2024 Polar Bear Photography Tours in Churchill with Bear Witness
Embark on an extraordinary journey with Bear Witness Photo tours in Churchill, Manitoba, where the rugged beauty of the sub-arctic landscape comes to life. Running for three weeks from October 24th to November 11, 2024, this exclusive adventure is limited to just six guests per departure—ensuring an intimate, immersive experience. Join Johnny Hayward as your expert guide, delving into the heart of polar bear territory, capturing stunning moments that will last a lifetime.
Picture yourself getting on the ground with majestic polar bears, truly connecting with these incredible creatures in their natural habitat. This isn't just a tour; it's a sub-arctic safari experience, where each day is dedicated to exploring and photographing these Arctic giants.
Your home base for this unparalleled adventure is the cozy Blue Sky Bed and Breakfast, offering not only a comfortable retreat but also a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Indulge in home-cooked meals from breakfast to lunch and dinner, adding a personal touch to your sub-arctic sojourn.
Johnny Hayward's tours provide an authentic and unique opportunity to experience Churchill like never before. Spots are limited, so seize the chance to reserve your spot with a deposit. Contact Johnny Hayward now to learn more about this extraordinary photography adventure and secure your place in the heart of polar bear country.
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.
Bear Witness Photo Tours provides some of the nicest and cleanest accommodations in Churchill along with amazing home cooked meals. This is a great way to unwind after a day out on the land, with no need to leave our cozy B and B in search of dinner.
Bear Witness Photo Tours works with a new full sized pickup trucks for a max of 3 guests per vehicle 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.
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.
Unofficial 2024 Polar Bear Tour Dates: (NOTE: these dates are based on flights historically scheduled by Calm Air, 2024 official dates won’t be posted till 2024)
Friday, Oct. 25, 2024 – Wednesday, Oct. 30 at noon, 2024. (1 SPACE LEFT)
Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2024 – Monday, Nov. 4 at noon, 2024. (SOLD OUT)
Monday, Nov. 4, 2024 – Saturday, Nov. 9 at noon, 2024. (SOLD OUT)
Saturday, Nov. 9, 2024 – Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2024, Are add on days available for those attending the the Nov. 4 to Nov. 9 tour.
Tour Price: $7200 Canadian per person.
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.
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.
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.
"I had no idea what to expect booking with Johnny for this adventure up to Churchill. Everything I had read about the area and the bears made me realize it was a rugged place and one that needed respect for personal safety. I was after polar bear images. I wanted great landscapes with clean backgrounds. I wanted safe but close encounters with the bears. I was pleased to learn that Johnny is a world class professional photographer which is never a bad thing to have on a photo trip. This trip met those objectives. As arrival came and Johnny met us at the airport in his polar bear jacket, I knew instinctively this man was "the guy" to deliver my expectations with the adventure. Once we loaded up the vehicle for our first session the ground rules were set and established. Safety above all else. Having fun and going where you wanted was his daily directive to us. I soon came to learn how eager Johnny is to please and how seriously he views his time with the bears in their home. On days where weather hurt our chances to make great photography Johnny always found something interesting. On days with clear conditions, he and his team worked tirelessly to put us in front of bears. In retrospect looking back the week and the trip were a blur. I have longed to go to see Polar bears for a long time. I loved it. I loved the crappy weather days because Johnny provided a great BRB where we stayed in one house as a family. The home cooking (three meals daily) was beyond my expectations. The days in the field, the conversations with others who travelled with us and oh those encounters with the wildlife made this trip very memorable. You have many choices in picking a tour in Churchill. It would be very easy to pick a guide company that did not have your best interest at heart. I saw examples of that each day we were there. You will not be overcrowded on a Bear Witness tour. You will not be hungry, and you will see bears. Johnny guaranteed it and he delivered." -Ernie Lewallen, Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A. (Nov. 2023)
"Before I went to Churchill I researched a number of polar bear photography tours before I booked with Johnny Hayward of Bear Witness. I selected Johnny's tour because of his wildlife photography ethics and for extra effort he put into designing a tour that would provide an exceptional experience, for example, using pickup trucks with no one in the middle, and basing the tour out of a wonderful B&B with all meals included (and they were delicious!)Johnny was able to get our tour group into amazing polar bear photography opportunities while maintaining the safety of the photographers and not disturbing the bears. We were able to observe some amazing wild animal behaviour because of how he approaches wildlife photography. I came home with some great photos and with memories that will last a lifetime. -Dawn Traverse, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. (Nov. 2023)
