Expand your boundaries in the heart of Canada—Manitoba—home to polar bears in the wild, world-class museums, and the dazzling Northern Lights. Manitoba’s 110,000 lakes and waterways, abundant wildlife, and diverse arts and cultural experiences entice travelers seeking off-the-beaten-path adventure. Our list of 10 Must-Have Experiences is filled with engaging ways to explore new horizons.
Fight for Your (Human) Rights
Journey from darkness to light as you work your way up through the seven-level Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is purposefully near the longitudinal center of Canada and the heart of the North American continent at The Forks in Winnipeg. The world-class museum houses ten galleries packed with multi-sensory exhibits. The largest, “Canadian Journeys,” features a 95-foot-wide digital storytelling canvas. Enjoy 360-degree views of Winnipeg from the highest and brightest spot in the museum, the Israel Asper Tower of Hope.
Dig into The Forks in Winnipeg
People have been gathering at The Forks in Winnipeg for more than 6,000 years. Strategically situated downtown at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, the historic meeting place is a vibrant retail, event, and global street foods hub. Savor international flavors, such as Argentinian empanadas and Caribbean roti (a soft flour shell stuffed with curry and rice), along with local favorites like fish ‘n’ chips made from wild-caught Lake Winnipeg pickerel. Shop for local products, such arts and crafts from nearly 300 Canadian and local artisans and fresh baked goods, at The Forks Market, a two-level emporium housed in converted horse stables from the early 1900s.
Experience the Clear Lake Life
Clear Lake is the crown jewel of southern Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park. Located along the Manitoba Escarpment—a tilted rock shelf formed more than 65 million years ago—the pristine park is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe people. Rent a ride to explore Clear Lake by boat, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard. Walk the leisurely Clear Lake South Shore Trail, part of the more than 250-mile hiking- and mountain-biking trail network crisscrossing the park. Swim and snorkel off the sandy beach in Wasagaming, Clear Lake’s friendly resort town. Mid-May to mid-October, spend the night within walking distance of the lake and the town at Wasagaming Campground. Bring your own tent or, better yet, reserve a yurt, tiny house-like Micro-Cube, or A-frame oTENTik cabin.
Enjoy Four-Season Adventure in Whiteshell Provincial Park
Eastern Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park is a year-round playground for outdoor activities. Spanning 1,053 square miles and featuring 200 lakes, the park is a warm-weather hotspot for swimming, fishing, and paddling, and a winter wonderland for snowshoeing, ice fishing, and other frozen fun. Pitch a tent at the beachside West Hawk Lake Campground to explore the lake and climb the rocky shoreline outcrop. Add more adventure at Caddy Lake, where you can kayak and canoe through granite-faced tunnels. Learn about the area’s deep Indigenous cultural roots on a guided tour (summer only) of Bannock Point Petroforms. Stay off-the-grid in a solar-powered High Lake eco-cabin at Falcon Trails Resort, a family-owned rustic retreat inside the park on the shores of High and Falcon lakes.
Reel in Trophy Fish
Cast a line and catch monster fish in Manitoba, home to 110,000 lakes and waterways, and 30 fish species, such as Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Walleye, and Arctic Grayling. In remote northern Manitoba, Big Sand Lake Lodge and Gangler’s North Seal River Lodge offer fly-in guided fishing trips and outpost expeditions on millions of acres of pristine wilderness waters. Closer to Winnipeg, world-class fishing and a fresh-catch shore lunch await at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge in Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park.
Go on a Beluga Whale Safari
Each summer, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 of beluga whales enter the mouth of the Churchill River from Western Hudson Bay. Responsibly voyage into the whales’ world with local eco-tour operators, such as Sea North Tours and Lazy Bear Expeditions, which offer ethical, guided experiences designed to promote awareness and protection of the wild belugas. Many tours include a trip to the historic 250-year-old Prince of Wales Fort at the mouth of the Churchill River.
Or try AquaGliding with Lazy Bear Expeditions, an adventure that allows you to glide on the Churchill River or the Hudson Bay for the ultimate water adventure. This thrilling experience enables you to be approached by one of the thousands of friendly and curious beluga whales in their natural habitat. At the same time, you're gliding on the surface on a floating mat tethered to a Zodiac.
Unplug at a Nordic Spa
Soak up the restorative power of Manitoba’s natural beauty at Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature. Tucked away in a tranquil setting only 20 minutes from downtown Winnipeg, Thermëa is the ideal place to experience the traditional Scandinavian thermal-cycle-relaxation ritual: heat, cold, rest, repeat. The Thermëa oasis features two dry saunas, two steam saunas, an icy waterfall, warm and temperate water pools, and serene indoor and outdoor relaxation areas, such as heated hammocks and a forested beach.
Celebrate Winter in Winnipeg
Embrace the frosty fun of winter in Winnipeg, host of Western Canada’s largest winter festival: Festival du Voyageur. Celebrating 51 years in 2020 (February 14 to 23), the colossally cool celebration in the Saint-Boniface French quarter features nightly concerts, snow sculpting, and children’s activities, in addition to signature fur trading-era events like storytelling, military reenactments, and traditional craft demonstrations at Fort Gibraltar. Before, during, and after the festival, skate down Winnipeg’s free Red River Mutual Trail. The reigning Guinness World Record holder for the longest naturally frozen skating trail typically extends about four miles along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. In 2018, the trail reached a record-breaking six miles and stayed frozen about three months. Rent gear at Iceland Skate Rentals and take breaks in the creative-cool winners of the annual Warming Huts arts and architecture competition.
Starting in the heart of Winnipeg, the Red River Mutual Trail is one of the longest naturally frozen skating trails in the world.
Be Awe-Struck by the Northern Lights
Check “see the Northern Lights” off your bucket list in Churchill. The town’s remote subarctic location and low light pollution produce perfect conditions for Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, viewing. While the dark night skies of February and March historically are prime time for seeing the shimmering green, pink, and, less often, red and blue, celestial lights, the natural phenomenon is visible some 300 nights a year. Elevate your Instagram game by seeing and capturing images of the natural light show on a photography tour. Local outfitters offer excursions featuring tips on how to photograph the dancing lights, and heated, glass-walled aurora lounges, domes, and pods, providing cozy conditions and unobstructed views.
Chill with Polar Bears in Churchill
Experience the wild side of far northern Manitoba in remote Churchill. Known as the “polar bear capital of the world,” the tiny town on the southwestern shores of Hudson Bay is home to polar bears, beluga whales, and the Northern Lights. Go into the wild with one of the local tour operators offering up-close visits with wild polar bears. October and November tours are via tundra vehicles, and summer excursions combine beluga-watching kayaking, bear viewing, and opportunities with seeing and photographing vibrant wildflowers.
Maryellen Kennedy Duckett is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Travel. Follow her journey on Twitter.