During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been drawn to Manitoba’s hiking trails. Avid hikers John Colin Steele and Jaime Manness talk about their favourite Manitoba trails, favourite gear, tips and tricks.
Steele usually hikes out of province and had plans to complete the Appalachian Trail in April. Forced to switch gears, Steele found great enjoyment hiking the Mantario Trail, Devil’s Punchbowl and the Manitoba section of the Great Trail.
“Differences between the three trails are vast,” Steele says.
The Mantario Trail is “a world-class backwoods trek through pristine wilderness. You need experience, fitness and the appropriate equipment. If you think you have seen everything Manitoba has to offer, you need to try this one someday,” Steele says.
While Steele describes the Devil’s Punchbowl in Spruce Woods Provincial Park as an amazing hike, “You won’t be quite sure that you’re in Manitoba. Like all good hikes, there’s a reward at the end, in the form of some unique geological features. He adds that you should bring “lots of water.”
“The Manitoba section of the Great Trail is about 1,350 km and makes its way (eventually) from Saskatchewan to Ontario. The trail works really hard to take you from one place of interest to another, so it wanders all over the place. There is a free app that you can download that will allow you to see exactly where the trail goes,” Steele says.
He mentions that although the trail does not have much change in elevation, the composition of the trail itself varies greatly.
“Gravel road, dirt path, gravel path, bike path, etc.” Steele says. “I guess I want to be able to say ‘I walked all the way across Manitoba’ one day. I’m sure I’ll get a stare or two, at least!”
Manness is a blogger who recently published a book about hiking in Manitoba. She says her favourite trail is Bear Lake in the Whiteshell.
“It’s a little six-kilometre linear out-and-back trail through central Whiteshell. The trail is moderately difficult. It wanders through the woods, over rocky outcrops ... along some beautiful ridges. Near the lake, the trail dips down, and a bit of scrambling along rocks is required to climb over the last ridge to get to the lake. (It’s) worth it,” Manness says.
Manness loves aqua packs.
“They’re larger capacity but sit nicely in the pack to keep the weight balanced. Very convenient way of drinking water through the little hose,” she says.
For Steele, the go-to gear is hiking poles.
“I love my poles. They make me look and feel like a hiker, and have saved me a zillion times from injury and even more fatigue. I read somewhere that if used properly, hiking poles can conserve up to 30 per cent of your energy while going uphill,” Steele says.
However, Steele places shoes as the most important item to wear for a hike. Similarly, Manness is a fan of using gaiters, protective garments worn from the knee down.
“Keeping my feet and ankles clean and dry for years!” she says.
Manness also places importance on staying warm and dry.
“If you’re not reasonably warm and dry, you won’t enjoy yourself, and you probably won’t hike again,” Manness says.
She also hikes with a dog.
“I always have a fair amount of safety gear on me: a sling to carry my dog out if he is injured and all the other dog-related gear: food, water, booties (in case he injures a paw/pad). First-aid kit. Knife. Flashlight. Bear bangers and/or bear spray,” Manness says.
Located near some fun cycling trails, Falcon Lake has a number of amenities, including hiking, swimming, biking, campgrounds, a beach, stables, fishing, a marina, playgrounds, skiing, snowmobiling and more.
Little Limestone Lake
One of Manitoba’s lesser-known gems, Little Limestone is a marl lake. According to Manitoba Conservation and Climate, “a marl lake changes colour as its water temperature rises in the summer months and calcite in the water separates, forming tiny crystals. In this state, the lake’s waters turns from clear to a striking opaque turquoise colour or even a milky blue-white in warm summer weather.”
A protected area, Little Limestone is a natural park with backcountry land use category (LUC). That means there is no forest harvesting, mining, hydroelectric development or oil and gas exploration. It is a non-operational park with no programming, no infrastructure, no trails, roads, campgrounds or support buildings. Open fires are not allowed in this area.
Little Limestone is located “within the Mosakahiken Cree Nation Resource Management Area (RMA) and Moose Lake Registered Trapline Section controlled by Mosakahiken Cree Nation. Mosakahiken Cree Nation Reserve land parcel 31J is adjacent to Little Limestone Lake and the park area.”
Pisew Falls and Kwasitchewan Loop
This hiking loop begins at Pisew Falls with an overnight spot at Kwasitchewan Falls, where you can fall asleep to the sound of the highest waterfall in Manitoba. There are no bear boxes on this trail, so be prepared to hang your bag. While Parks Manitoba lists this as a 20 to 22 km hike, most hikers’ GPS report traveling 27.5 to 30 km for the entire loop.
While Churchill is known for polar bears, with bear season being at its height in November, there are a number of other things you can do there. There are beluga whales (during the summer), birdwatching, sled dogs and the northern lights.
Lester Beach is a lesser-known beach and cabin community located north of Patricia Beach and Grand Beach but south of Victoria Beach. It’s not a provincial park.
Beaudry Provincial Park
If you are looking for a place close to Winnipeg to spend an afternoon or early evening, Beaudry Provincial Park is west 10 km on Roblin Blvd. (PR 241). This park follows the Assiniboine River and sports some ski trails, hiking trails and paddling.
Hunt Lake Trail
Due to the increased popularity of this trail, Manitoba Conservation and Climate announced on Oct. 8 2020 construction to the trail, rerouting it away from cottages in the area. Construction includes additional parking and a one-stall privy (non-modern washroom). Set to be completed by spring 2021, the trail will remain open during construction. Watch for signs and be aware of your surroundings.
While known for hosting the Winnipeg Folk Festival during non-COVID years and its proximity to Winnipeg, Birds Hill Provincial Park is home to many trails and amenities, including hiking, biking, stables, swimming, skiing and more.
The Mantario Trail is best suited to avid and experienced backpackers. Located near the Manitoba/Ontario provincial border in Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park, the Mantario Trail runs about 60 km through the Canadian Shield and boreal forest. The trail has bear boxes and picnic tables.
Follow Steele’s hiking adventures @johncolinsteele on Instagram and get information on winter activities, including a guide to winter camping, from Manness’ blog at hikemanitoba.co or in her recent book, Hike Manitoba.
Published in Volume 75, Number 06 of The Uniter (October 22, 2020)