Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Walk on the wild side

Several backpacking trails within day's drive of city

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Mantario Trail features the mixed forests and lakes of Canadian Shield country.


Mantario Trail features the mixed forests and lakes of Canadian Shield country. Photo Store

The bugs are gone, the ground is dry, the leaves are turning and the days are cool enough to allow prolonged exposure to the sun.

Now is the time to go backpacking. The only problem is the length of time it takes to reach the trailhead.

Here are seven of the best routes within an eight-hour drive of Winnipeg. So carve out some time on your schedule and get the heck out -- before the window closes on our brief fall:


1. Mantario Trail

Whiteshell Provincial Park

Length: 66 kilometres

Duration: Three or four days.

Scenery: Canadian Shield. Granite rock ridges, mixed forests and more than a dozen lakes and marshes.

Wildlife: You will see white-tailed deer. You may hear wolves. Talk to your trail buddy to minimize the chance of a black bear encounter.

The goods: The Mantario is close enough to be convenient, strenuous enough to provide a challenge and varied enough to keep you coming back.


2. Paddock-Talkington loop

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Length: 37 kilometres

Duration: Two or three days

Scenery: Badlands. Sandstone cliffs, hoodoos, sagebrush and cacti.

Wildlife: You will see bison and feral horses; give both a very wide berth. You'll also see pronghorn, mule deer, wild turkeys and black-tailed prairie dogs.

The goods: This trail in Theodore Roosevelt's South Unit offers the best wildlife-watching anywhere on the prairies -- in Canada or the U.S.


3. Upper Track Trail

Pisew Falls Provincial Park

Length: 22 kilometres

Duration: Overnight

Scenery: Northern boreal forest. Thick woods, the Grass River and Manitoba's two highest waterfalls: Kwasitchewan Falls at the far end and Pisew Falls at the trailhead.

Wildlife: Camp smart to avoid attracting black bears.

The goods: The only backpacking route in northern Manitoba -- and one of the only places you can see big waterfalls without paddling.


4. Birdtail loop

Riding Mountain National Park

Length: 23 kilometres

Duration: Overnight

Scenery: Aspen parkland. Deciduous forest, rolling plains and some grassland.

Wildlife: You will see and hear ruffed grouse.

The goods: The relatively unvisited western edge of Riding Mountain offers plenty of solitude -- as well as a section of trail designed for people on foot, not bikes or horses.


5. Achenbach Trail

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Length: 27 kilometres

Scenery: Badlands. Hoodoos, sagebrush and wide-open views of the Little Missouri River Valley. The North Unit of the park is smaller and less visited.

Wildlife: Bison, mule deer, prairie dogs, coyotes and a chance to spot bighorn sheep.

Duration: Overnight

The goods: An oasis of natural beauty in the midst of the overheated Bakken oil play -- complete with two full ascents and descents of the Little Missouri River Valley. Bring water shoes, because you will cross the river twice.


6. Tilson loop

Riding Mountain National Park

Length: 39 kilometres

Duration: Two or three days

Scenery: Aspen parkland. Less forested than the Birdtail Loop, with more grassland and some wetlands.

Wildlife: Plenty of those grouse, but also a chance to see moose and elk.

The goods: Easy-walking terrain makes this loop a good warm-up for the Mantario Trail.


7. Epinette Creek-Newfoundland system

Spruce Woods Provincial Park

Length: 42 kilometres

Duration: Two or three days

Scenery: Relict boreal forest. White spruce forest giving way to grasslands, with a few sandy hills and ravines.

Wildlife: You will see white-tailed deer and get a crack at spotting elk.

The goods: This is a better trail for cyclists, but still a rare patch of natural beauty amid the farmland of southern Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2013 C10

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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