10 Sep Adventures in Riding Mountain National Park
Riding Mountain National Park is located in the southwestern region of Manitoba, about 3.5 hours northwest from Winnipeg. The landscapes and scenery in Manitoba are pretty similar to where we grew up just a few hours south in Minnesota, but since this was our first visit, I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Well, we might not have known what to expect before our visit, but we were completely blown away with how much we loved this park by the end of our visit.
While much of Manitoba is grasslands and prairies, Riding Mountain National Park sits on higher elevation than the rest of the province, which is where the “mountain” comes from. The park doesn’t have actual mountains like you would find in the Rockies, but it sits atop the Manitoba Escarpment. There are plenty of lakes and four distinct ecosystems throughout the park: rough fescue grasslands, upland boreal forests, eastern deciduous forests and marsh wetlands.
We spent three days exploring Riding Mountain National Park and had plenty of adventures during our visit. Inside the park boundaries, there is a cute town called Wasagaming as well as plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures. Wasagaming is home to the largest log cabin theater in North America, an 18-hole golf course, a mini golf course, numerous restaurants, several hotels, gift shops, a beach and boat tours. Some of the outdoor activities available in the park are both front country and backcountry hiking trails, bike trails, a bison enclosure, plenty of wildlife, kayaking, boating, swimming, camping, horseback riding, and more. While three days isn’t enough to take in the entire park, we made a pretty big dent in exploring some of the best spots in the park!
For our first two nights in the park, our accommodations were an oTENTik in Wasagaming Campground. We love staying in oTENTiks—they are a cross between a cabin and a tent and almost like glamping. Our site was located near the back of the campground at the end of a cul-de-sac.
We had both a gas grill and a wood grill, a picnic table, and perfect trees to hang our hammock. Inside the tent we had bunk beds and a table with chairs. In between our adventures throughout the park, we spent our time relaxing in the hammock, grilling and playing cards.
The campground is located just outside of the town, Wasagaming. It’s in a great location—close enough to town where you could walk, but far enough away where you feel like you are escaping to nature.
The first evening we arrived in Riding Mountain National Park, we boarded a boat to catch the sunset over Clear Lake. We narrowly missed the rain, and the nearby storms worked in our favor as the clouds gave us a spectacular sunset. The hour-long boat ride on the Martese was the perfect way to unwind after a day of driving and setting up camp.
Our second morning in the park was spent kayaking on Clear Lake after a quick breakfast stop at Poor Michaels Emporium. We met at the Park Visitor Center as our kayak tour was part of the Parks Canada summer programming. The morning of our paddle, we lucked out with fairly calm waters. Our tour set out from the beach right in the center of town, and it wasn’t long until we were paddling along the trees and serene nature.
As we paddled, we heard about various adventures the park has to offer, and our guide told us how last winter the water froze over perfectly smooth. You were able to see the fish swimming below the ice and even ice skate across the entire lake on flat ice. It made us want to plan another visit up to the park in the winter!
About halfway into our paddle we beached our kayaks and got out for a delicious snack of banana bread and iced tea. We spent a little bit of time enjoying the peaceful slice of nature before heading back towards town. Kayaking is one of our favorite adventures, and this two hour paddle was so much fun!
Lake Audy Bison Enclosure
Another exciting adventure in Riding Mountain National Park is visiting the Lake Audy Bison Enclosure. The bison enclosure is currently home to around 40 plains bison. There used to be thousands of bison roaming the prairies of Manitoba, but they all have since disappeared due to a variety of factors, one of which was overhunting. Bison were reintroduced to the area in the enclosure in the early 1900’s.
To see the bison for yourself, you can drive through the enclosure, but you aren’t allowed to get out of the car. Sightings are best in the morning and evening as that is when the bison are most active. You can do a self-drive tour or join one of the free Driving Safari’s with Parks Canada. During the safari, you will first stop at a viewing platform to learn about bison and the prairie, and then you will hop in your car and follow the guide around the enclosure in search of bison.
One of our favorite hikes in the park was on the Gorge Creek Trail—this trail runs along the North Escarpment and offers fantastic views of the escarpments elevation change and prairies in the distance.
