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Breaking trail at Birds Hill

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Birds Hill Provincial Park

November's near record snowfall may have been a nightmare for the people in charge of Winnipeg's snow removal program, but it was a lucky break for me.

The plan for my adventure around the province had always called for visits to several provincial parks during the winter. However, it also called for me to complete my travels by the end of the year. So if the snow came late or only in small amounts, a wrench would have been thrown into my schedule.

Thankfully, for me, Mother Nature decided to start early and work overtime this year. With an ample supply of the white stuff blanketing the ground, I headed just north of Winnipeg to one of Manitoba's best known provincial parks, Birds Hill Provincial Park.

Birds Hill Provincial Park is located 25 kilometres north of Winnipeg on Highway 59. Its close proximity to the city has meant that it is one of the most visited provincial parks, since it was opened in 1967, to celebrate Canada's Centennial. It also helps that the park offers a wide variety of activities during all seasons.

During the summer, tens of thousands of people head to the park for camping, hiking, cycling, and swimming, among many other activities. The world-renowned Winnipeg Folk Festival takes over the park every July, as well.

In the winter, cross-country skiers traverse the park's extensive network of trails and snowshoers plough through acres of forests and meadows.

I assumed that Birds Hill Park got its name from the large numbers of birds that live within its boundaries. I was wrong. The park is named after James Curtis Bird, a factor for the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

When Bird retired in 1824, he was given the land that now makes up the park as a grant, in recognition of his service to the HBC.

Bird and his family referred to the area as "The Pines", but when the Manitoba government designated the park in 1964 and began work on its man-made lake, it was named after its original settler.

Birds Hill Park is a mecca for winter outdoor activities. The park features a 30 kilometre network of cross-country skiing and hiking trails. It also boasts 21 kilometres of snowmobile trails. With the temperature hovering around a comfortable -5 degrees C, my travel companion and I were among many taking advantage of the park's trails.

The parking lot at the Chickadee Trail trailhead was packed with skiers snapping into their bindings and getting ready to hit the trails. The story was the same at the park's stables, from where snowmobilers roared off down the trails and horseback riders saddled up.

We too decided to hit the trails, but not on skis, not on snowmobiles, and not on horses. Instead we strapped on snowshoes and set off down the 3.5 kilometre Cedar Bog Trail.

This route had been recently groomed for hikers, but the snowshoes allowed us to venture off the trail. Because the trail had been groomed, the snowshoeing wasn't very strenuous and was actually quite relaxing.

The trail loops through a sections of meadows and aspen and oak forest, before descending into a thick, cedar-filled bog. The trail is mostly flat, with a few small hills in the bog section.

We were on the look out for wildlife as we trudged through the snow, but all that we encountered were chickadees that dive-bombed us in an attempt to get at our granola bars when we made a pit stop. In fact, several of the birds ate right out of our hands.

There was no sign of the park's estimated 250-450 deer while we were hiking, although one did bolt in front of my car when we were leaving the park at day's end.

After our hour long tramp, we emerged from the trail, having enjoyed a beautiful afternoon at Birds Hill Park. If you're looking for a short hike, the Cedar Bog Trail is an excellent choice. If you're looking for something a little longer, a 7.2 kilometre trail circles the park's man-made lake.

The journey to Birds Hill Provincial Park was an excellent way to kick off the winter segment of my quest to visit all of Manitoba's road-accessible provincial parks.

With only two more parks remaining, my journey is almost complete. The next stop on my checklist is another Manitoba favourite, Whiteshell Provincial Park.

Park visited in this week's blog post:

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