Our Travels: Manitoba Peaks
There is a lot more to this ‘flat’ landscape than first meets the eye!
Most people think of Manitoba as being flat, but—surprise!—it’s not.
When she first moved to Manitoba from Quebec, my wife Sue was a rather reluctant Prairie girl. She was used to seeing hills mainly from the front porch of the family cottage. In order to introduce her to both me and Manitoba, I made a point of showing her every hill I could find in my home province. Luckily, she enjoyed exploring and hiking, or the next 25 years would have been a lot less interesting!
Most people think of Manitoba as being flat, the way farmers like it. That’s not the whole story, of course. If you look at a provincial map, you’ll find parklands pasted over patches of higher ground with names ending in “mountain,” such as Riding Mountain, Turtle Mountain, Duck Mountain and Porcupine Mountain.
The parks follow the Manitoba Escarpment, which is the western shore of the ancient glacial Lake Agassiz, and the source of several scenic surprises.
Riding Mountain National Park, for example, is known for the resort area around Clear Lake, which is enormously popular during summertime, but we think the best times to visit are in fall and winter. Those fab-
ulous fall hiking trails become cross-country ski trails in winter.
Sue and I first experienced Riding Mountain in the fall of 1992, when we picnicked at Lake Audy, sharing a late lunch with the whiskey jacks that ate crackers out of our hands. After sunset at the lake, we encountered the resident bison herd, which had decided to occupy the road that night. All we could see were their eyeballs, seemingly dancing in the headlights.
We returned later that winter for some cross-country skiing and were fascinated to watch a moose kneeling and licking salt from the roadway.
The escarpment actually starts in an area known as the Pembina Hills in North Dakota, where it is known as the Pembina Escarpment, and runs northwest through Manito- ba into Saskatchewan. The scenic Pembina Valley is a little-known gem in south central Manitoba. Pembina Valley Provincial Park offers a splendid tenkilometer hiking trail, which we enjoyed in 2005.
Turtle Mountain Provincial Park shares an International Peace Garden with neighbouring North Dakota. The nearby hill known as Turtle’s Back was another hiking adventure for us in 2001, during which I was forced to promise never again to start an uphill hike in 30°C weather. Admittedly, this is a promise that has been broken on occasion.
Turtle Mountain is home to painted turtles. We were privileged to watch one of them burying her eggs in the sand at the side of the road. In the parking lot, I tried to rescue one by gently removing it from the pavement, although I got peed on for my efforts. Apparently, leaving wildlife alone is always a good idea.
Duck Mountain Provincial Park houses the
highest point of land in the province—a big bump known as Baldy Mountain. You can drive over the mountain along the road through the park and be forgiven for not noticing that you were at the top of a hill, but a short walk from the side of the summit will take you to an overlook that reveals the hidden highlight. The elevation here is 2,730 feet, which Sue was surprised to learn is higher than the 2,480-foot Quebec peak Owl’s Head, where I proposed to her in 1993, after coercing her to hike to the summit. As I said, it’s a good thing she likes hiking!
Near the Saskatchewan border, the escarpment runs through the Asessippi ski area. Here the Shellmouth Dam at the headwaters of the Assiniboine River forms Lake of the Prairies.
Farther north, the escarpment reaches Porcupine Mountain, featuring a wilderness area with fewer guest facilities, offering excellent opportunities to explore and appreciate an unspoiled natural environment.
Whether you head north for the lakes and forests, or enjoy the rolling farmland farther south, if you only stay on the Trans-canada Highway as you pass through Manitoba, you’ll be missing the high spots. n
Clockwise from top: Canola field at Asessippi; Sue at Riding Mountain; sunset on Lake Audy; a bison at Riding Mountain.
Clockwise from top: International Peace Garden on the border of Manitoba and North Dakota; a rainbow near Turtle Mountain; Ron at Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park.