While we didn’t quite make it halfway down the 6.4 km trail (12.8 km roundtrip) due to starting later than we intended, we did still manage to have quite the adventure. The trail was very quiet and we didn’t see another person the entire time, at either the trail head or on the trail, but what we did manage to see was a huge black bear with her cubs! Just as I was thinking about how deep we seemed to be in the woods, I heard a crack and stopped dead in my tracks. I shushed Micah, and after a few seconds of silence, I heard another crack. I turned around to say something to him just as a black bear peered her giant head out onto the trail to check us out. I froze and stammered something about a bear to Micah, and he turned around to see that she had a few cubs right behind her. We were both excited to see a bear in the wild, but also a bit terrified that we stumbled across a mama bear with her cubs. We had nothing to defend ourselves with and the bears were between us and the direction of our car. After she started to take a couple of steps towards us, we quickly tried to make ourselves very large and loud. We hooted and hollered, waved our arms and generally acted like idiots until her curiosity wore off and she sauntered back into the woods. Once we knew she was not interested in us, I tried taking a photo, but I was too pumped up on adrenaline to think straight and actually get a picture. Oh well, it was quite the experience nonetheless and one that we won’t be forgetting any time soon!
Another interesting hike we took was along the Ominnik Marsh Trail, which is a five minute walk from the Visitor Center in Wasagaming. The trail is 1.9 km and most of it is on a boardwalk that floats on top of the marsh waters. I really enjoyed the diverse ecosystem of the marsh, especially after learning more about it in the Visitor Center the day before.
On our last evening in the park, we decided to head out on a nice easy walk along the shores of Clear Lake. We walked along the Lakeshore Trail all the way down to Deep Bay Cabin, and it was the perfect relaxing way to close out our visit.
The Lakehouse Hotel
For the last night of our Riding Mountain National Park adventures, we stayed at The Lakehouse in Wasagaming. I adored the design of this hotel—the rooms were cute and had a kitchen, there was an outdoor hot tub, grills on the patio, a snack bar, and an ice cream and coffee shop.
We didn’t have a chance to eat any snacks at the hotel, but I definitely had my eye on the build-your-own nacho bar. However, we did sneak in a famous ice cream sandwich in the ice cream shop. There were several ice cream sandwich combinations listed on the menu, but you could also create your own version. I can never resist making my own concoction, so I decided on an oatmeal cookie with maple nut ice cream…and I just realized I sound like an old lady with my choice! But, never mind that because it was delicious! I have to say, their maple nut ice cream might be my new favorite ice cream of all time, and combining it with the cookie was divine.
While most of our meals were cooked over the fire at our campsite, we did still manage to make it to a few restaurants, mostly for breakfast. I was surprised to find so many adorable restaurants and cafes in such a small town.
Our favorite restaurant was the Foxtail Café—there are two locations, and we visited the one in Wasagaming. One of their most popular items is their wood fired pizza, and I really enjoyed the wide range of toppings and combinations on the menu. It was a tough decision, but I ordered the Chicken Caesar pizza, which came with chicken, bacon, romaine hearts, parmesan, red onion, mozzarella and Caesar dressing. Micah went with the Meat Lovers, which was topped with bacon, pepperoni and ground beef. We both loved our choices, and we enjoyed the atmosphere so much that we couldn’t resist heading back for breakfast again the next morning! It was right next door to our hotel and a convenient stop before another day of driving to our next park.
Breakfast was just as delicious as dinner—Micah ordered the Riding Mountain Breakfast, which came with eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast. I opted for one of the wood fired breakfast skillets, the Green Eggs + Ham. My skillet consisted of pesto scrambled eggs, arugula, chorizo, pan fried potatoes, and goat cheese.
Poor Michaels Emporium is located just outside of the national park border in Onanole. They serve items such as coffee, pastries, quiche and bagels for breakfast, but the café serves lunch, as well. When we walked inside, we were surrounded by floor to ceiling walls of books, and there is also local art and gifts for sale throughout the store. It was definitely the type of place that I could spend all afternoon browsing around.
The Whitehouse Bakery in Wasagaming was another one of our breakfast stops—we tried the famous cinnamon bun and opted for the one topped with maple. We got our order to go because it was so busy inside, so if you want to avoid the crowds its best to get there early!
After three days exploring Riding Mountain National Park, we still didn’t want to leave. I was shocked at how much I fell in love with this park. From the diverse landscapes, abundant wildlife, plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures and an adorable town with cozy hotels, restaurant and gift shops, I can tell it is a place that will pull us back time and time again.
Have you ever visited Riding Mountain National Park? What is/would be your favorite adventure to do there?
This post is brought to you in partnership with Travel Manitoba. As always, all opinions are our own.