There is nothing better than getting outside and enjoying the fresh air and some great scenery. People have been going for walks outside since well, forever!- and walking is the most popular form of physical activity by far. Hiking though, takes going for a walk up a notch by offering some extra physical challenges and instagram-worthy backdrops that make the extra effort worthwhile. If you’re tired of the same old walk around the block and are looking for some new places to explore this summer (and in every season!), read on for my top hikes for beginners!
As great as hiking can be for people of all fitness levels, being unprepared for what you’ll find out on the trails can actually be very serious. Cell phone coverage in many great hiking spots is non-existent so you need to be prepared for any and all situations when you’re hitting the trails. Along with my top trail recommendations, I’ve also included some basic safety tips and the gear you shouldn’t leave home without.
When it comes to hiking, the most common question I get asked is “where should I go?” and I agree that taking the time to choose the right trail is key to having a great day! You don’t want to drive for hours and hours to be met with lackluster views and no big rocks to climb on. A hike can be challenging based on the route itself (a lot of elevation change or obstacles to cross), or simply the sheer distance you have to cover from point A to point B. For example some shorter hikes might be rated as difficult because the whole thing is an uphill climb, while others aren’t on particularly challenging terrain, they’re just long!
So, if you’re looking for some easy-ish trails to try, here are my top 10 hikes that are great for newbies! They’re all fairly short (under 10K in total), and have some great views for taking pictures of your accomplishment. Maps of each trail can be found at http://www.alltrails.com, or on each Provincial or National Park’s website.
1. Pine Point Rapids (8.2km, Whiteshell Provincial Park). Pine Point is definitely a favorite for hikers in the whiteshell- it’s got plenty to see and the trail is packed with wild berries in the summer months. While this trail is technically rated as moderate, it has a few different options if you want to do less distance, but if you’re up for it I’d highly recommend doing the full trail that takes you out to see Acorn Falls and Viburnum Falls. For the most part the terrain is easy to maneuver with only a few areas where it gets a little more challenging. There are also some great places to have a picnic and dip your feet in the water!
2. Isputinaw Trail (1.5km, Spruce Woods Provincial Park). The length of this trail might seem easy-peasy, but you’ll be working up a sweat on the steep climb up to the top of the ridge which takes you along the edge of what used to be the assiniboine river. It’s an incredible view to look across the campground and see just how massive this river used to be. In fact, the entire Spruce Woods provincial park area is full of amazing unique landscapes and history, as well as many more longer and more challenging hiking trails (like the Devil’s Punchbowl and Spirit Sands!). This trail is accessible right from the campground and it’s a great spot to catch a sunset!
3. Devil’s Punchbowl and Spirit Sands (10km, Spruce Woods Provincial Park). These trails are just slightly more challenging than most others on the list, but if you’re making your way out to Spruce Woods they’re a must-see. You can do them as separate hikes to break up the distance a little, but as the two trails join up in the middle you can complete them both in one shot if you’re feeling ambitious. The Spirit sands trail is one of the most unique natural attractions in Manitoba- an ancient delta of the assiniboine river, the spirit sands look just like a desert dropped into the middle of the prairies. It’s tricky hiking through all that sand, but totally worth it for the views. While you’re on the trail you can learn about how the spirit sands came to be formed, and the importance of the spirit sands to the local indigenous people. The Devil’s puchbowl section of the trail is a little easier hiking, with the beautiful oasis “punchbowl” as the showstopper. There are plenty of lookout spots to take in some great views and get some pictures!
4. High Lake Trail/Top of the World (3.4km, Whiteshell Provincial Park). This trail combo is located right from the parking lot of the Falcon Lake Resort, which makes it easy to find and easy to park! It has absolutely stunning views of Falcon Lake and is well worth the trip if you’re staying in the area. We tackled it over New Years weekend on Snowshoes, but it’s a great trail for cross country skiing or hiking in the summer too.
5. Big Whiteshell Hiking Trail (1.5km Whiteshell Provincial Park). Not to be confused with the Big Whiteshell Mountain Bike Trail, this short and sweet 1.5km trail is located right across the road from the Big Whiteshell Campground. Despite being so short, the views are fantastic and take you way up above the trees where you can see for miles out onto the Big Whiteshell Lake.
6. Gull Harbour (About 8km, Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park). The area around Gull Harbour on Hecla Island is absolutely gorgeous. The official Gull Harbour trail is a 5km there and back which goes from the townsite out to the lighthouse. However there’s another trail that goes out to the north shore of the Island (Gull Harbour Point) which has a huge lookout tower at the end of the point. There’s a trail that leads from the campground up the West side of the point that goes all around to the lookout tower, then leads on to the lighthouse trail. It makes for a bit of a longer loop, but the terrain is fairly flat (no need for hiking boots on this one!) with beautiful scenery all the way around.
7. Moon Lake Trail (9km, Riding Mountain National Park). If you find yourself unsure of where to start with all the amazing trails in Riding Mountain, Moon Lake is a great one to get you going. The moon lake trail circles Moon lake (I mean, you probably could have guessed that!), with a nice viewpoint from the highest elevation about halfway around. We didn’t see any wildlife, but there were plenty of Moose tracks and bear droppings to know they weren’t far away. Moon Lake Trail also has a set of Canada’s National Parks iconic red chairs, which are nice for taking a seat and snapping some pictures. Share yours with the #sharethechair :). The dock out onto moon lake is also perfect for some stunning views of the water!
