Eleven years ago, the non-profit organization responsible for Manitoba's 1,300-kilometre section of the Trans-Canada Trail happily declared its portion of the national route was 90 per cent complete.
The move was premature. Actual trail users immediately voiced concerns about a route that included shoulders of rural gravel roads, unconnected orphan stretches and a few ordinary Winnipeg streets.
The early knock on the Manitoba TCT was it wasn't ready to promote within the province or to the rest of the country. Since then, several new chunks of the trail have been upgraded or connected. But the goal of province-wide completion remains a moving target.
Another knock against the TCT is it attempted to please too many different types of trail users simultaneously: hikers, cyclists and people on horseback, snow machines and ATVs. But there are sections designed specifically for self-propelled wilderness travel that are worthy of trying out, even if they aren't connected.
The Centennial Trail, a 15.8-kilometre hiking route in the central part of Whiteshell Provincial Park, was envisioned a wilderness trail decades before the Trans-Canada Trail project appeared. It was started in the '70s by trail-builder Vern Dutton -- and later completed by Scouts groups.
Unlike other trails within the Whiteshell, the Centennial doesn't show up on most official provincial park maps. Trailhead signage is also minimal to nonexistent at either end.
But the trail itself makes for a great day hike and is maintained almost as well as any other in the park. A visit on Thursday found the rock-cairn markers in good condition, most of the tree markers still visible and very little deadfall blocking the route.
The trail itself is classic Shield: A lot of going up and down granite ridges and edging around bogs amid stands of spruce and poplar. The Centennial offers a few nice vistas, including a chance to look from the south over Lily Pond, the body of water normally seen from the north side on Highway 44. You can also check out McGillivray Falls, currently running high.
On Thursday, I saw a black bear lumbering along the highway near the east trailhead, two merlins along the trail and a trio of white-tailed deer at the west trailhead. The wildflowers are also starting to bloom; in low-lying areas, orchids should be flowering within days.
Just be warned the wood ticks and blackflies are also out in force, so check your body and clothes for the former and apply bug spray to ward off the latter. And don't be afraid of the critters: Go for the hike.
Location: Whiteshell Provincial Park, parallel to a section of Highway 44 between Rennie and Hawk Lake. The one-way trail shares a trailhead with the Bear Lake Trail at its western end; the eastern terminus is Caddy Lake.
Length: 15.8 kilometres in total, with an option to shorten the hike to 11.6 kilometres by using the McGillivray Falls entrance as the eastern trailhead.
Difficulty: Easy to intermediate on foot; difficult on a bike. This hiking trail is typical of the Canadian Shield routes, with flat, easy stretches on top of granite ridges, but enough climbs and descents to get your heart rate up. There are three small stream crossings, a few ledges to traverse and a handful of steep climbs. This is good fun for hikers and trail runners, but a bit much for inexperienced off-road cyclists, who will wind up carrying their bikes. Navigation is easy, if you pay attention to the cairns and trail markers.
Get there: From Winnipeg, take Highway 15 until it ends, then Highway 11 north to Highway 44 and finally head east on the 44 to Whiteshell Provincial Park. The western trailhead is located opposite Highway 44 from the Bear Lake trailhead parking lot; the eastern trailhead is poorly marked opposite Fire Road C2, the Caddy Lake Resort entrance to Caddy Lake. There is no parking lot here.
If you're not starting on foot from Caddy Lake, consider parking at the McGillivray Falls self-guiding trail parking lot and forgoing the easternmost section of the trail. From the McGillivray Falls trailhead, walk about 275 metres to the top of the falls and then head west along the Centennial Trail toward Bear Lake.
No-shuttle option: To avoid the need to leave one vehicle at either end of the trail -- or if you're going solo -- stash a bicycle at the Bear Lake trailhead before continuing by car to the east end of the trail. The bike ride back to your car along Highway 44 is eight kilometres to McGillivray Falls or nine to the Caddy Lake entrance. Ride with care, as there are no paved shoulders on this stretch of Highway 44.
Fees: Standard provincial-park user fees apply -- $5 per vehicle per day, $12 for three days or $40 for seasonal passes.