When friends and acquaintances found out I was heading to Manitoba in the winter, I was often greeted with puzzled looks and bewilderment. While I was repeatedly asked why I’d want to go somewhere so cold, once they saw how much fun there was to be had, they began to understand and even think about planning their own trips! It’s no secret that you’ll have an epic visit to Winnipeg in the winter but you’ll definitely want to plan to leave the city, especially once you see all the winter-ful things to do in Riding Mountain National Park! You know you love a chill pun.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Best Things to Do in Riding Mountain National Park
With amazing outdoor adventures, adorable small towns, fantastic eats, and more, it’s no wonder so many brave the frozen temperatures. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in the fall and the park is gorgeous then but winter adds a whole new level of fun! Pack your thermal gear and get ready for the best things to do in Riding Mountain National Park once the snow flies.
RELATED: Unsure of what to wear for winter adventures? Check out my guide for some tips and tricks on how to stay warm in the chilly temperatures.
Head to the Visitors Centre
Before heading into the depths of Riding Mountain National Park, pop into the Visitors Centre in the heart of Wasagaming. Here you can chat with local park staff who will give you great suggestions of things to do within the park. You can also pick up some great Parks Canada swag as well as find out about any events happening during your visit!
Spend some time with the interpretive signage as you’ll learn about the history of the park, the wildlife found within it, and Riding Mountain’s significance. Known to the Anishinaabe People as Wagiiwing meaning mountain in Ojibway, take a moment to recognize that you are on Treaty 2 Territory. Parks Canada works directly with local First Nations communities as stewards of these lands to protect the park for generations to come. From medicinal plants to the wildlife within its boundaries, you’ll have a better understanding of what makes Riding Mountain National Park so special.
Strap on Some Snowshoes
Riding Mountain National Park is no stranger to snow and what better way to enjoy it than snowshoeing! There are over 25 trails across four areas of the park: Wasagaming, East Escarpment, Lake Audy and the Riding Mountain Parkway. Some are shared with cyclists while others are strictly for snowshoeing, all of which are designated on the Riding Mountain National Park map which you can view here. The trails are of various lengths and difficulties meaning there’s a snowshoe trail for everyone!
For those looking to enjoy a simple trail where you may not even need snowshoes, it’s best to keep to the trails close to Clear Lake and Wasagaming. At just 500 metres in length, The Ominnik Trail is a perfect option as it follows a beautiful boardwalk with interpretive signage that shares about the area. If you’re looking for a fantastic spot to enjoy the sunset in Riding Mountain National Park, the Ominnik Trail is a great option!
Personally, I love a trail that really makes it feel like a winter wonderland. Mama Nature graced us with cold temperatures but a solid amount of fresh snow which made the Arrowhead Trail extra magical. This 3.2 kilometre long trail features a gorgeous landscape carved out by glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. It has some elevation but nothing overly difficult, making it a great snowshoe trail for beginners or those looking to enjoy a more leisurely escape.
Go Fat Biking to Cover More Ground
The more I ride fat bikes, the more I love them. They certainly take a little bit to get used to but you feel like a boss roaming around with those beefy tires! If you’re looking for an easy ride, the Brûlé Trail is a 4.1 kilometre long trail in the shape of a figure eight. With the option to turn off for a 2.2 kilometre loop, chances are you’ll tackle the full trail as it’s flat with no uphill battles to contend with. Plus you won’t want to miss out on enjoying the tranquil coniferous forest as it leads to the charming Kinosao Lake!
INSIDER TIP: Biking on really fluffy snow is much more difficult than on trails that are tamped down. While it doesn’t hurt much (if at all) when you topple over, it can be tricky to get back on the horse so to speak. If you’re not an avid cyclist (aka me), I’d recommend riding around town before making your way to any trails.
While the majority of the trails in Riding Mountain National Park are accessible by fat bike, not all of them permit it so make sure to obey the signage and stay on trails marked safe for biking. All of the fat biking trails in Riding Mountain National Park are shared with snowshoers and hikers which can be a bit stressful for less experienced riders. If you see snowshoers and you’re feeling nervous, don’t be afraid to dismount and pass by foot before continuing on your way.
Try Your Hand at Kicksledding
If you’re wondering what a kicksled even is, I was in the same boat until I arrived at Riding Mountain. The best way I’d say to describe it is to think of a kicksled as a winter scooter! Place one foot firmly on one of the two tracks, grab hold of the handles and kick off with the other. Voila! Invented in Sweden over 150 years ago, it was used to transport goods and people across frozen bodies of water. It was even one of the top three winter sports in Scandinavia at one point!
Similar to fat biking, kicksleds are best used on trails that are packed down or along the roads. If you struggle with balance, this is a great alternative for getting around Wasagaming. If you’re really looking for a challenge though, try taking it on the skate trail near the Visitors Centre. Be careful though as it’ll be a wild ride! And just like a scooter, you’ll want to switch up your legs as they get tired.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Snowshoes, fat bikes and kicksleds can all be rented from the Friends of Riding Mountain National Park, a local non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness and appreciation of the natural and cultural wonders found within the park. By renting from them, you’re giving back to the park so why not do some good as you explore?
