Manitoba's major wilderness playground is Riding Mountain National Park, renowned for abundant wildlife, including bears and bison. Provincial parks of note include Whiteshell, which is blessed with an abundance of lakes and waterfalls; Duck Mountain, protecting Manitoba's highest peak; and Grand Beach, where white sand beaches attract hordes of summer vacationers. For information on Manitoba parks, contact Manitoba Conservation (tel. 800/214-6497 or 204/945-6784; www.manitobaparks.com). Manitoba provincial parks camping fees range from C$10 to C$25 per day. For camping reservations, call tel. 888/482-2267 or 204/948-3333.
Saskatchewan boasts 80,290 sq. km (31,000 sq. miles) of water, and 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) of land are given over to parks -- nearly 400,000 hectares (988,422 acres) alone constitute Prince Albert National Park, a glacially carved wilderness laced with hiking trails and dotted with lakes. Don't let the name put you off -- Grasslands National Park is a surprisingly interesting prairie wilderness, with colorful wildflowers and lots of wildlife. In addition, there are 34 provincial parks. The two best known are Cypress Hills, a high point of the prairies that attracts visitors with outdoor activities and well-serviced campgrounds, as well as Buffalo Pound, where a herd of bison are the main attraction; and Moose Mountain, renowned for its abundant and varied birdlife. For information about the province's provincial parks, contact the Department of Tourism, Parks, and Culture (tel. 800/667-2757 or 306/787-2700; www.tpcs.gov.sk.ca/Parks).
At the parks, you can camp for C$17 to C$32, plus a C$7 daily entry fee for vehicles, or pay C$25 for a 7-day pass. Some parks, such as Cypress Hills, also have cabins and lodge rooms that rent for anywhere from C$65 to C$135 a day.
Summers in both provinces can be simply magnificent, with warm, sunny days and cool, refreshing evenings and nights. Winter temperatures are pretty harsh, with highs usually well below freezing, but that doesn't stop winter-sports enthusiasts.
Spruce Woods Priovincial Park & Brandon
About 67km (42 miles) west of Portage la Prairie, before reaching Carberry, turn south on Highway 5 to Spruce Woods Provincial Park. The park's unique and most fragile feature is Spirit Sands, a 5-sq.-km (2-sq.-mile) tract of open, blowing sand dunes that are all that remain of a massive delta at the edge of the ancient Lake Agassiz. Only a few hardy creatures -- including the prairie skink (Manitoba's only lizard), hognose snake, Bembix wasp, and one type of wolf spider -- live here. The rest of the park is forest and prairie grasslands inhabited by herds of elk.
The park is on the Assiniboine River canoe route, which starts in Brandon and ends north of the town of Holland. You can rent canoes at Pine Fort IV in the park. The park's longest hiking trail is the 40km (25-mile) Epinette Trail, but its most fascinating is the Spirit Sands/Devil's Punch Bowl, accessible from Highway 5 on the north side of the river. A network of trails loop through the dunes and lead to Devil's Punch Bowl, a deep sandy depression carved by underground streams. There are also bike and mountain-bike trails; river swimming; camping at the park's Kiche Manitou Campground (for reservations, call tel. 888/482-2267 or 204/948-3333, or go to http://prssya.gov.mb.ca); and in winter, cross-country skiing, skating, and tobogganing.
Around 200km (124 miles) west of Winnipeg is Brandon, Manitoba's second-largest city (population 46,000). This university town features the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba, at 710 Rosser Ave. (tel. 204/727-1036; www.agsm.ca), and the B.J. Hales Museum of Natural History, in McMaster Hall on the Brandon University campus, Hwy. 10 (tel. 204/727-7307; http://flinflon.brandonu.ca/bjhales), with mounted specimens of birds and mammals. Another worthy attraction is the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, along Hwy. 10 out at the airport (tel. 204/727-2444; www.airmuseum.ca), with historical aircraft and artifacts from Royal Canadian Air Force training schools of World War II.
Duck Mountain Provincial Park
Northwest of Riding Mountain via Highway 10, off Route 367, Duck Mountain Provincial Park is popular for fishing, camping, boating, hiking, horseback riding, and biking. Accessible by road, Baldy Mountain, near the park's southeast entrance, is the province's highest point at 831m (2,726 ft.). East Blue Lake is so clear the bottom is visible at 9 to 12m (30-39 ft.).
For accommodations in Duck Mountain, the place to stay is Wellman Lake Lodge on Hwy. 366 (tel. 888/525-5896 or 204/525-4422; www.wellmanlakelodge.com), which has cabins starting at C$125 for two. All are modern and winterized, with full bathrooms and well-equipped kitchenettes, plus a covered deck with picnic table. Two have fireplaces or pellet stoves. There's also a beach for swimming. There are three campgrounds in Duck Mountain that offer various levels of service. For reservations, call tel. 888/482-2267 or 204/948-3333, or visit http://prssya.gov.mb.ca.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.