Getting away from it all is easy at Manitoba’s forest, river and lake-filled provincial parks — especially with 20 of them being just an easy drive from Winnipeg. Rough it in the rugged backcountry on a multi-day trek, or bed down cushy-style in a cabin or yurt and sing Kumbaya at the campfire on a sandy beach. If you’re an angler, bring your rod and go for the big one. Here are the province’s top spots.

Go wild at Atikaki Wilderness Provincial Wilderness Park

You’ll find Mother Nature at her most pristine at Atikaki Wilderness Provincial Park, just east of Lake Winnipeg near the Ontario border. This is Canadian Shield country — a huge area of exposed igneous rock — marked by 1,537 square miles of rugged boreal forest and rivers and lakes, optimal for canoeing and fishing for walleye and northern pike. Look for prehistoric rock paintings along riverbeds, plus bear, elk, eagles, and herds of caribou some 500-strong. The name is Ojibwe for “country of the caribou.” Stay at a fly-in lodge, in particular luxe log-chalet hunting and fishing base camp Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge on Aikens Lake. This place remains mostly untouched by man because it’s a fly-in access only lake — and that’s the draw.

Dune hop at Spruce Woods Provincial Park

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You might think you’re in the Sahara for a moment at Spruce Woods, two hours west of Winnipeg. Spirit Sands in the park is famed for its 98-foot-high dunes, flanked by cacti and forest. Tackle a two or 3.5-hour hike to get a good look and play in the sand. Besides the dunes, another highlight is the 147-foot-deep Devil’s Punch Bowl, a circular crater-like lake fed by underground rivers and filled with luminous turquoise water. Go in autumn to beat the heat.

Retreat to Duck Mountain Provincial Park

Looking for a peaceful spot? Head to Duck Mountain Provincial Park in the west, near Saskatchewan, a place of rolling spruce, aspen, and birch woodlands, wetlands, clear streams, and flower-filled meadows. You’re likely to spot moose, deer, and black bear here. Camp, relax, and angle the well-stocked spring-fed lakes for trout — especially the sandy-beach, crystalline Blue Lakes. Cycle, hike — or Nordic ski or snowmobile in winter — 19 miles of trails at this classic four-season park. Drive or trek up Manitoba’s highest peak, 2,727-foot Bald Mountain, to catch a panoramic view.

Hike Whiteshell Provincial Park

Just 2.5 hours east of Winnipeg by car, much-loved Whiteshell Provincial Park is quintessential rugged, Canadian parkland. Even so, the 1,054-square-mile area is rarely crowded. Take it in at your own pace on a multi-day hike or backpacking trip, passing maple and pine forests, granite cliffs, gullies carved by rushing rivers, and some of the 200 deep lakes with quiet sand-shore beaches. Camp along the popular Mantario Trail, a three- to six-day, 37-mile out-and-back that’s spectacular in autumn as the leaves change to gold and crimson. You can also lodge at a resort, cabin, or group campsite.

Listen for music at Birds Hill Provincial Park

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An 8,300-acre green space just north of Winnipeg, Birds Hill Provincial Park is a retreat and gathering place for urbanites. Most well known as the site of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, it opened in 1967 to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday. Now, Birds Hill is one of the province’s most popular parks. It’s a tranquil spot to cycle and hike (especially the Cedar Bog Trail) or just picnic among the prairie buttercups. In winter, you can cross-country ski and ride a horse-drawn sleigh, and in summer, kayak and swim. Forage for wild choke cherry, rose hips, and high bush cranberry or watch horseback riders training at the equestrian center. If you want to learn about fur traders and trappers, visit nearby 1830s Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site.

Delve into history at St. Norbert Provincial Heritage Park

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Named after the first bishop of St. Boniface, St. Norbert is the birthplace of Manitoba. It’s also a historic trading center and traditional Aboriginal buffalo hunting ground. Just a half-hour from downtown Winnipeg, it’s often called Manitoba’s “other Forks” and you can stroll along or picnic at the La Salle-Red River junction. Learn about Metis life in the 1800s and the area’s French-Canadian agricultural roots. Take an interpreter-led tour of the restored Turenne and Bohemier houses, see the 1870s Metis Delorme House and even an outdoor refrigerator once used for summertime cooling. Fish, picnic, go geocaching, or hike the 19-mile, multi-use St. Norbert Heritage Trails nearby, part of The Great Trail, past the 1892 Trappist Monastery ruins.

Find serenity at Nopiming Provincial Park

In the southeast, Nopiming is as amazing as Whiteshell, but not as busy. Canoeing is the thing here: On lakes and rivers along the Canadian Shield at the Ontario border, watching out for abandoned 1930s mining sites; and in the northern part of the park, caribou, moose, and wolf. Follow a challenging voyageur or Aboriginal route with portages, or enjoy an easy run along the river. Paddlers love the Bird River to Elbow Lake or hike the Walking on Ancient Mountains Trail. Pitch a tent at one of 36 sites at private Tulabi Falls Campground and watch the sunset at the campground’s Bird River beach.

 

Manitoba has big nature, but lots more, too — don’t miss all the culture, arts, heritage, and urban attractions.

Get ready to get outside at the Travel Manitoba website.

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