Visit the Riding Mountain National Park East Gate
A visit to the park’s eastern side is a must as Riding Mountain National is home to one of the few remaining examples of the rustic sign design that was iconic in Canada’s National Parks during the 1930s. Designated as a national historic site, admire the turret-like design constructed by local craftsmen almost a century ago. It’s best to do this either as you drive into the park or on your way out, depending on whether or not you’re heading in the direction of Winnipeg.
After admiring the iconic gates, make your way into the heart of Riding Mountain National Park via Provincial Highway 19. About five kilometres west of the gate, there’s a fantastic scenic lookout that you won’t want to miss. You’ll enjoy brilliant views of the prairies from atop the Manitoba Escarpment, one of the highest points in the province. It’s less than a ten minute drive from the gate so make sure you don’t drive right by it!
More Things to Do at Riding Mountain National Park in Winter
My experience was a whirlwind 48 hours but I jammed in as much as possible. As you can imagine, there are even more great things to do in Riding Mountain National Park in the winter. If you’re planning to stay for a longer period or are just looking for more adventures, here are some more recommendations for the park.
Hit the Cross-Country Ski Trails – The park is a paradise for cross-country skiing as it offers approximately 100 kilometres across 17 trails dedicated solely to the sport. Keep it simple with the short loop around the Wasagaming campground or if you’re more experienced, go for the Compound Creek or Grey Owl trails.
Skate Along the Wasagaming Trail – Right next to the Visitors Centre, you’ll find not just a small skating rink but a beautiful trail that follows along the edge of Clear Lake. Be sure to check it out in the evening as it’s absolutely enchanting as the fairy lights appear once the sun sets!
Visit the Lake Audy Bison Enclosure – Considered to be one of the top spots in Manitoba for wildlife viewing, Riding Mountain National Park is home to 40 plains bison, a pack of wolves numbering between 70 – 100 individuals, 300 moose, 800 elk along with lynx, fox, fishers, pine martens, and even otters.
Cast a Line and Go Ice Fishing – Northern pike, lake whitefish, smallmouth bass, walleye and yellow perch are just some of the species that might be nibbling at your bait in Clear Lake. Plus you can only go snowmobiling in Riding Mountain National Park for the purpose of ice fishing so that’s an extra bonus!
Try to Catch the Northern Lights – Riding Mountain National Park’s level of latitude means it’s no stranger to the northern lights. Keep an eye out for solar storms during your visit and you may just see the beautiful ribbons as they dance across the sky!
Where to Eat in Riding Mountain National Park
One thing that makes Riding Mountain National Park unique compared to other national parks across Canada is that it is one of five national parks that has a town within its boundaries. This opens up a realm of possibilities you don’t typically get… like fantastic eats. Don’t miss these great Riding Mountain National Park restaurants during your visit!
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Many of the stores and restaurants close during the winter months in Wasagaming. As a result, options are limited and it is recommended to make reservations whenever possible.
Address: 128 Wasagaming Dr, Wasagaming, MB
Located right along the main street in Wasagaming, The Lakehouse is a gorgeous cabin-style boutique hotel with an on-site restaurant that’s not to be missed when you’re trekking through the park. Trendy but casual, settle in for a fantastic meal as you’re surrounded by earthy tones and warm vibes. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to snag a table right by the fireplace! They’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner so you have plenty of chances to snag a meal here.
Their menu isn’t the largest but it’s all about quality over quantity at The Lakehouse. That being said, this doesn’t mean their portions aren’t fantastic! I mean, just take a look at that charcuterie board below. If you’re an eggs benedict fan like I am, you’ll want to make sure you stop in for breakfast. Their Tex Mex eggs benedict features two poached eggs with chorizo atop their housemade focaccia with guacamole, green onion, and cilantro, all of which is smothered in their adobo hollandaise sauce. Not only is it bursting with flavour but there’s also quite the kick to it! You may want to have a latte or mocha handy to help calm the spice.
Address: 128 Wasagaming Dr, Wasagaming, MB
Yes, this is still The Lakehouse but it’s a unique experience worthy of its own section! Birthed during the pandemic, the Spruce Hut is a treat that can only be enjoyed in the winter months. Enjoy a meal in this delightful hut designed to symbolize the divine wintery forests within Riding Mountain National Park. Cozy up with faux-fur-lined seat cushions as a roaring fire keeps you cozy in the centre of the table.
Sip on whimsical cocktails like their Where the Magic Happens made with housemade wild blueberry sage simple syrup, Maker’s Mark bourbon, lemon and lime juice as you rest up after a day of adventuring. From their menu, you can opt to share some “smaller” plates, sink your teeth into one of their handhelds, enjoy a flatbread pizza or opt for a fresh salad. I have smaller in quotations because these portions certainly aren’t small – at least in regards to the nachos and charcuterie, anyway! If you’re going to try anything though, make sure you snag an order of their smokey goldeye dip. Sort of like a spinach dip but made with local fish, it’s rich in flavour and not fishy at all. You have to try it!
