It’s hard to narrow it down to just a few “musts” for a Manitoba bucket list, but here goes. Starting with artsy, food and culture hot spot Winnipeg, Manitoba is also an angler’s paradise of 100,000 lakes and North America’s largest catch. There’s the spectacular Northern Lights show, vibrant First Nations heritage, remote wilderness, and the Arctic, where you can see giant polar bears and cute beluga whales. Here are the most incredible things to do, see, and take in.

Get cozy with polar bears

The Best of the Arctic - Spotting polar bears with The Great Canadian Travel Company

Thrilling is an understatement when it comes to locking eyes with a 1,500-lb polar bear. The place to see them in their natural habitat is northern Manitoba; in particular, Churchill, the “Polar Bear Capital of the World.” Book a trip with Churchill Nature Tours, Churchill Wild, Frontiers North, or The Great Canadian Travel Company to observe bears from a Tundra Buggy, join a wildlife safari, or tackle once-in-a-lifetime adventures from a luxe fly-in basecamp. If that’s too far afield, head to Winnipeg instead and spend time at the award-winning “Journey to Churchill” exhibit at the Assiniboine Zoo. Not only is it the world’s most comprehensive northern species zoological exhibition, you get to watch polar bears swimming right above your head in the tunnel-like aquarium tank.

Ponder the human experience

Like a delicate origami creation of folded paper with a jewel-like tower rising from its center, Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights is something to behold. New Mexico architect Antoine Predock designed the limestone, steel, and glass space and its 328-foot Tower of Hope, an assemblage of 11 galleries delivering a kinetic experience that interprets what it means to be human. This is also Canada’s first national museum outside the capital city, Ottawa. Powerful is an understatement, with discussion-provoking exhibits addressing issues of ethical obligation, Indigenous rights, and genocide, including the Nazi Holocaust.

Go trophy fishing

Catching the big one on the lodge’s Pathway of the Voyageurs – Credit: Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge

North America’s largest fish swim in Manitoba lakes. Reel in the big one at tranquil Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, a rustic yet upscale fly-in base camp in Atikaki Wilderness Provincial Park east of Winnipeg, near the Ontario border. Favorites here are reading on the waterfront deck, swimming off the sandy beach, and a guided shore lunch of just-pulled-from-the-water beer-batter pike or Cajun-style walleye sizzling on the camp stovetop.

Dine on a frozen river

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Winnipeg has a creative, quirky dining scene, especially in the trendy historic Exchange District and The Forks. A foodie must is RAW:almond, a pop-up restaurant collaboration that happens for three weeks in late January at the juncture of the frozen Red and Assiniboine Rivers. Seated on fur-lined ice stools, dine on from-scratch chicken sausage and lavender-almond crumble from the city’s top chefs in a Nordic ski hut meets urban cool architect-designed space.

Go out at The Forks

Near the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and several other museums, The Forks is the meeting place with 6,000 years of history behind it. The Forks is an indoor-outdoor nine-acre riverside green space, entertainment, outdoor fun and sports district all in one. Grab a bite, catch an outdoor concert, shop, skate, and canoe at the place that was once a fur trading and Aboriginal hub at the junction of downtown Winnipeg’s two main rivers.

Meet the First Nations at Manito Ahbee

Canada’s largest Pow Wow is in Winnipeg – Credit: Dan Harper

Colorful and exhilarating, Winnipeg’s May Manito Ahbee Festival is Canada largest Pow Wow. The array of beaded ceremonial dress, feathered headdresses, and elaborate butterfly capes alone are a must-see, not to mention the drumming, singing, dancing, art, and cultural traditions on display. The highlight is the intertribal dance, drawing talents from Cree, Dakota Sioux, and Ojibway backgrounds to show off their skills. Another not-to-be-missed event is July’s four-day Winnipeg Folk Festival.

Watch the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Ballet in Canada is synonymous with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, a global powerhouse. A creative and cutting edge company, this is where you’ll see Canada’s — and the world’s — most gifted and technically skilled dancers perform. Take in a classic, such as “Sleeping Beauty,” or watch an edgy modern number, choosing from eight or so annual shows.

Get outside at Riding Mountain National Park

Bison spotting - Credit: Travel Manitoba

Canada is filled with world-renowned parks and Riding Mountain National Park is one of them. Just three hours by car from Winnipeg (north of Brandon), the place is celebrated for its vast swaths of forest and open prairie, wildlife like bison, moose, elk, and bear, outstanding hiking in summer, and ice fishing in winter. There’s also a resort townsite that features cushy digs, entertainment, and fun events. Another top outdoor playground is Spruce Woods Provincial Park’s Spirit Sands, known for its 100-foot-tall sand dunes, near Brandon.

See migrating caribou

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Imagine half a million Qamanirjuag caribou stampeding by on a journey covering 300,000 square miles from the Arctic. The Manitoba caribou migration is something to witness: It’s the largest of its kind in North America. It’s also the only place outside Africa to see this type of free-roaming wild herd. Head to northern Manitoba’s Schmok Lake region near Nunavut in late August or early September to take it in. You might even spy a stealthy wolf taking advantage of the annual trek.

While you’re touring Manitoba, sample some of the province’s award-winning whiskey, too. You can pretty much hit it all in one vacation — culture, nature, music, museums, food, wildlife, and the exotic Arctic. Time to check off some items on your bucket list.

Start planning your trip at the Travel Manitoba website.

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