MANITOBA is blessed with some of the best canoeing waters on the continent -- offering something for everyone from the novice to the experienced paddler.
Finding out about the great places to canoe in the province is easy.
One of the best sources of information is Paddle Manitoba, a non-profit association that seeks to promote the safe and challenging pursuit of canoeing and kayaking. Formerly known as the Manitoba Recreational Canoeing Association, Paddle Manitoba offers descriptions of dozens of canoe routes on their Web site.
It includes information about location, distance, time required to travel, topographical map references, access and egress points, and river rating using a class system.
There are some good books about canoe routes on the market, including John Buchanan's Canoeing Manitoba Rivers, Volume One.
Here are a a few short routes, some not far from Winnipeg, ideal for weekend paddling:
Assiniboine River -- The Assiniboine River winds its way through Spruce Woods Provincial Park in western Manitoba, on its way to Winnipeg where it drains into the Red River at the Forks. There are a few different distances that can be done, with a popular 60-kilometre stretch from Kichemanitou Campground to Holland Wamside Campground that takes two or three days to complete. The Assiniboine offers lots of birds and wildflowers and is a good river for beginners.
Big Whiteshell Loop -- This route through Whiteshell Provincial Park in eastern Manitoba starts and finishes at Big Whiteshell Lake Campground. There are seven portages to contend with, the longest measuring in at 1.5 kilometres. Allow for three days to complete this picturesque 55- kilometre route.
Black River -- Located north of Pine Falls in Nopiming Provincial Park, the Black River is a beautiful unspoiled waterway (with the exception of logging in the area). The 144- kilometre stretch from Black Lake Provincial Campground to Provincial Road 304 is fairly remote and takes approximately four days to travel. The route offers rapids of varying degrees of difficulty, and up to 20 unmarked (but easy to find) portages -- many that are short and steep.
Frances Lake -- For a short wilderness jaunt, consider the Frances Lake canoe route. Staring and ending at Hansen Creek and Highway 44, the 32- kilometre route takes two days to travel, with four portages along the way and potential to encounter several beaver dams. Frances Lake itself offers fine fishing from its rocky shores, and a campground for overnighting. Highlights include the spectacular Frances Lake Falls.
Manigotagan River -- This popular wilderness river is situated in Nopiming Provincial Park, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. The 130-kilometre distance from Long Lake to Provincial Road 304 can be done in four days, with road-accessible access and egress, whitewater for all skill levels, and plenty of portages. This stunning route through Canadian Shield country boasts approximately 36 rapids and waterfalls, and should satisfy those seeking a true wilderness experience with little time.
Mistik Creek -- If the northern landscape is what you seek, check out the awe-inspiring Mistik Creek. Located near Flin Flon between the 54th and 55th parallels, this 80-km chain of streams and lakes can be travelled in four days. The eight-hour drive will tack another day on to each end of the trip, and the odd side trip along the route has the potential to add more time. You might want to allow for a full week in order to get that true northern Manitoba experience.
Souris River -- The Souris River is a mid-sized river that's good for beginners. It flows through a broad valley, offering some of the best scenery in southwestern Manitoba and potential for wildlife viewing, particularly during a 13- kilometre stretch called the Souris Bend Wildlife Management Area. Highlights along the way include high cliff walls, and numerous short stretches of rapids and fast-moving water. The 58-kilometre route from the Provincial Road 348 crossing to Highway 2 crossing is best travelled in spring. It takes two or three days to complete.
If one-day paddling trips are more your style, there are dozens of rivers that heed the call -- and you don't have to travel far to find a good route that can be done in one day.
Roseau River -- This southeastern Manitoba River meanders through farmlands. The 42-kilometre distance makes for an enjoyable one-day trip.
Whitemouth River -- The Whitemouth in eastern Manitoba offers a 16- kilometre distance near the town of Elma that can easily be travelled in one day. A few runnable rapids along the way allows for whitewater experience.
Whiteshell River -- The upper stretch of the Whiteshell River offers a beautiful day of paddling through Whiteshell Provincial Park, with day distances ranging from eight to 32 kilometres. Attractions include paddling through a tunnel.
If you'd like to do some weekend canoeing within Winnipeg, the city's rivers offer numerous access and egress points that allow for various distances. The Assiniboine River can be travelled from the west perimeter right to the Forks in just a few hours. For a longer all-day jaunt, paddle the Red River from the Forks to Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site.
Manitoba has several tour operators who will take you out on guided canoe trips. While guided trips usually cost more than the do-it-yourself kind, the convenience can be worth the extra money.
Guided trips provide transportation from Winnipeg to (and from) the chosen route, supply all necessary gear and meals, offer paddling and whitewater lessons, and ensure your experience is comfortable, enjoyable, and safe. Most guides are trained and certified in things like whitewater canoeing, emergency first-aid, and wilderness survival, so you will usually find yourself in good hands on a guided trip.
Tour companies sometimes offer specialty trips, which focus on specific areas of interest.
This summer, Northern Soul Wilderness Adventures is teaming up with Prairie View School of Photography to offer a one-week photo/canoe wilderness trip Aug. 22 to 29 in Whiteshell Provincial Park. A second specialty trip on their itinerary is a sensory awakening weekend of yoga and canoeing, scheduled for late June in Whiteshell Provincial Park.
Several companies offer customized adventures.
Wilderness Spirit will organize a trip for your group on a river of your choice at a time that best suits your needs, in addition to their regular summer schedule. Adventure Education Manitoba offers customized teambuilding trips perfect for corporate retreats, and specialty programs.
With all the canoeing options out there today, it's easy to become a weekend wilderness junkie.
Not only will a canoe trip refresh and rejuvenate you, but it is sure to make you the envy of co-workers by providing plenty of stories to tell around the water cooler when you return to the office.
Outfitters, gear and resources
* Northern Soul Wilderness Adventures -- www.northernsoul.ca
* Wilderness Spirit -- www.wildernessspirit.com
* Adventure Education Manitoba -- www.aeminfo.mb.ca
* Wave Track Ltd. -- www.wilds.mb.ca/wavetrack/
* Wilderness Supply Co. Ltd. -- www.wildernesssupply.ca
* SIR Warehouse Sports Store -- www.sirmailorder.ca
* United Army Surplus Sales -- www.gearforthegreatoutdoors.com
* Mountain Equipment Co-op -- www.mec.ca
* Travel Manitoba -- Great Outdoor Adventure Guide and other free resources for planning canoe trips, 1-800-665-0040 or 945-3777; www.travelmanitoba.com
* Manitoba Conservation, Product Distribution Branch -- illustrated canoe route maps, topographical maps, and canoeing books, 1-877-627-7226 or 945-6666 (Berard maps, $5.95 each, topographic maps, $11.45 each, canoe route map packages from $40 to $60); www.canadamapsales.com
* Manitoba Conservation, Parks and Natural Areas Branch -- general information about provincial parks and wilderness areas; free canoe trip prep kits, 1-800-214-6497 or 945-6784; www.manitobaparks.com
* Paddle Manitoba (formerly the Manitoba Recreational Canoeing Association); www.paddle.mb.ca
Books on canoeing
* Canoeing Manitoba Rivers, Volume One by John Buchanan -- guide to canoe trips in southern Manitoba including difficulty, time requirements, camping spots, basic maps and camp food recipes.
* Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba by Hap Wilson and Stephanie Aykroyd -- canoeing guidebook with maps and illustrated journals of wilderness rivers.
* Canoeing the Precambrian Edge by Greenstone Community Futures Development Corporation -- canoe guide to central Manitoba canoe routes.