8. Ancient Beaches Trail (2.1km, Grand Beach Provincial Park). What I really love about hiking at Grand Beach is that the trailhead for Ancient Beaches is right outside the campground. Just a short walk from your campsite and you’re on the trail! The other thing is that this short little Ancient Beaches trail actually meets up with a whole other trail system located in the same area. Make sure you bring a map if you decide to choose your own adventure, as you can easily wind up going around in circles (as we’ve learned the hard way in previous years!)
9. Chickadee Trail (4km, Birds Hill Provincial Park). Birds Hill Park is a great place to get started if you’re a hiking newbie. There are over 15 trails to choose from (ranging from 1km-14km), so if you’re looking to build up some fitness and stamina on the trails Birds Hill has you covered. It’s also the closest park to Winnipeg so you can get in a great workout and still be home by dinner. The Chickadee trail is a great choice because it takes you up to the highest point in the park, where there’s a lookout tower that’s a great location for some pictures (just don’t mind all the graffiti!)
10. Falcon Creek Trail (2.2km, Whiteshell Provincial Park). The Falcon Creek Trail is located just across Highway 1 from the Falcon Lake Campground (we just walked over from our site). For such a short trail there was loads to see, with some great big rocks to climb and tons of wild berries along the way. It’s a perfect way to get a little exercise before an afternoon at the beach.
If you’re heading out on the trails for the first time, here are some other tips for having a great day!
Start slow. Unless you’re already a fitness buff, choose easy trails until you’re confident you can take on more. You’ll enjoy yourself far more if you take on things that are within your fitness level and comfort zone to start, and make it out with fewer injuries too. Hiking should be fun, not torture!
Train for longer distances or more extreme terrain. You may have your sights set on some of the more challenging trails, and that’s great! Putting in some work at home or at the gym to get your body prepared for those tasks is key for injury prevention.
Let someone know where you’re going. While it may seem silly to think about getting lost on some of the busiest trails in a provincial park, it can happen to anyone. Especially since many rural areas in Manitoba don’t have any cell phone coverage, it’s not as simple as phoning a friend when something goes wrong. Some of the less-traveled trails may also mean that friendly strangers may not be passing by for hours, if at all.
Get the right gear. Hiking is a great activity because while there’s no end to the fancy gadgets you CAN purchase, the things you truly need are really simple.
1. A good pair of shoes (or hiking boots). Like any other form of exercise, the right footwear is absolutely critical. Your shoes should be comfortable, fit well, and provide enough support to carry you over miles and miles of terrain. A good pair of cross trainers will get you through some shorter hikes, or ones that have mostly even, grassy trails. Hiking boots are a good idea if you need the extra grip (for rocky areas), or if you prefer more ankle stability and support (great for uneven ground).
2. A good hiking backpack. At first glance you may be wondering what the difference is between your old school book bag and a hiking pack. A hiking pack has the benefit of providing better weight distribution and allowing most of the load to rest on your hips rather than your neck and shoulders. The chest and waist straps help support good posture and even with a full load makes you feel like you’re carrying almost nothing at all. A good hiker is a safe and well-prepared hiker, so having a bag that can carry it all effortlessly is key.
3. Basic outdoor safety gear (first aid kit, bear bell, whistle), sunscreen, bug spray. These are the essentials that you’ll want to have in your hiking bag at all times. A rain coat is also a great idea as the weather in Manitoba can change in an instant. Since we also share the trails with plenty of wildlife, a bear bell can let animals in the area know you’re coming so you can avoid any surprises.
4. Plenty of snacks and water. Remember how I said a good hiking bag was key for carrying all your gear? This is a major reason why. Water weights 1kg per litre (2.2lbs per litre), which likely the heaviest thing you’ll be carrying with you on your hike. A puny 500ml water bottle isn’t going to cut it when you’re planning on hitting the trails for hours at a time. Dehydration can be serious especially on hot sunny days so bring an extra bottle (or two!). Snacks are also a smart idea to keep you feeling energized while out on the trails. I like granola bars and fruit bars, or sometimes we’ll pack a picnic lunch and take a longer rest along the trail.
5. A map of your trail. If you don’t have a paper copy on hand, snap a picture of the trail map from the sign at the trailhead. Some trails intersect with others along the way and you might get more hike than you bargained for if you get lost or turned around. GPS-enabled apps like alltrails or Map My Hike can also be very useful for looking back at your route if you find yourself off the beaten path.
Hiking is a great way to see the local landscapes and wildlife that you just can’t see from a car. It’s also the perfect way to enjoy the great outdoors and get a little exercise while you’re at it. We’re so fortunate in this province to have great well-maintained trails that anyone can enjoy in just about all corners of Manitoba, many of which can be used all-year round. But hiking can also be risky if you’re hitting the trails unprepared. Planning ahead and taking steps to look out for your safety will help make sure your trip is full of nothing but great views and stunning photos!
Do you have a favorite hiking trail in Manitoba that I missed? Share yours in the comments!
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