Making family memories in Virden and Oak Lake Beach

Posted April 10, 2024 | Author Jillian Recksiedler

With family roots in southwestern Manitoba, I always look forward to visiting the region each summer. This year, instead of visiting our usual haunts like Brandon and Souris, we followed the Trans-Canada Highway a little further west to check out lake life at Oak Lake Beach and to browse the historic downtown of Virden.

Virden and Oak Lake Beach are two off-the-beaten-track destinations of southwestern Manitoba that make the perfect family getaway for play time, shopping therapy, and falling in love with the charming countryside .

Where to stay: Aspen Grove Campground

This family-run, private campground is located right off the Trans-Canada Hwy, equidistance between the town of Virden and Oak Lake Beach Recreation Area. It`s the perfect home base for exploring the region because you are only a 10-minute drive away from an adventure. That being said, Aspen Grove is a destination in itself - parents may have a hard time getting the kids to leave the campground.

My daughter and I were welcomed by owner-operators Maria and Amar Boudehane, who were often seen buzzing about their 200-site property, chatting to both nightly campers and seasonal RVers, dropping off firewood, pruning their impeccable grounds, working the c-store and more. Despite being off the busy Trans-Canada Highway, Aspen Grove is secluded with a notable calm energy. Patrons can truly come to disconnect from their routine and connect with friends and family.

What we loved about Aspen Grove is that it offers two on-site camper rentals, which is an accessible way for a family to experience RV life if they do not have their own. We opted for the budget camper ($90 per night), which easily sleeps a family of four. We were thrilled with this luxury version of camping - we were kitted out with a full bathroom, a fully stocked kitchen with fridge, freezer and sink, a queen-sized bed and bbq. We only packed our linens and snacks, making it the most hassle-free camping trip I've ever planned for my family. A deluxe camper is available ($110 per night), which is ideal for a larger family.

Aspen Grove's large, heated pool is the main attraction for campers who come from all around to relax and dip their toes. My daughter and I spent a couple of hours splashing about, and then we traded our towels for putters and spent another hour playing 18-holes of mini-golf at the beautifully landscaped course.

Afterward, we had basketball, beach volleyball, giant checkers or giant shuffleboard ("Mom, what's that?) to chose from, but I opted to teach my daughter the lost art of playing horseshoes, a game I used to play with my cousins on my grandparent's farm. We tossed the steel shoes back and forth, and I answered her many questions about summers on the farm. My heart filled with the simple pleasures that Aspen Grove afforded us - pleasures with a uniquely prairie sensibility.

For us, camping is always about nature, and the sprawling Aspen Grove property still gave us the opportunity to wander off into the bush. We explored the easy walking trails behind the campsites, marveling at the wild roses and sandy soil of the area. In another corner of the property, we discovered a secret sand ridge reminiscent of the Spirit Sands hike at Spruce Woods Provincial Park (but way fewer people), and we spent some time barefoot in the unique desert-like setting.

Where to explore nearby: Oak Lake Beach

Oak Lake, in the RM of Sifton, is one of few large lakes in southwest Manitoba, making it a hub for recreation in the summer. My father, who grew up in Souris 30 mins southeast, spoke fondly about vacationing to Oak Lake with his parents and how the beach was a real treat for a gaggle of farm boys. We were eager to experience it for ourselves, and I was completely charmed by the quaint cottage community.

Although families in southwest Manitoba have been retreating to Oak Lake for generations, the resort area is relatively unknown to the majority of Manitobans. It is definitely worth the drive if you're into discovering local secrets.

Westman's version of Victoria Beach, Oak Lake is primarily a community of tiny vintage cottages built in the 1940-50s. Modern, lakefront builds prove the agriculture and oil wealth in the region today. Walkways between cottages lead to the beach and are indicated by iron archways untouched by time. The vintage ice cream shop, Creemee, is a must visit during the midday heat for soft serve. An impressive play structure, generously built by community donations, is a natural gathering place for families.

The public beach is small and kid-friendly with inflatables and kayaks dotting the sand. The lake itself is more expansive than expected, and despite it being a shallow prairie pothole lake, watercrafts zipped about with tubers being pulled behind. We also heard from a few locals about how well stocked the lake is for fishing, and the marina was a hub of action. Tourism to Oak Lake has increased in recent years, too, with the addition of Oak Island Golf Resort, an 18-hole championship golf course designed around the pretty prairie wetland scenery.

