A 45km detour from Hwy-16 near the sleepy but likeable town of Minnedosa, is Riding Mountain National Park, one of the region’s best, a vast expanse of wilderness, roughly 50km by 100km, that provides some of Manitoba’s finest hiking, biking and scenery. Its name comes from fur trappers who changed from canoe to horseback to travel its wooded highlands, and it’s also known as the place where Grey Owl spent six months or so living with his wife and their pet beavers in 1931.
The park’s eastern edge is marked by a 400m-high ridge studded with a dense evergreen forest which soon gives way to a highland plateau whose mixed forests and lakes form the core of the park and surround its only significant settlement, the resort village of WASAGAMING, on Clear Lake on the park’s southern edge. There’s a scrawny beach here that gets overcrowded in July and August (beaches on the southwest and northern edge of the lake are quieter with shallower and warmer water). Some 4km to the south the straggly community of ONANOLE provides additional basic services, particularly groceries. To the west, forests give way to aspen woodlands, meadow and open grassland.
However you explore, the wildlife rather than the landscape will be the likely highlight. Dawn and dusk are the optimal viewing times and some of the best spots readily accessible: elk and a carefully tended buffalo herd lie near Lake Audy, a 45-minute drive northwest of Wasagaming on a gravel road; for moose, try the Moon Lake Trail, just off Hwy-10 or the nearby short Boreal Trail which, though only 1km, is usually a good bet. Bears are often spotted alongside all the park highways, so make plenty of noise to avoid bumping into them while hiking or biking.
Most hiking trails in or near Wasagaming are short and easy, the longest being the Clear Lake Trail (24km) around the eponymous lake. The best trail from town is the 8km Grey Owl Trail, leading to the cabin where the man himself stayed. This trail connects with the nearest of the overnight routes, the Cowan Lake Trail, which branches off through a region of dense forest, small lakes and meadows; all the overnight trails have primitive campsites. If you have your own transport, the best trail for a half-day hike is the 6.4km Gorge Creek Trail near the East Park Gate. Dense with tree roots, this trail descends through thick woodland, continually re-crossing the tiny creek and delivering good views from the Riding Mountain escarpment along the way; the hike is frequently offered as an organized trip by the visitor centre as part of its summer events programme.
Also near the East Gate are some challenging mountain bike routes – the J.E.T. and Bald Hill trails – which have been developed to offer an alternative to the very gentle Wasagaming options.