Whiteshell Provincial Park
Less than a 2-hour drive east of Winnipeg (144km/89 miles) lies a network of a dozen rivers and more than 200 lakes in the 2,590-sq.-km (1,000-sq.-mile) Whiteshell Provincial Park (tel. 204/369-5246). Among the park's natural features are Rainbow and Whitemouth falls; a lovely lily pond west of Caddy Lake; West Hawk Lake, Manitoba's deepest lake, created by a meteorite; and a goose sanctuary (best seen mid-May to July, when the goslings are about). You can also view petroforms, stone arrangements fashioned by an Algonquin-speaking people to communicate with the spirits. In fall, you can witness an ancient ritual -- First Nations Canadians harvesting wild rice. One person poles a canoe through the rice field while another bends the stalks into the canoe and knocks the ripe grains off with a picking stick.
There are six signed interpretive trails, plus several hiking trails you can complete in less than 2 hours. From the visitor center, a 30-minute trail leads to the Alf Hole Goose Sanctuary, where Canada geese are often sighted. For serious backpackers, the Mantario Trail is a 3- to 6-day hike over 60km (37 miles) of rugged terrain. There are also all-terrain biking trails. You can choose among one of several canoe routes, including the Frances Lake route, which covers 18km (11 miles) of pleasant paddling with 12 beaver-dam hauls and three portages, and takes about 6 hours. There is swimming at Falcon Beach; scuba diving in West Hawk Lake; and sailing, windsurfing, water-skiing, and fishing in other places. Nature Manitoba (tel. 204/943-9029; www.manitobanature.ca) operates wilderness programs and other workshops at their wilderness education center on Lake Mantario.
Horseback riding is offered at Falcon Beach Ranch (tel. 877/949-2410 or 204/349-2410; www.falconbeachranch.com). In winter, there is downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and skating. Most recreational equipment, including skis, canoes, snowshoes, and fishing gear, is available from the Falcon Trails Resort (tel. 204/349-8273; www.falcontrails.mb.ca), which also rents lakeside cabins.
Within the park, Falcon Lake is the center of one of Canada's most modern recreational developments, including various resorts with tennis courts, an 18-hole par-72 golf course, hiking trails, horseback riding, fishing, canoeing, and skiing. Most park resorts and lodges charge C$125 to C$225 for a double. Most resorts offer recreational equipment rentals. Camping facilities abound. For more information, contact Manitoba Conservation (tel. 204/349-2201; www.gov.mb.ca/conservation).
The continent's seventh largest lake, Lake Winnipeg is 425km (264 miles) long, and its shores shelter some interesting communities and attractive natural areas. At its southeast end, Grand Beach Provincial Park has beautiful white-sand beaches backed by 12m-high (39-ft.) dunes in some places. This is a good place to relax on the beach, swim, hike, or camp.
About 97km (60 miles) north of Winnipeg, on the western shore, the farming-and-fishing community of Gimli is the hub of Icelandic culture in Manitoba. Established over a century ago as the capital of New Iceland, it had its own government, school, and newspapers for many years. It still celebrates an Icelandic festival known as Islendingadagurinn on the first long weekend in August (tel. 204/642-7417; www.icelandicfestival.com).
Linked to the mainland by a bridge, Hecla Island, 165km (103 miles) north of Winnipeg, was once a part of the Republic of New Iceland and home to a small Icelandic-Canadian farming-and-fishing community. Today, the island and its surrounds are protected by Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park. Open year-round, it's an excellent place to hike (with five short trails), golf, fish, camp, bird-watch, canoe, swim, windsurf, play tennis, cross-country ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile and toboggan. Photographers and wildlife enthusiasts appreciate the park's wildlife-viewing tower and the Grassy Narrow Marsh, which shelters many species of waterfowl. A campground and 17 cabins are available. For campground and cabin reservations at all provincial parks, call tel. 888/482-2267 or 204/948-3333, or go to http://prssya.gov.mb.ca. Another option is Hecla Oasis Resort.
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.