Canada has no shortage of great outdoors and unspoiled nature, many of them now protected as provincial parks. Manitoba has over fifty provincial parks showcasing how stunning Canadian landscapes can be, but one of the best and most accessible ones is the Whiteshell Provincial Park.
With almost 2,800 square kilometers of protected wilderness parkland, this provincial park is full of rivers, remote lakes, boreal forests, bare granite ridges, and even archaeological sites.
These natural qualities make it the perfect place to go hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, camping, and much more.
Located just roughly an hour and half east of Winnipeg, along the Manitoba-Ontario boundary, this park is an easy day trip from the city. But, the Whiteshell Provincial Park is much more than a simple day trip destination; it offers countless activities that can keep you busy for days.
If you’re looking to explore the park and enjoy the best of it, here are just a few of the top outdoor and adventurous activities you can do there.
1. Have a Hiking Adventure at the Hunt Lake Hiking Trail
This is a difficult but rewarding 12.6 km long backcountry trail that leads north to Little Indian Bay along the east shore of West Hawk Lake. The trail passes through some stands of beautiful white cedar and white pine on your way past the quiet shores of Hunt Lake.
Close to the beginning of the trail, there is an interesting small cave in a vertical rock wall with trees growing through the rocks. It’s a great photo spot!
The terrain is pretty rugged as the winding trail follows alongside the shore of West Hawk Lake, passing through forested areas filled with beautiful white cedar and white pine on your way past the quiet shores of Hunt Lake.
You’ll pass through some overgrown areas with a narrow path through the bush, steep climbs, and descents on rock walls, and trail areas with lots of roots and rocks on the path. But, that’s part of the adventurous hike!
Along the way, you’ll see several amazing scenic views of the lake, which are also great swimming spots to take a refreshing dip on a hot summer day.
This trail is considered one of the most strenuous in Manitoba. But don’t worry, it is not that hard. Still, your hard work is rewarded with impressive views of the area. In fact, this trail is rated as the best train in the provincial park.
Allow yourself 6 hours to hike to Little Indian Bay and back. The trail is best used from March until October. You can learn more about the Hunt Lake Trail on this site.
2. Paddle Through Stunning Man-made Tunnels at Caddy Lake
Caddy Lake is a popular spot among Canadians looking to cool off on a hot summer day. Like on many lakes, you can practice water sports like kayaking, water skiing, tubing, canoeing, fishing, and more. But, Caddy Lake has an extra feature – kayaking or canoeing through some stunning man-made tunnels.
These man-made tunnels, which look like caves upon the first impression, were blasted through the solid granite rock when the railways were built in the area. These cave-like tunnels allow for a natural flow of water of the Whiteshell River system.
You can rent a kayak at the Green Bay Resort or the Caddy Lake Resort. I suggest calling or emailing ahead of time, as the kayaks get fully booked on busy summer days. This happened to me. I ended renting mine at the last minute from Caddy Lake Resort after I showed up to a fully booked Green Bay Resort.
Both resorts are about 45 minutes away from the first tunnel – though I estimate Caddy Lake Resort is slightly closer. Once you kayak or canoe to the northern end of Caddy Lake, you’ll see the sign marking the entrance to the first tunnel connecting to South Cross Lake.
The narrow tunnel is probably no longer than 100 feet, but the experience is quite amazing as you’re paddling it by yourself while listening to the quietness of the flowing water, the slow wind, and the birds (and probably bats?) flying above you.
But the magical moment comes as you reach the end of the tunnel, when the majestic view of the South Shore Lake opens up, showing you an even more beautiful lake, waiting for you to enjoy it. You can camp, picnic, and relax on some of the shore areas and beaches.
As you’re kayaking, you can observe the diverse wildlife of Manitoba, including deer, fox, ducks, and eagles, to name a few.
If you’re looking a full day of kayaking, you can reach the second tunnel which is roughly 2.5 hours north of the first tunnel (4.8 km), connecting the South Cross Lake with the North Cross Lake – another marvelously beautiful lake in the Whiteshell Provincial Park full of wilderness campsites.
For hardcore kayakers, the Caddy Lake Rock Tunnels are the beginning of the 170km long Caddy Lake canoe route. If you’re interested in fishing, the Caddy Lake Resort offers boat rentals.
3. Learn Some First Nation History and Wander in Nature at the Whiteshell Provincial Park
Also in the Whiteshell Provincial Park (it is a huge park!), you’ll find the Bannock Point Petroforms. These are stones laid out on the bedrock in the shapes of turtles, snakes, human figures, a Thunderbird and other geometric designs believed to have been made centuries ago by First Nations people.
While not much is known about these petroforms, they are believed to be teaching places, doorways to other worlds, and centers of healing ceremonies. They are physical reminders of instructions given to First Nations people by the spirits.
Anishinabe and other Indigenous people believe that the petroforms were left here long ago, as far back as 1,500 years ago, for the benefit of all people that might visit this site to receive their teachings and healing.
Know that this site is a sacred site open to the public, so there are no marked trails or guiding points to lead you to each petroform. Pay attention to your surroundings as you walk around to spot each petroform; it is easy to get disoriented there. Also, do not touch or disturb the rocks as they are sacred.
