Choose your water-based vacay in Portage La Prairie

Posted August 19, 2022 | Author Jillian Recksiedler

Escaping to the middle of the prairie is not typically where Manitobans go for a summer holiday by the water. Yet, a detour off the beaten track to Portage La Prairie proves to have lots of ways for families to cool off and have one splash of a time.

Like many Manitobans, I'm guilty of thinking I know Portage La Prairie. I've stopped along Main Street to eat while travelling west. I know of the city's beloved Portage Terriers MJHL hockey team and penchant for hosting curling bonspiels. But this summer, I set out with my family to explore it more. I discovered refreshing ways to have weekend near the water, despite being in the middle of the prairie.

Island on the Prairies

Island Park at the heart of Portage may just be the prettiest green space of any city in Manitoba. To get there, follow the stately mansions along Crescent Road that overlook the glistening waters of Crescent Lake. Enjoy water views alongside cyclists and joggers using the Crescent Walking Trail, and cross over into a lush storybook setting via the car/pedestrian bridge. Who knew this jewel of a lake existed in the middle of the city?!

On Island Park, head for a photo op at Island Park's two signature roadside attractions: an original Royal Canadian Air Force CT-133 Silver Star, a tribute to the community’s deep-rooted military ties, and a windmill first erected in the 1950s by the community's large Dutch population.

Visitors can while away a whole day on Island Park based on their interests. Book a tee time at Portage La Prairie Golf Club, pair a picnic with a tennis or disc golf match, or just get lost wandering the trails around duck pond. We were drawn to Splash Island, a standout outdoor waterpark that draws in families all the way from Brandon and Winnipeg.

Waterpark, please!

Splash Island is perfect for all ages - my ten-year-old stuck to the twirly waterslides (including a rocket tunnel slide), while I floated the lazy river. There is also a beach entry tot pool with an oversized slow slide. For $9 admission, Splash Island is great value for a family escape and really should be the anchor to your visit to Portage La Prairie in summer. Snacks can be ordered at the on-site concession or picnics are allowed. The pool can reach a capacity, so plan to arrive early to make the most of your day. (Traveller tip: if weather isn't cooperating, the day of your visit, head indoors to next door Stride Place. Portage La Prairie boasts one of the best indoor community pools in the province).

More pool time

Still wet from our afternoon at Splash Island, we checked in our hotel Microtel Inn & Suites, located just two minutes away, also overlooking Crescent Lake. Owned and operated by Long Plain First Nation, the Microtel Inn is still sparkly new, having just opened in late 2019. The modern lobby and rooms are adorned with gorgeous, original Indigenous paintings. The casual dining room off the lobby serves a generous breakfast spread each morning. The airy rooms with high ceilings are furnished with the most comfortable beds, according to a 10-year-old traveller.

A trip to the hotel is an adventure in itself for kids - the pool area with its bright yellow, two-story slide is hard to resist. The slide doesn't enter the deep waters of the pool, allowing young ones to play independently. The hot tub is a retreat for adults while the kids splash in the pool. The setting summer sun casts magical light through the large picture windows of the pool area.

Escape to the lake

The next day, we went in search of a third water adventure - this time at the beach. Now, Portage La Prairie may not be the first town in Manitoba to associate with sandy beaches, but for generations local families have been quietly creating an impressive summer community at Delta Beach.

Located 20 minutes directly north of Portage La Prairie at the south shore of Lake Manitoba, Delta Beach is the sandy sister to the famous waterfowl haunt Delta Marsh. Seaside-themed signage point the way to the beach while the road is dotted with massive, waterfront summer homes. Daytrippers can head to the public beach, which is also a private campground and picnic area. Visitors will discover fine sand and warm shallow waters. Here, the lake blends into the sky and my daughter playing on a sandbar was the only thing to break the horizon.

After a few hours of sun - we headed to the convenience store for an ice cream and watched a few anglers cast in the nearby fast moving waters where the marsh flows into the lake. We headed back to Portage La Prairie for any afternoon of more discovery.

Top bites

Places to eat in Portage range from downtown family institutions like Bill's Sticky Fingers and Over the Coals from franchise favourites like Boston Pizza and Mr. Mikes Steakhouse in the new suburbs.

We opted to try out two highly recommended local eats during our stay. Located in the Midtown Motel, Mole Guacamole might just be the most authentic Mexican cuisine in Manitoba. The tiny lounge is decorated in festive Mexican flags, lanterns and colours, and the flavours on the plate are just as much of a party. The signature mole guacamole dish has two salsa verdes enchiladas paired with two mole enchiladas and the combination explodes in your mouth. For a lunch, we stopped in the quaint Little Spruce Cafe for fresh sandwiches on homemade bread and buns, built with ingredients sourced around the Manitoba. Take out is also a great option from Little Spruce if you need to continue exploring.

Museums worth a visit

Officially designated in fall 2020, the National Indigenous Residential School Museum of Canada is next door to the Microtel Inn & Suites. Located in the former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School, the touching exhibits narrate one of Canada’s enduring shames. Behind the haunting façade of the stone institution, a few small rooms are filled with photos and artifacts from when the school was in operation.

I held my daughter close as we flipped through student's sketch book, stopping at a delicate drawing of a cartoon fawn crying out "Where are you mom?" We starred in silence at the black and white poster-sized image of First Nations families camping in teepees outside the Birtle Residential School, trying to be close to their children.

The museum is a collection of memories from survivors and is worth stopping in for a tour to learn first-hand accounts. Admission is $10.

At Fort La Reine, a Manitoba Star Attraction, a five acre village of 25+ buildings showcase life during three distinct periods of Manitoba’s history: Indigenous and European relations during the fur trade, the trailblazing pioneer life, and the industrious era of agriculture and railway.

The crowning jewel of the museum’s collection? The Van Horne railcar, one of two that existed in Canada. The one at Fort La Reine was the private business rail car of Canadian Pacific Railway boss William Van Horne. Step inside the faded interior and be transported to an opulent era of business travel. The railcar was discovered deep in the bushes of Delta Marsh in the 90s – used as a goose hunting cabin – before it was brought to the museum as its resting place.

Travel Manitoba was hosted by Portage La Prairie Regional Economic Development, who did not review or approve this story.

About The Author

Hi, I'm Jillian, a marketer, communicator, traveller and Manitoba flag waver. Growing up in rural Manitoba during the '80s means I have a penchant for daytrips, maps (the paper kind), and prairie sunsets. I never tire of sharing stories about my home.

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