Best sunset in southwest MB...

Oak Lake Beach

You can easily spend a full day at Oak Lake Beach, and be sure to stick around for magic hour. Here, the sun sets over the water, casting the best light and lake life vibe that rivals any Lake Winnipeg or Whiteshell beach.

Small town spotlight: Virden

While many travel to experience big city life, my family loves to travel to explore small town life. We were excited to visit Virden (pop. 3,000), a town we knew little about other than being the 'oil capital of Manitoba.'

I pointed out all the pumpjacks dotting the landscape as we approached town. Virden discovered oil in the 1950s, but we were mostly interested in its identity as a farming and railway community in the early 1900s. We headed to Virden's historic downtown and were immediately dazzled with the collection of heritage buildings. We walked past The Aud, a performance theatre built in 1911 and still used and care for by the community. We posed for pictures in front of the historic railway station now turned into a community art gallery space. Inside, the Costume Closet is a vault of impressive vintage costume and clothing from days past (there are over 30,000 items!).

With locals milling about and patronizing downtown shops, we decided to do the same. We quickly discovered some impressive shopping behind the historic facades. For a town of its size, Virden has a lovely selection of fashion and gifts, and with the big box stores of Brandon being an hour drive away, it is wonderful to see independent businesses thriving and being supported.

We found back-to-school fashions for my daughter at the legendary Virden Footwear and Virden Sport & Fashion. I could have spent another hour browsing the rustic-chic clothes and accessories at Shari Lynn Fashions (but two dress purchases were enough). I found myself drawn to the the Instagram-worthy design of nearby boutique Garb & Guise. Garb & Guise is filled with hip wears for very reasonable prices for young women. The historic space's minimalist design makes you forget you're shopping in a small prairie town - Garb & Guise could easily be at home in Winnipeg's top shopping neighbourhoods like Academy Road or the Exchange District.

Time for a break

An ice cream shop with blue, yellow and red umbrellas on a pation
Ice Cream Island

Ice Cream Island

A must-stop when in Virden for your afternoon ice cream treat or home-brewed iced tea. Let the wee ones ride on the coin-operated mini merry go round or bucking bronco. There’s a fabulous food menu here, too, with beef supplied by the family ranch.

An outdoor adventure: Eternal Springs

On our last morning in the area, we took a backcountry drive to find the mythical Eternal Springs, a local secret that the owners of Aspen Grove recommended we visit. The attraction is known for a picturesque swinging bridge over a gully and walking trails, but we set out to find the actual spring that is its namesake.

The journey was just as exciting as the destination. With Google Maps as our guide (and it worked!) we turned off the TransCanada Highway east of Virden and travelled for 10 kms on a gravel road winding through the picturesque Assiniboine River valley.

We might have missed it had it not been for another car parked in the bend of the gravel road as it descended into the ravine. Trickling up and out of crack in the side of an ancient riverbank was a stream of fresh spring water, a tap that had been running for millennia.

There is no sign to mark the spring, but locals have concocted a trough system to direct the water. We came upon two elderly ladies filling their jugs for the week, and they encouraged us to do the same thing, joking that drinking the water gives eternal youth like they have. My daughter followed their lead, filling her water bottle and exclaiming "It tastes like real water!"

Just around the bend from the spring is the entrance to the Eternal Springs Walking Trails. A longtime protected nature and wildlife reserve for bird watching and fishing, this area is seeing more visitors because of the developed walking trails, picnic area and photogenic swinging bridge. The pretty views of the lush, rolling gully and farmland are straight out of a fairytale set in the Canadian Prairies. A visit to Eternal Springs was the perfect send off to our family weekend adventure.

When heading for home, but sure to turn off #1 into the town of Oak Lake to enjoy classic drive-in fare and ice cream at Joe Dandy's Drive In. Owned by five siblings who love their community, Joe Dandy's retro illuminated sign is worth the stop in itself for a photo (but you also really have to try the house-made onion rings).

Travel Manitoba staff was hosted by Tourism Westman, 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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