The most common forms seen there are turtles, snakes, fish, and some geometric forms. I had a really hard time finding the sweat lodge with the little man inside and the teaching scroll petroforms. Maybe you’ll be luckier!
Having said that, park interpreters offer free guided tours of the Bannock Point Petroforms throughout the summer. These last 1.5 hours long and offer a deeper insight into the Petroform site and their importance. Check with Travel Manitoba to see their current free guided tour schedule and for more information.
4. Go Mountain Biking in the Forest
Given that Manitoba is mostly flat, mountain biking in the provincial park is a thrilling yet easy activity for outdoor enthusiasts.
There are dozens of trails in the park, but some of the most popular ones are located next to Caddy Lake, West Hawk Lake, and McGillivray Lake.
Many of these trails flirt with stunning views as they repeatedly take you into the forest and then border you by the lake to give you a peek of the beautiful openness before sweeping you back into the forest.
Some of these trails, like the one at McGillivray, lead you to gorgeous waterfalls, as is the case of the McGillivray Falls.
While these trails are self-guided, take note that not all trails are properly marked and that the terrain might be muddy depending on the weather. To familiarize yourself with the trails, distances, difficulty, and rating, I recommend checking this site for more information.
If hiking it, then I recommend checking this other site where you can read more information related to hiking it.
5. Wander in Nature at the Nutimik River Trail and Go River Surfing
Just a few minutes driving north of the petroforms you’ll find the Nutimik Lake Trail (also known as Sturgeon Falls Trail) and the Sturgeon Falls. This trail is just a small portion of the Trans Canada Trail –the World’s Longest Trail with over 22,000 km– connecting all of Canada from coast to coast.
Hike the short 4.2 km long trail (there and back) to the falls, walk across the Whiteshell River Bridge (perfect photo spot of the river), and enjoy the lake and river view before reaching the Sturgeon Falls.
The falls are more river rapids than actual falls, so many water sports enthusiasts practice river surfing and whitewater kayaking on them. The waves at Sturgeon Falls are formed by a rocky shoal located at a narrow point in the river, just a bit upstream from Nutimik Lake.
Although Sturgeon Falls has only a drop of ten feet along a long gradient, it has fifteen waves and holes that allow paddlers to select their kind of ride – from moderate to more challenging ones. The intensity of the rapids will vary depending on the water level.
Have in mind, though, that these rapids can be dangerous, so they should only be surfed and kayaked if you’re experienced enough.
To enjoy this playspot, you need to drop your kayak from the Nutimik campground boat launch, head out across the lake and follow the right sandy shore for about 1km, where you’ll hear and see the rapids.
The Nutimik Campground is also a great spot to picnic or spend the night camping. You can rent your camping equipment and kayak right on Winnipeg with Wilderness Supply.
6. Get Adventurous at the Decommissioned Pinawa Dam
Alright, the Pinawa Dam is not officially in the Whiteshell Provincial Park, but it is just off the edge of it, so that’s why I’m including it here. In fact, the Pinawa Dam is located in its own tiny provincial park, known as the Pinawa Dam Provincial Heritage Park.
Visiting this dam was one of my favorite activities in and around the Whiteshell Provincial Park especially because I love visiting abandoned and decommissioned buildings around the world.
Even when empty and in a dilapidated state, many of them can tell a story about the historical context in which they were created and how they influenced and affected their surroundings.
The Pinawa Dam was no exception. This dam, built in 1903, was considered an engineering marvel back in its day since it operated as a year-round hydroelectric power dam in an area where harsh winters tend to freeze many rivers and lakes.
After the dam was decommissioned in 1951, the townsite of Pinawa was abandoned, much of the area was dismantled, and the dam structure was used for artillery practice.
As you enter the Pinawa Provincial Park you see the majestic concrete ruins at the end of the lake, resembling an ancient Roman Colosseum partially submerged.
The dam is now a popular picnic and swimming spot. There are some small rapids just up the dam that you can ride with a small board or body-board (with a life-jacket). You can also do a self-guided tour around the ruins to learn more about the dam and its historical achievements.
As you head east from Winnipeg to the Whiteshell Provincial Park along the Trans-Canada Highway (Route 1), you’ll see a huge sign marking the longitudinal center of Canada with longitude 96° 48’ 35”. It is located just 30 minutes east of the city. Snap a quick picture there!
There are many more activities you can do at the Whiteshell Provincial Park and around it, but just these six activities can keep you busy for an entire week and more!
When to go:
The park is used year-round for nature-oriented recreation activities, but the best time to go is from late spring to early fall. Winter visits are great for ice skating on the lakes, cross country skiing or seeing the northern lights. You can learn more about the park and its seasonal campgrounds on its official site.
How to get there:
From Winnipeg, take Hwy 1 heading east to the park’s entrance. Or, take Hwy 44 heading east, then turn north (left) onto Hwy 11. From 11, turn East or right onto Hwy 307, this road takes you into Whiteshell Provincial Park.
If you are traveling from Ontario, take Hwy 17 until it reaches the Whiteshell Provincial Park.
You will need a Provincial Park Pass (park vehicle permits). Fees are $5 for a day fee or $40.00 for a season pass. Camping fees also apply. You can learn more about park fees here.
Images 1, 2, 8, and 11 from Flickr Creative Commons. I visited Manitoba in collaboration with Travel Manitoba, but the experience and expressions written here are my own.
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