Encounter the King of the Arctic at This Polar Bear Ice Bridge Hotel - Atlas Obscura
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Encounter the King of the Arctic at This Polar Bear Ice Bridge Hotel

article-imagephotograph by Brad Josephs (all images courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures)

The Arctic tundra is one of those places that evokes pure awe with its vast sparkling landscapes and wildlife unlike any other on earth. Amid the frozen wonderland is the town of Churchill in Manitoba, Canada, where every fall the mouth of the Hudson Bay freezes over, creating an ice bridge used by polar bears looking to cross over to higher hunting grounds.

From October to November, the bears gather at this spot waiting for the bridge to form, and since 2003 Natural Habitat Adventures has been giving people the opportunity to view these majestic creatures during their brief layover. The domicile for this excursion is the Tundra Lodge, a 32-room hotel-on-wheels that drives out onto a stretch of this frigid terrain at the beginning of each polar bear season, allowing guests to spend four days of their trip eating and sleeping in the presence of polar bears.

article-imagephotograph by Colin McNulty

The Tundra Lodge has been designed specifically for the viewing of the bears and other wildlife with private windows in each of the rooms and additional sliding windows in both the lounge and dining cars accessible to everyone on board. Outdoor viewing platforms and steel mesh flooring in between the cars of the Tundra Lodge give additional chances to have some one-on-one face time with intrigued polar bears that often explore the windows, tires, or viewing platforms, with the bears as curious about the people inside as the guests are about them.

Staff member Holly Glessner told Atlas Obscura about a recent encounter: “One afternoon a very curious bear wandered over to the lodge to check a few of us out that were standing on the viewing platform. The next thing you know the polar bear stood up on its hind legs and stuck its large black nose right up against the multiple layers of steel grating that separated us from the bear and took a long deep sniff, I have a feeling we smelled delicious to him.”

An additional feature of the Tundra Lodge’s are Polar Rovers, brining the intrepid even closer to the wildlife with a large bus-like vehicle equipped with sliding windows and more steel mesh viewing platforms. On lucky evenings, the Northern Lights stretch across the night sky.

article-imagephotograph by Brad Josephs

article-image
photograph by Henry H. Holdsworth

Court Whelan, Conservation Travel Specialist with Natural Habitat Adventures, stated: “It’s a very communal feeling. Partly because the group eats meals together in the restaurant car and listens to discussions and talks from the Expedition Leaders at night in the lounge car together, but also because you’re sharing such an intimate wildlife experience together.”

The polar bears are under an ever-increasing threat of global warming and destruction of their natural habitats. Due to their delicate circumstances, keeping their natural habitat clean and safe is a top priority. In 2006, the company became the world’s first carbon-neutral travel company with all travel emissions being 100% carbon offset. This and other efforts in conservation, outreach, and education led to the World Wildlife Fund to name them its worldwide travel partner for their commitment to environmentally friendly travel. Additionally, all visitors are provided with a steel water bottle and coffee mug in order to eliminate the use of plastic or Styrofoam as well as the possibility of anything being left behind. 

article-imagephotograph by Glen Delman

article-image
photograph by Glen Delman

Watching nature in its most pure form has become less the norm and more of a rarity to many modern eyes. The raw beauty of it can be humbling, shattering, awe-inspiring, and create memories that can never be forgotten. Staying in the Tundra Lodge offers the ability to witness this kind of raw natural wonder while still taking care to ensure to that it will be around for years to come.

“This is a truly special experience,” stated Whelan, “There’s something about eating oatmeal in the morning and looking out the window to see a 1,000 pound polar bear rolling around in the willows [that’s] really special.”

article-imagephotograph by Joan Borinstein

article-imagephotograph by Melissa Scott

More information on polar bears and conservation can be found at the World Wildlife Fund.


Polar Week is January 27 - 31, 2014 at Atlas Obscura. Follow along on Twitter (hashtag #PolarWeek), FacebookTumblrGoogle+, and Kinja