“I had an unforgettable trip with Johnny’s tour in Nov 2023. And let me list a few key aspects that in my opinion made Johnny’s tour vastly superior to many others: A small group in full sized pickup trucks was by far more convenient and more practical compared to larger groups in minivans and such (particularly for photographers like us who at times wanted to get in and out of the car very quickly to get THE shot). Having all meals included was a huge plus, from both cost and convenience perspectives. And not just any meals, but some excellent home-made meals prepared by the amazing Jenafor at BlueSky B&B. All the folks at BlueSky made us truly feel part of the family even though we just had a very short stay there. It was so comforting coming back “home” after a long day of photographing bears and other wildlife on the tundra. Lastly Johnny has been in this area numerous times over the years, and Gerald at BlueSky is a local. So they are very familiar with every corner, and with them as our guides, we had no issues finding many polar bears, and other wildlife (many foxes including an Arctic Fox, arctic hare, etc.) during our short stay.” –Kambiz Shoarinejad, Tustin, CA, USA. (Nov. 2023)
“Going to Churchill to photograph polar bears was a bucket list item for us. We felt like going with Johnny was the best decision we made. He loves the bears and wants more than anything to protect them and see them thrive. It was truly a moving experience to witness this. With his 2 trucks and extra guide, we had the best opportunity for photography. And we had so many opportunities to see the behaviors and beauty of the animals. His collaboration with Jenafor and Gerald at Bluesky Bed and Sled is ideal. So relaxing to be able to go straight back to our lodge after a long day of bear photography and look forward to a fantastic home-cooked meal. Jenafor is an amazing cook. We have nothing but awesome memories of this trip and couldn’t be happier with the photos we brought home with us.Thank you so much for a fantastic week!” -Amy Tyson, Colorado, USA. (Nov. 2023)
“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)
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. www.fubukiboots.com
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. For travel cases and backpacks I highly recommend Canadian made Nanuk products, www.nanukcases.ca you can receive 15% off any products there if you add promo code ( johnnyhayward15 ) at checkout.
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 Bear Witness 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.
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 www.calmair.com or you can take the train from either Winnipeg or Thompson www.viarail.ca
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.
EMAIL FOR 2024 PRICING AND TOUR DATES SPACES ARE FILLING UP QUICKLY.
To secure spaces email me at email@example.com once I receive your email I will send an invoice for a 50% deposit per person with the balance being due 120 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. Due to the geographical location and small number of guests 100% cancelations are only available up until 120 days prior to your trip. Travel insurance is highly recommended.
"I did a trip to Churchill Manitoba in November 2023 to photograph polar bears with Johnny and Bear Witness. The trip definitely exceeded the expectations I had going into it. There was so much that set Bear Witness apart from all the other tours that were there. We were in Ford F150 pickups as opposed to shuttle vans. You’d think this wouldn’t matter much until the bears get close enough where you need to get back in the vehicle for safety. With pickups, we were still able to photograph out the windows from the safety of the truck. Not so much for those vans. Some of the best shots I got were from in the truck! Then there’s Johnny’s extensive experience as a press photographer, he knew where to position photographers for best light and shots and this definitely made a difference. He also knows the area well and put us in areas where he knew the bears would be. And above all, there was total respect for the bears, making certain we weren’t putting pressure on them. From experience, Johnny knew what the bears wanted to do and where they wanted to move to. Often we would just get into a spot and position and wait for the bears to come to us which made for some amazing encounters. On top of all this, Johnny’s got a great sense of humor and kept us entertained all day long. My next trip back to Churchill will be with Bear Witness again." -Don Busby, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA. (Nov. 2023)
"Bear Witness is the absolute best in Churchill for viewing and photographing Polar bears. Johnny Hayward has every single detail of the trip perfect, from the warm, friendly all inclusive accommodations to the clean, comfortable trucks with easy access in and out for quick scenario photography. We were able to maneuver into the perfect spots to get the best photos without bothering the polar bears in their habitat. I also appreciated the great food, good cheer and the wealth of care that was very present from everyone associated with Bear Witness." -Michelle McConville, New York, NY, USA. (Oct. 2023)
"Experience, coupled with passion and energy from Mr.Hayward makes for an exceptional trip. Accommodation in Churchill can be tricky. Bear witness has that covered with the exquisite Bluesky Bed and Sled. The smaller groups keep you nimble and able to get to prime locations rapidly. I am heading back for a third year." -Paul Wright, Whistler, B.C., Canada. (Oct. 2023)
"Been to Churchill twice before the trip with Johnny. This trip was by far the best. Perfect communication before heading up there, the right vehicles for exploring while there, excellent accommodation and the guides were superb. Additionally the polar bear opportunities were top notch. Highly recommend.' -Henrik Nilsson, North Vancouver, Canada. (Nov. 2023)
"Amazing experience, food was amazing, bears were amazing, guides were amazing. One of the best weeks of my life :)." -Keira Houlihan, North Vancouver, Canada. (Nov. 2023)