As a person with few commitments outside of work and a reasonable amount of holiday time, I'm guilty of forgetting some Winnipeggers who love the outdoors find it difficult to actually get there.
So after I wrote a column extolling the virtues of hiking trails in North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park -- eight hours by car from Winnipeg -- I received a reality check from readers who prefer to know more about trails closer to home.
"I want to go on a hike with great scenery, have a decent workout and not see other people. I want to drive less than an hour. Where can I go?" asked a reader on Twitter.
My response: No such place exists.
There's great hiking and backpacking within a few hours of Winnipeg, in Whiteshell Provincial Park (driving time: 1:45), Spruce Woods Provincial Park (also 1:45) and Riding Mountain National Park (three hours). There are also acceptable trails at Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park (90 minutes), Pembina Valley Provincial Park (90 minutes) and Grand Beach Provincial Park (one hour).
But the combination of solitude, stunning scenery and challenging terrain can not be found at a single destination within a short scoot of the Perimeter Highway. This is not a complaint, just a geographical fact of life in the middle of the Red River Valley.
But since there is a huge demand for ideas about places to walk or hike that do not require major travelling time, here are several destinations to consider:
Assiniboine Forest: Yeah, you know the park. But if you've never explored the forest, the City of Winnipeg's largest natural area, you'll be surprised by the vast network of wood-chip walking trails, closed in by a canopy of trees. Cycling on these trails is annoying without fat tires, so head out on foot and pretend you're actually outside the city. Only the constant roar of aircraft overhead -- and a steady stream of dog-walkers and joggers -- will shatter the illusion of solitude. There are many entrances to the forest, as well as a parking lot near the intersection of Grant Avenue and Chalfont Road.
Henteleff Park: No, you probably don't know this park, which occupies a sliver of riverfront land in South St. Vital, along a bend in the Red River. One of the city's newest parks, this former market garden and tree nursery only attained official status in 2002. The loop trail to the end of the park and back can be walked in under an hour; head out at dusk or dawn if you want to see white-tailed deer. The parking lot is located west of St. Mary's Road, just north of Normand Avenue.
Kilcona Park: North Kildonan and Transcona residents are justified in calling this place a dump; Northeast Winnipeg's largest park sits on the site of a former landfill. While it's a stretch to call this a natural area, there's a lot of room to stretch your legs, especially in the undeveloped west side of the park. Don't go if you dislike dogs, as there's a large off-leash area. Park entrances sit alongside both Springfield Road and Norris Road.
Seine River: In late December or early January, when the city's rivers freeze, the third-largest river turns into a wooded walking path. The entire stretch from Creek Bend Road near the Perimeter to Whittier Park at the confluence with the Red River is more or less scenic, golf courses notwithstanding.
Less than 15 minutes away
Beaudry Provincial Park: This well-trodden park in the R.M. of Cartier is heavily used by cross-country skiers from January to March. But you can also walk the loop trail along a bend in the Assiniboine River the rest of the year. Go on weekdays to avoid crowds. The parking lot is north of Provincial Road 241, a western extension of Roblin Boulevard.
Birds Hill Provincial Park: Wilderness purists can scoff all they want, but this heavily used park has 16 walking, cycling and horseback trails. The generally ignored Tamarack Trail (12 kilometres) in the north side of the park offers the best approximation of wilderness, but can be monotonous at times. Other trails are little used on weekdays; the short Cedar Bog walk is arguably the prettiest. Park entrances are located off Highway 59 and Provincial Road 206.
La Barriere Park: Like all parks near the city, La Barriere sees heavy use and is best visited on weekdays. Even better, see it from a canoe or kayak on La Salle River: Put in at the town of La Salle and paddle toward the Red River and Winnipeg. On foot, the park entrance is off Waverley Street in the R.M. of Macdonald.
Little Mountain Park: Created around an old City of Winnipeg limestone quarry, this partly wooded area in the R.M. of Rosser is worth a look if you've never been before. The parking lot is located on Farmer Avenue, which is what Jefferson Avenue becomes west of Brookside Boulevard.