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Mountain Marathon

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Springwater Provincial Park
Swan River Provincial Park
Primrose Provincial Park
Whitefish Lake Provincial Park
Bell Lake Provincial Park
North Steeprock Lake Provincial Park
Duck Mountain Provincial Park

The sun was shining, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the temperature was pushing 30 degrees Celsius. It was a beautiful day in the Porcupine Hills of western Manitoba. The problem was that even though it was a beautiful summer day, we spent most of the day in the car.

After weeks of delays, my travel partner and I were finally able to head out west to Duck Mountain Provincial Park and several smaller parks to the north, in the Porcupine Hills.

Time and distance were not on our side for this journey. We had seven parks to visit in just three days, with the most northern park, North Steeprock Lake Provincial Park, 550 kilometres north-west of Winnipeg. I knew going into the summer that there would be some long days in the car, but this weekend was truly a marathon.

Duck Mountain and the Porcupine Hills make up parts of the Manitoba Escarpment. The Escarpment, which includes Riding Mountain, runs along the western edge of the province and was carved out of the landscape by ancient Lake Agassiz and previous ice ages.

Duck Mountain and the Porcupines mark the edge of where the first prairie level of Manitoba ascends to the second prairie level of Saskatchewan. The hills of both areas are covered with a mix of boreal and deciduous forests and are dotted with crystal clear lakes.

Our journey took us to seven parks in this region. We made stops at Springwater, Swan River, Primrose, Whitefish Lake, Bell Lake, North Steeprock Lake, and Duck Mountain provincial parks.

Our first three stops, Springwater, Swan River, and Primrose are simply wayside parks along Highway 10, the major north-south artery in western Manitoba.

Springwater Provincial Park, north of the town of Ethelbert, is not even marked on the highway anymore. All that remains is an unmaintained gravel loop off the highway that's littered with garbage.

Further north, Swan River Provincial Park is located right in the middle of the town of Swan River. The park sits on the shore of the Swan River and has a few picnic tables, but not much else.

Primrose Provincial Park is 35 kilometres to the north of Swan River. Like the other two parks, it's pretty basic, just a few picnic tables. However it served its purpose as a pit stop for us.

Our next three stops were in the Porcupine Hills, roughly 500 kilometres north-west of Winnipeg, accessible from Highway 10. The first place we visited was Whitefish Lake Provincial Park. The lake sits nestled among the hills and is well known for its Walleye and Northern Pike fishing.



There's also a small campground in the park.

Bell Lake and North Steeprock Lake provincial parks are similar to Whitefish Lake. Both are situated on the shores of clear water lakes, surrounded by pine-covered hills. Both lakes teem with walleye and northern pike.

Bell Lake doesn't have a campground, but both Whitefish Lake and North Steeprock Lake are excellent places to camp for those who don't mind driving a little bit to reach their destination.

After almost ten hours on the road, we arrived at our last stop of the weekend, Duck Mountain Provincial Park.

Our base of operation was Wellman Lake Campground. It's situated on the shores of two lakes, Wellman and Glad. The campground is fully serviced with two new bays for camping. There are hiking trails around Glad Lake and up Copernicus Hill.

The next morning, inundated in by rain, we headed south through the park. The hills along Provincial Road 366 are dotted with small lakes and hundreds of pitch-black bogs.

At the southern end of the road, the Blue lakes area is home to a campground and rental cabins. We stopped at East Blue Lake and were amazed at the clarity of the water. It's not surprising that the lake is popular with scuba divers.

As the rain continued, we continued south to Baldy Mountain. At 831 metres above sea level, it's the highest point in Manitoba. A road leads right to the top of the "mountain" where an observation tower provides a panoramic view of the surrounding prairie and Riding Mountain, to the south. It's worth a stop if you're in the park already, but it doesn't warrant a special trip.

This trip was definitely a marathon and we didn't get to experience as much of the area as we would have liked.

Next summer, I'm going to make sure I have more time to explore Duck Mountain Provincial Park and the parks of the Porcupine Hills. Both areas are relatively unspoiled and are off the radar for most Winnipeggers.

Keep reading next week, as we head north to Grass River and Bakers Narrows provincial parks.

Parks in this week's post:

View A(sessippi) to Z(ed Lake) in a larger map
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