(CHURCHILL, MANITOBA, CANADA) "“ You may have always wanted to view the polar bears of Churchill, Manitoba "“ but haven't been able to find the time to travel so far north. This year, a new program offers you the chance to view these fascinating animals up close in their own habitat during a short four-day, three-night trip.

A full day on the tundra observing polar bears is the heart of the itinerary of

"The Polar Bear Overnighter." This once-in-a-lifetime trip is operated by The Great Canadian Travel Company, an operator that has been organizing polar bear observation tours since 1980.

The short itinerary provides for one night spent in Churchill, tucked into the western shore of Hudson Bay about 650 miles north of Winnipeg. Each fall, for about seven weeks, the shoreline is alive with polar bears as these extraordinary animals prowl along the coast anxiously waiting for sea ice to form. Once this happens, the bears move out onto the frozen bay and spend the winter hunting seals.

From the security of a giant tundra vehicle, you will capture the first sightings of these magnificent creatures.  The vehicle is heated and equipped with a washroom. Ten-foot-diameter tires allow unparalleled and low-pressure access onto the fragile tundra.

On board are an experienced naturalist guide and a driver well versed in local conditions and the best spots for photography.  You can watch and snap pictures of these magnificent mammals from inside the vehicle (its windows open and are well out of reach of even a polar bear standing on its hind legs) or from an outside viewing platform.

Your trip begins with an overnight stay at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel, close to Winnipeg airport.  An early-morning flight takes you to Churchill. You'll be met by your naturalist guide, who will lead you on a culture-and-history tour of this fascinating outpost of civilization at the edge of the frozen tundra and flat muskeg of Canada's northern wilderness.

Stark grain elevators of massive proportions dominate the horizon at this subarctic seaport that is a vital link in shipping grain from Canada's breadbasket to destinations around the world Visit the Eskimo Museum, shop for souvenirs and maybe enjoy a fresh pastry at Gypsy Bakery. Dinner brings the opportunity to sample the local cuisineat one of the town's restaurants.

The following day is when you'll ride the vehicle onto the tundra for an interpretive tour.  You'll learn that polar bears"”soft and cuddly though they may look"”are powerful and potentially dangerous wild animals that need to be viewed with caution. Adult males weigh as much as 1,500 pounds or more. Sows with cubs have been known to rear up and leap in attempts to ward off helicopters.

Included is round-trip airfare between Winnipeg and Churchill, round-trip transfers and a full-day tundra vehicle trip with services of a naturalist guide. Also included are specified meals and three nights' hotel accommodation (one night at the Bear Country Inn in Churchill, two nights in Winnipeg). Cost is $2590, based on double occupancy.  Single supplement is $390.  Departures are October 14 and November 13 and 14.


Reservations and additional information available from The Great Canadian Travel Company, 800-661-3830, www.greatcanadiantravel.com.