Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION


The best Manitoba attactions, according to guidebook author Bartley Kives

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Best wildlife watching

Churchill and the Hudson Bay coast

The draw: The world's largest congregation of polar bears in the fall, amazing wildflowers in the spring, beluga whales and birds during the summer and northern lights in winter.

The duration: Allow yourself at least two full days to explore everything Churchill has to offer, especially since it takes a long time to get here -- 36 hours by train from Winnipeg, or 13 hours from Thompson following a seven-hour drive from Winnipeg. Flights from Winnipeg take two hours.

The damage: Anywhere from $700 to more than $4,000 a head, depending on your choice of transportation, accommodation and tours.


Most exciting urban neighbourhood

Winnipeg's Exchange District

The draw: Cut-stone and terra cotta warehouse buildings dating back to the late-19th century, the province's heaviest concentration of art galleries and vintage clothing boutiques, three concert halls, a dozen nightspots and the Manitoba Museum.

The duration: However long you like. Take a one-hour walking tour or explore the neighbourhood for days.

The damage: Free for window-shoppers on foot. Throw in museum admission, a concert and dinner and you might be able to spend $120 a day.


Best small-town museum

Moncur Gallery, Boissevain

The draw: An extensive collection of pre-contact aboriginal artifacts dating back to the earliest retreat of the glaciers, some 12,000 years ago. Don't be fooled by the tiny room.

The duration: It only takes 45 minutes to an hour to take the self-guiding tour.

The damage: $2. No, I'm not kidding.


Best easy day hike

Spirit Sands, Spruce Woods Provincial Park

The draw: A very unusual, 10-kilometre trail system encompassing active sand dunes that resemble desert, open meadows, aspen forest and a rare, colour-shifting pond called the Devil's Punchbowl.

The duration: Two to four hours, depending on how far you walk. Allow Another 3.5 hours to drive from Winnipeg and back.

The damage: Provincial park admissions are free this summer.


Best backpacking route

Mantario Trail, Whiteshell Provincial Park

The draw: At 63 kilometres, Manitoba's longest and most rugged hiking trail, traversing granite ridges, wetlands and lakes in a protected area of the Canadian Shield.

The duration: Three to five days.

The damage: Amazingly, there are no trail fees. Spend whatever you like on food, which you must buy ahead of time -- unlike B.C.'s Pacific Coast Trail, Mantario doesn't have any hotdog stands or restaurants.


Best place to ride

Riding Mountain National Park

The draw: The longest cycling and horseback riding trails in the province, no motor vehicles and a sprawling aspen-dominated wilderness supporting large populations of elk, moose, deer and black bears -- which you can see above the brush, thanks to your perch on a bike or horse.

The duration: Race down the eastern face on a one-hour ride, or traverse the width of the 67-kilometre Central Trail over two or three days.

The damage: $8 per adult or $20 per group, per day, plus $10 per head, per night, for backcountry camping.


Best place to vegetate

Patricia Beach Provincial Park and Beaconia Beach, Lake Winnipeg

The draw: Kilometres of very fine sand and minimal crowds, even on summer weekends, both families and the musclehead/bikini crowd prefer Grand Beach and Winnipeg Beach.

The duration: One long, lazy day.

The damage: Half a tank of gas. Park passes for Patricia Beach are free this summer and there's no admission fee (or services of any kind) at Beaconia.


Best whitewater river

The Bloodvein, Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park

The draw: Clear, well-maintained portages around Class I-IV rapids on this ribbon of Canadian Shield beauty -- accessible by portage or floatplane only -- suit wilderness trippers of all skill levels. Bald eagles, river otters and pre-European petroglyphs only sweeten the pot on this classic pool-and-drop river.

The duration: Seven to 12 days, depending how far east you start.

The damage: Nothing if you portage in, but flying in on a floatplane can set you back hundreds of loonies per person. Fully outfitted trips will put you over $1,000.


Best flatwater paddling

Experimental Lakes Area/Dryberry-Kakagi-Pipestone backcountry, Ontario

The draw: A maze of interconnected lakes lined by granite cliffs and dense forest, with fewer paddlers than you'll find in Quetico and deep, pristine waters teeming with lake trout and northern pike. Technically not in Manitoba, but most paddlers come from Winnipeg.

The duration: An overnight to 10 days, depending on your free time and navigational skills.

The damage: There are no fees for camping on Crown land. Vehicle parking at gateway lodges runs anywhere from $5 to $15 a day. Your biggest expense will be your gear and food.


Best resort town

Wasagaming, Riding Mountain National Park

The draw: Rustic wooden buildings in the national park style, the beach and marina at Clear Lake, a massive summer campground and easy access to wilderness attractions throughout Riding Mountain, Manitoba's only road-accessible national park. Nearby Onanole, outside the park, gives you everything the Parks Canada does not allow.

The duration: A night or two in town and perhaps longer in the backcountry.

The damage: Expect to pay $110 per night for accommodations alone.


Adapted from A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province (Great Plains Publications)


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2009 E5

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