There's a point along the TransCanada Highway east of Winnipeg when the far-as-the-eye-can-see prairie suddenly gives way to the craggy Canadian Shield. Granite claws burst out of canola fields and silvery aspens are swallowed up by sky-high tamaracks. Soon you'll set foot in Whiteshell Provincial Park, the granddaddy of parks in Manitoba, where it's all about these great outdoors-blue-black lakes that plunge deep and hiking trails that cut through silent white spruce clusters. Here in the Whiteshell, the barrier between nature and civilization is thin at best so take a deep breath. That's natural aromatherapy, boreal forest style.
Start your adventure by hopping into a 14-foot aluminum boat at Caddy Lake. "Water's high, movin' a little fast," resort owner Wayne Moody might say. Your destination is a tunnel, blasted out of Precambrian rock by the railway company to make travel easier. The fast water will suck your boat into the tunnel, so hang on. Feel your way through the 30-metre passage with bare hands pressed against dripping walls, eyes having a hard time adjusting to the near darkness, until you are spat out into South Cross Lake about a minute later. Drop your lines into calm bays and pray for luck. Are the Northern Pike biting today? Birders, keep your glass at the ready. You just may be rewarded with a pair of rare scarlet tanagers at the shoreline.
When the homemade split yellow pea soup is set in front of you at the Nite Hawk Café in West Hawk Lake, your first thought will likely be, "This is as good as my mom's." Before long, the red-checkered tablecloth will be dotted with down-home goodness-sweet potato fries (pictured above) juicy loaded burgers, and whipped-cream topped hot chocolate in a tall glass mug.
From your private-dock perch at the Falcon Trails Resort, listen to the plaintive serenade of loons. There's a low, flicking fire inside the lakeside cabin, more for ambiance than heat. On the screened-in deck, slip into the oh-so-decadent hot tub, gaze at the stars. At bedtime, retreat to the second floor where there's still enough light to admire the reflections of nearby islands.
A Beaver is Eating My Canoe sounds like perfect reading material at the lake. So does Mugged by a Moose. Find them both at The Laughing Loon gift shop in Falcon Lake's town square. Take your reading material to the deck of the Falcon Lake Bakery Bistro where a chai tea and a cup of Eva's Gelati is waiting. From this perch, watch the action at the miniature golf course, nestled under towering pines, across the road.
"Keep it on the straight and narrow" is the advice you'll get before teeing up at the Falcon Lake Golf Course, where the fairways rise and fall, following the footsteps of the ice-age glaciers that left town 10,000 years ago. Save your strength for the 13th hole. It's a mighty 600-year, par 5 that always elicits a groan at the tee box ("I'll never get there.") Finding your ball in the undergrowth of a jack pine bluff can be more of a challenge than the 16th hole itself where the elevated tee box points to a green with a giant tree on one side and a bunker on the other.
There's nothing quite as rhythmically calming as watching a pair of anglers fly fish for rainbows. See them on a stretch of the 2.8 km Whiteshell River Self-guiding Trail near the 1942 hatchery that stocks many a Manitoba lake. In the two-hour hike, you'll get the very best of the Whiteshell-a soaring eagle, a bounding whitetail deer, and Kodak moments stocked with blue skies, fresh green leaves, sparkling granite outcrops and gurgling streams. A great mid-morning workout. Now back to town for more gelati.