churchill before anywhere else.  This sea ice is crucial for the polar bear to get out to its hunting grounds to look for seal which is their main source of food.  

What happens when nature calls (aka I need to use a washroom)?

Making a trip to a washroom is never an issue, just communicate with your guide and we can head to either the research centre, to the airport or back to the bed and breakfast depending on where we are at the time of need.  

What are the dining options?

Churchill has several restaurants however due to Johnny Hayward Photo renting an entire bed and breakfast we have the ability to do all of our own meals which is included in the price.  All breads are made on site with daily with  freshly ground Manitoba wheat, be prepared for some of the best home cooked meals that you have encountered on a wildlife trip.  Any special food requirements have to be made at the time of booking as setting the menu and the gathering of supplies happens months and weeks prior to your arrival.  

A mother polar bear stays close her cub.

Will there be wifi?

Indeed there is, our bed and breakfast has incredible wifi so you can upload your photos as you see fit and or stay in contact with loved ones back home.  Cell coverage is great around the town of Churchill but quickly gets lost when we are out in the field with the bears.  Your guide will have a two way radio to keeps us in touch with home base and other guides.  

How do I get to Churchill? 

When travelling from Winnipeg to Churchill you have two options.  You can fly directly from Winnipeg airport via Calm Air or you can take the train from either Winnipeg or Thompson

With Calm Air you can sometimes book with your Aeroplan but this has to be done by calling Calm Air directly.  

Should I get insurance?

I would strongly suggest travel insurance that would include trip cancellation, medical evacuation lost or stolen luggage and or camera equipment.  Johnny Hayward photo will not be held responsible for missed connections or any other travel related issues.  Sorry but we have to adhere to our cancellation policy.  

Will we see other types of wildlife:

Though wildlife viewing is not guaranteed anywhere due to nature being nature there is a high probability of seeing arctic foxes, red fox, wolves, ptarmigan, eagles and arctic hares.  This year a wolverine was spotted so you just never know what you will come upon.  

Tour price is $5895 plus GST. 

To secure spaces email me at once I receive your email I will send an invoice for a  $2000 deposit per person with the balance being due 60 days before the trip.  Invoices can be paid via visa, mastercard, amex or e-transfers.  Your reservation isn’t confirmed until I receive the deposit in full.  

A polar bear walks out onto the sea ice on the Hudson’s Bay.
blog crow
A polar bear watches as a raven plays in the wind Oct. 2022.
J Hayward

Choose your next adventure...

Sorry, we couldn't find any posts. Please try a different search.