Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/1/2021 (539 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The whoosh of a skate blade races across fresh ice. Tiny pebbles of snow catch the overhead twinkling lights while all around, the embrace of towering spruce hold back the winter wind. There’s a bonfire close by and the scent of sweet woodsmoke dances skyward. The firelight catches the big brown eyes of a cautious white-tailed doe, peeking around the corner for a closer look. This is a winter’s eve in Riding Mountain National Park.
Visitors have been gathering at Manitoba’s most accessible national park for a century, but mostly in the summer season when daylight stretches deep into the evening, shops are a twitter with souvenir hunters and fashionistas and an after dinner stroll with ice cream is a foregone conclusion. In winter, the park is transformed into a mysteriously magical destination, worthy of the setting for a deep dark tale or blossoming romance. It is most definitely worth a visit.
What to do
A sunrise walk through Ominnik Marsh is a tender way to greet the day. The relatively short hike (1.4 km) largely on a wooden boardwalk affords sweeping views of sparkling cattails and perhaps a weasel in winter white out for a look around. Because the trailhead is right in the townsite of Wasagaming, it’s a convenient outing, especially for little legs. For a longer hike, pick up the South Lake Trail (primarily a biking trail in summer) that heads for the shoreline of Clear Lake then makes a loop back. And for those in search of a heft workout, the South Shore Trail is over 12 km long and skirts the entire southern shoreline of Clear Lake.
Bring your skates to Clear Lake! In addition to areas cleared by enthusiastic souls on the big lake as well as the marsh, the town site boasts two rinks. The courtyard at Arrowhead Resort is strung with twinkling lights where guests can literally step out their front door and go for a skate. And behind the Riding Mountain National Park Visitor’s Centre is a lighted rink complete with a warm-up shack for lacing up the blades in comfort.
Riding Mountain National Park has trails galore to explore whether you’re on food, skis or snowshoes. Check in with the Friends of Riding Mountain National Park for trail conditions throughout the park (their Facebook page is updated regularly). It’s there you can also rent a fat tire bike for only $25 for four hours, snowshoes for $10 a day, snow tubes and kicksparks — a scooter-meets-winter-sled for tons of fun on packed snow. The non-profit group also operates The Nature Shop, stocked with winter essentials like toques and buffs for curbside pickup.
The white fog of a heavy breath against the winter wooly face of a bison is a sight to belong. Get up close and person with the park’s bison herd at Lake Audy. A drive through their pasture—safely inside your vehicle—makes for some up close and personal encounters not to mention fabulous photographs (Access is via Highway 354 in winter).
Where to stay
It’s all about comfort with an extra helping of luxury at Geiler Corner. The newish year-round cottages each offer three bedrooms and two full bathrooms plus a host of extras that will make it hard to leave. Plush towels and linens, a fully equipped kitchen boasting a refrigerator with an ice machine, satellite television, a grill on the deck, an electric fireplace and soaring windows will have you living the life — if only for the weekend!
Just around the corner, the sister properties of Lakehouse and Arrowhead score high when it comes to capturing the lakelife vibe. Lakehouse’s 15 rooms start with crisp white linens with reclaimed wood furnishing and accented with buffalo check details. A Nespresso coffee machine and Treevival sound amplifier are standard in each room. Arrowhead has a room style for every family, from a studio room to three-bedroom loft suite. There’s even a pet-friendly room so the fur baby can come along.
While some of the familiar amenities at Elkhorn Resort may be paused, the Parkland’s full-service hotel is adding new attractions including a skating rink and toboggan hill. There are also new private bonfire pits available to families to enjoy and ski trails are being groomed throughout the twists and turns of the former onsite golf course. Ski, snowshoe, skate and fat tire bike rentals are also available right at the resort.
Where to eat
If it’s a burger you’re craving, you can’t do any better than the Lakehouse’s Ballpark Burger anywhere in any season. It comes piled high with bacon, cheddar, tomato, red onion, mayo, crunchy mustard and greens with thousand island relish, all served on a brioche bun. But don’t stop your feast there. The Mushrooms and Whiskey appetizer is a hefty serving of cremini mushrooms smothered in a creamy garlic whiskey sauce served with focaccia for dipping. If you’re still in the mood for sharing, the charcuterie platter includes Manitoba cheese, meats, olives, veggies, chutneys, oils and breads — and the most irresistible fig preserve imaginable.
Lakehouse also serves a mean take-out breakfast featuring classic bacon and eggs, a breakfast bowl with Winkler farmer sausage, a crème brulee oatmeal or carrot cake pancakes. Wash it all down with a latte or chai tea.
At Elkhorn’s Buffalo Bar, the take-out item not to be missed is the wonton nachos. The Asian/Mexican fusion appetizer starts with wonton chips layered with roasted corn and black bean salsa, Roma tomatoes, green onions, banana peppers and mozzarella. It’s then finished with a drizzle of hoisin sauce. Crispy fried chicken is also on the menu along with steaks, salads, wings and poutine. For breakfast, the Eggs Benny is a must for a leisurely weekend brunch.
Minnedosa Moment: On your way to or from the park, a stop at Minnesoda’s Farmhouse 50 for the Mountain of Nachos is a must. Get it loaded with all the extra including guacamole, chicken, beef or bacon.