Lake Winnipeg is massive. It is 425 km long and up to 109 km wide. It is the fifth largest lake in Canada.
This summer, we're featuring an amazing collection of road trips that will help you explore every corner of Manitoba. Here is a road trip that takes you along 115 km of Lake Winnipeg's southwestern shore, complete with as many beach stops as you choose.
Pier-fect way to spend a day
Make your way to Highway 9 to the village of Dunnotar. This lakeside community is the amalgamation of the beaches of Matlock, Whytewold and Ponemah. The first beach you’ll hit heading north is Matlock Beach. This is also your first introduction to the iconic piers that stretch out into the lake. These are a favourite place to watch the sunrise or to see the sky painted in the blazing colours of sunset. There is also a walking trail that winds through the town.
Just up the road is Whytewold, home to a favourite stop in the area. Whytewold Emporium features a greenhouse and antique shop, along with a popular restaurant known for its wood-fired pizza. There are vacation rental options here, including bed and breakfasts for those looking to stay a little longer.
Iconic beach destination
Less than 10 km away is Winnipeg Beach. This beach destination roared to popularity as a summer retreat in the 1910s when beachgoers arrived by train. Today, its boardwalk and sandy shoreline along Lake Winnipeg are still a summer tradition for many, with the town and provincial park offering a base for accommodations, restaurants and activities.
While swimming and sunbathing are always top activities on this three-kilometre stretch of beach, there are many options to keep you busy. Release your inner child (or your actual children) at Playland. Try your hand at a mix of classic arcade games, pinball machines, pop-a-shot, and skee-ball. If you’re into something a little more active, there are tennis courts with a view of the lake and some of the bays in the area offer terrific conditions for windsurfing or sailing.
When it’s time to grab a bite, there are options ranging from requisite ice cream, along with restaurants featuring pizza, Chinese and Italian menus. The Winnipeg Beach Campground that has 120 full service sites, including buddy sites that let groups of families and friends camp together. There are also two hotel options in town.
Heart of New Iceland
Less than 15 minutes north along Highway 9 is the town of Gimli. Icelanders arrived here in 1870 and deemed the area New Iceland and today the community still boasts the largest population of Icelandic descendants outside of Iceland.
To get you into a Viking frame of mind, start your time in Gimli with a visit to the stoic Viking statue, the centrepiece of Viking Park. Around the base of the viking statue you'll notice more hints at the Icelandic influence. Small houses sit nestled among the rocks near the walking path, they are there for the huldufólk or Icelandic elves, these mysterious creatures are said to be harmless when treated with respect but can get quite mischievous if you do not treat them well.
New Iceland Heritage Museum
Further your Icelandic education at the New Iceland Heritage Museum. The museum tells the story of the arrival of the first Icelanders in Manitoba – their struggles and their successes. In recent years the museum has also added exhibits about the first Ukrainians in the area as well as the important role of the Indigenous communities in the survival of those first settlers. Walk through time in the artifact-filled museum and browse the gift shop on the way out for specialty Icelandic and Manitoba-made products.
Shop and eat local
For more local shopping, you must visit H.P. Tergesen & Sons. The store was established in 1899 as a general store and has been passed down through four generations of Tergesens. Though the building itself may be old, the products inside are modern and fun. The store carries clothing, locally-made jewellery, unique Gimli souvenirs and is the best place in the town to buy books. If you're in Gimli, a stop at this funky general store is a must.
If all that shopping has made you hungry, Gimli has a great array of tasty (and local!) places to stop for food. Walk along First Ave for a wide selection of delicious options, from fish & chips (locally caught pickerel is a top choice) to unique pizzas to thai food. Stop into a local bakery to try a classic Iceandic layered dessert, vinarterta. If you just need a quick cuppa to refuel, stop at Flatland Coffee Roasters who roast all their beans right in their Gimli storefront.
Now you’re ready to hit the beach. Gimli Beach is a family favourite with rentals available for floaties or jetskis. Maybe try some sailing lessons? After you’re done splashing in the water, take a stroll along the harbourfront and admire the Seawall Gallery, murals painted by local artists. This is also a great place to drop in a line for some fishing.
