Called the “island of wilderness surrounded by a sea of farmland,” Riding Mountain rises up from the prairies to offer visitors 3,000 square km of boreal forest, alpine lakes, aspen groves, and grasslands to explore. Established in 1933 as Manitoba’s first National Park, the protected area has provided Canadians with a variety of outdoor pursuits and recreational opportunities. Many of the park’s amenities are centered around the beach town of Wasagaming which sits on the shores of the aptly named “Clear Lake.” Whether you have only a few hours or an entire week at your disposal, Riding Mountain is a great way plunge into the wilderness and escape from life on the open prairie.
The Heart of the Park
The quaint little town of Wasagaming, located on the shores of Clear Lake, is undoubtably the heart of the park. You can experience Clear Lake by paddle boat or kayak, dive around during a game of sand volleyball, and even test your outdoor bowling skills at Clear Lake Lawn Bowling. There are several hiking trails nearby including Clear Lake Trail, a 24 km loop that encircles the waterfront and Grey Owl Trail, a shorter 8 km trek to a cabin where a famous trapper-turned-conservationist once bedded down. If you find it hard to leave the relaxed atmosphere, the town is well-equipped to cater to overnight guests. Whether you prefer a rustic cabin, an elegant chalet, a basic RV or a canvas tent, Wasagaming can accommodate you.
Get Outta Town
If you want to get your nature fix, front country campgrounds are scattered throughout the park (many of them by lake shores), along with 19 backcountry campgrounds. If you’re looking for a step-up from tents, check out the round, stocky yurts available. The forests are criss-crossed by more than 250 miles of hiking trails and the possibilities for fishing, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking are nearly endless.
Wildlife is often elusive in more heavily populated parks, but in Riding Mountain, the sheer number of creatures wandering the forests and prairies practically guarantees sightings. A 45-minute drive northwest will bring you to Lake Audy, home to a herd of 40 bison. The park also boasts about 3,000 moose, 1,800 elk, dozens of wolves, foxes, lynx, otters and plenty of others. Keep your eyes peeled as you travel and you’re sure to spot something, particularly if you’re out and about early in the morning or late in the evening.
Native tribes have made their living off the prairies, forests and lakes in Riding Mountain for an estimated 6,000 years so it’s not surprising that their influence is fairly visible. Their presence in the park is felt in several ways including the “Wolf of Willow Wisdom” tour. A plant used by the Anishinaabe tribes to improve health and beautify clothing, wander around Clear Lake with your very own Anishinaabe guide to see if you can spot a cluster. The park also works in conjunction with the native people to organize National Aboriginal Day in mid-June. A weekend-long celebration of culture that includes powwows, square dancing, traditional music, and many other activities, it's a not-to-miss-event if you're in town.
How to Get There
The park is easily accessible by either car or bus from both the north and the south. You can also come in on the east side, which is the route we’d recommend. Standing guard, the East Park Gate Complex is a charming rustic-looking structure which incorporates a registration building and two staff cabins. This National Historic Site is the only one of three gates left standing in the park, an enduring landmark which hearkens back to the days of early Canadian outdoor recreation.