Buffalo Bar at the Elkhorn Resort
Address: 3 Mooswa Dr E, Wasagaming, MB
The Elkhorn Resort is home to their on-site restaurant, the Buffalo Bar and the other spot for eats during the winter months. Located on the outskirts of town, they have a wide variety of dishes ranging from pasta to fish to pub eats. Chef Dan Hunter and his team utilize local ingredients from Manitoba whenever possible, including in their cocktails which change seasonally.
Personally, I would recommend placing an order for takeout. The Elkhorn Resort is often slammed and you’ll find upwards of a 90 minute wait to get a table. If you’re staying at the resort or stopping in ahead of time to put your name on the list, this can help but it does require some forethought. Either that or try to visit at off-peak hours to mitigate any wait times.
Roll Up Your Sleeves & Cook
With the limited number of restaurants near Riding Mountain National Park, it never hurts to have some groceries on hand. Your best bet is to stop in Brandon or Minnedosa if you’re coming from the south or Neepewa if you’re heading to the East Gate on your way to the park. However, if you’re caught off-guard then you can always try the Home Hardware in Onanole as it has a little bit of everything, though hours are limited to best to come prepared if possible!
Riding Mountain National Park Accommodation
As I mentioned earlier, Wasagaming is within the boundaries of the park and therefore offers a number of accommodation options that are not available at other Parks Canada sites. One place that I highly recommend is the Geiler Corner Year Round Luxury Resort.
The easiest way to describe these three-bedroom cabins is that they’re your home away from home. Owners Wally and Debb Geiler have thought of everything you may need to ensure you feel at ease during your stay in Riding Mountain National Park. The kitchen comes fully equipped with pots, pans, dishes, cutlery, kettle, coffee maker… you get the idea. Snuggle up on the couch in the living room and turn on the electric fireplace after a full day of exploring. There’s even a hot tub to warm up in if you can brave the elements to get to it! Personally, I opted for a bath since each bathroom has a deep tub that’s perfect for soaking your sore muscles!
Riding Mountain National Park is a top destination for a Manitoba road trip in the winter months so if the Geiler Corner Resort is fully booked for your dates, take a look at these other options for hotels in Wasagaming.
If you have your heart set on enjoying a Riding Mountain National Park camping experience during your visit, there are still options in the winter months! Visitors have the option of staying in one of the six oTENTiks at the Wasagaming Campground or heading 30 minutes north to one of the three oTENTiks at Moon Lake. Wasagaming Campground is great for those looking to be close to amenities and the network of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. However, if you’re really looking to get away from it all then Moon Lake’s rustic experience is for you. Head to the Parks Canada site for more details and to book your accommodation.
As with many national parks, front country tent camping is available in Riding Mountain National Park. However, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to drop to -35C (-31F) or colder so I would only recommend this to experienced winter campers.
Things to Know for Visiting RMNP in Winter
If you’ve ever travelled in the winter then you know that the season comes with unique logistical requirements when planning a trip. Here are a few things to be aware of for your trip to Riding Mountain National Park. If you have any questions that I haven’t addressed, drop a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer them!
Where is Riding Mountain National Park?
Riding Mountain National Park is located northwest of Winnipeg and approximately one hour north of Brandon, Manitoba. It encompasses 2,969 km2 of forest parkland, protecting three unique ecosystems that convene within its boundaries: grasslands, eastern deciduous and upland boreal forests.
How Long is the Drive from Winnipeg to Riding Mountain National Park?
Typically it shouldn’t take longer than 3.5 hours to drive from Winnipeg to Riding Mountain National Park. However, you are in the Prairies, so blowing snow can be a hazard and cause slowdowns and even road closures. Make sure to check the weather conditions before you depart so that you’re not caught by surprise!
Do You Need a Riding Mountain National Park Pass to Visit?
If you’re planning on exploring any of the trails within Riding Mountain National Park, a valid parks pass must be purchased from the gate. However, this isn’t necessary if you are only staying in Wasagaming proper or passing through the park on your way to another Manitoba road trip destination. Though chances are you’re going to be doing some exploring so pick up a day pass. Or, if you think you’ll visit multiple times or multiple parks across the country, I would recommend purchasing a yearly Parks Canada pass.
Are There More Things to Do in Wasagaming?
In the summer months, Wasagaming is a bustling spot with plenty of shops, restaurants and even more adventures to be had. Come winter though many storefronts are closed so attractions are limited. You can always explore some of the smaller towns close by like Onanole to the south or Dauphin north of the park.
Looking for More Adventures in Manitoba?
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This post is brought to you in partnership with Travel Manitoba. However, all of the content and opinions here are honest and speak to my personal experience as always!