Camp Morton Provincial Park
If you’re looking for a little more remote access to the lake, visit Camp Morton Provincial Park, just eight kilometres north of Gimli. This tiny park was a former Roman Catholic summer camp for children, and much of the ornate buildings still stand.
Land in Gimli
One last must-see in Gimli is a small museum dedicated to telling the story of an incredible moment in Canadian aviation history. On July 23, 1983, a full passenger airplane ran out of fuel due to miscalculations and had to make an emergency landing at the defunct airforce base in Gimli which was, and is still, used as a racetrack in the summer months. No one on board the flight was injured despite the very dangerous landing. The Gimli Glider Exhibit tells the remarkable story through video, personal recollections of the 1983 event and important artifacts. And you can get in the pilot's seat to try to land the out-of-action airplane yourself in the cockpit simulator.
As you can see, Gimli offers loads of reasons to stay overnight. There are nearby RV resorts for campers along with Camp Morton Provincial Park’s campground (which also offers yurt rentals). Choose a B & B, motel or the lakefront Lakeview Resort, a full service hotel complete with pool (in case you had enough sand!).
This beach-tastic journey along the shore of Lake Winnipeg isn’t done yet. Next, about an hour north of Gimli along Highway 8 is Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park.
In Riverton, say hi to Lundi the Moose and check out the museum in the restored train station. Play at Sandy Bar Beach and then pay a visit to Integrity Foods, an artisanal bakery that hosts pizza nights Fridays and Saturdays through the summer.
You’ll know you’ve hit Hecla Island when you drive across the causeway that connects to the mainland (and also there’s a giant sign that says Hecla Provincial Park!). Named after a volcano in Iceland, the Icelandic connection lives on through the self-guided Hecla Village Trail. You'll find historic buildings and monuments from the community's Icelandic past. Each landmark has a plaque explaining its significance. Along this main drag, you will also find Hecla Island General Store, where you can pick up liquor, firewood, fishing licenses and more.
There are many more scenic trails to explore on Hecla Island. Follow the Lighthouse Trail through a forested area until you come out onto the peninsula. Built in 1898, the heritage lighthouse was once vital to those navigating the narrows of Lake Winnipeg. Today, it is an integral piece of the region's history and a beloved photography subject for those who trek out onto its shores. And don't forget to snap a few shots of the peninsula's second, taller lighthouse, built in 1926.
There are multiple trail options of varying lengths to follow in the Grassy Narrows Marsh, which features floating boardwalks and a lookout tower. This is a great place to watch for wildlife, like songbirds, gulls and ducks, frogs and turtles, and even beaver, fox and moose. Or you can take the West Quarry Trail, where the limestone bedrock that once fueled a thriving industry for the island, is on full display. Since you got your fishing license at the Hecla General Store, why not cast a few and see what you can catch?
By now you’re wondering, what about the beach? Well seeing as Hecla is an island, it does not disappoint in the beach category. There is a marked path from the campground to the beach (there is also a parking lot if you don’t want to haul all your beach gear). This is a nice spot for an afternoon of splashing in the waves. Bring your furry friends to the dog-friendly Sunset Beach, which as the name implies, is a lovely spot to watch the sun go down as pelicans swim peacefully across the lake.
There is a large campground on Hecla Island as well as vacation cabins available through the Manitoba Parks reservation system, complete with kitchenette and sleeping for up to six. Other accommodation options include the Lighthouse Inn located at the harbour. There are guest rooms and private cabin options. There is a restaurant here, including a lounge and an amazing patio. The staff here also operate the marina where you can rent kayaks, jetskis and bikes to explore the island. They also offer chartered cruises to experience more of this massive lake and nearby islands including Black Island and Deer Island.
Another option is to stay at the Lakeview Hecla Resort, featuring an indoor pool and waterslide, outdoor pool and an adults-only pool area. The onsite Salka Spa offers a range of relaxing treatments and the 18-hole golf course here is considered among the best in the province. Enjoy a meal at Seagulls Restaurant & Lounge, which prides itself on sourcing local ingredients, including pickerel from Lake Winnipeg.