Manitoba road trips: Follow the Yellowhead Highway

Posted April 30, 2021

The Yellowhead Highway is an interprovincial highway connecting Manitoba with its western neighbours. Its name comes from the Yellowhead Pass, the route chosen through the Rockies. Crossing into Manitoba, the Yellowhead is Highway 16 until it meets with Highway 1 at Portage la Prairie.

This summer, we're featuring an amazing collection of road trips that will help you explore every corner of Manitoba. Follow this highway to visit some charming communities - like the three profiled in this trip. You won’t find any wizards or wicked witches, but we’re certain you’ll find a little magic along the way.

Part one

Happy Rock roadside attraction in Gladstone

Make friends with Happy Rock

If you’re starting from Winnipeg or from the eastern end of the Yellowhead, your first stop has got to be Gladstone. Waving at you from the side of the highway is Happy Rock, a top hat-clad smiling rock, welcoming you to Gladstone. Visit the Gladstone District Museum for a glimpse into the region’s prairie past - including an impressive replica of the town from its early settlement made by a local resident. There are other heritage sites in the region, including the former Galloway Bros. Department Store. Constructed in 1902, it is one of the first department stores to be built outside a major city in Manitoba.

Important birding area

Golfers can enjoy the beautifully landscaped nine-hole Gladstone Golf & Country Club and bird watchers can head just north of town to Big Grass Marsh. As an important birding area of Canada - and the site of the first preserved wetland by Ducks Unlimited - Big Grass Marsh is a great place to see waterfowl, including mallards, snow geese and Canada geese. The marsh and area around Jackfish Lake are also a choice spot to see Franklin’s gulls and sandhill cranes - especially in the fall migration season. The area is also home to Hollywood Beach, featuring a large natural sand beach as well as a campground in nearby Langruth. Gladstone also has a campground, including full service sites as well as riverside sites.

Silhouette of Sandhill Crane against orange sky
Dennis Fast

Part two

Where stories take a beautiful turn

Just 25 minutes west of Gladstone is the lovely town of Neepawa. Meaning “plenty” or “abundance” in Cree, Neepawa promises plenty of things to keep you busy during a visit.

Literary destination

One of its most famous attractions is the childhood home of author Margaret Laurence. This heritage site is a museum and cultural centre that hosts events like writers’ workshops. Pick up a copy of your favourite Margaret Laurence book at the gift shop before visiting the titular stone angel statue in the Riverside Cemetery along with the author’s final resting spot.
Exterior of Margaret Lawrence House in Neepawa
Stone angel statue in cemetery in Neepawa

For more history, check out the Beautiful Plains Museum, a 1902 heritage rail station. Wander through three floors of stories, including theme rooms depicting a general store and medical hall. Another charming heritage building is the Roxy Theatre. A venue for local performing arts and movie screenings, its heritage features - like redwood-backed Art Deco theatre seats - get top billing.

Now, you’re probably ready to spend some time outdoors, soaking up the beautiful views of the area. The Neepawa Golf and Country Club is a great place to start, as its 18 holes are built atop the escarpment of the Whitemud River.

Or, if you’re looking for a little more adrenaline, bring your bike to the HyLife Back 40 Multi-Use Trail Park at the north end of town. Its 5.1-km course has a range of obstacles for riders of different abilities, including a skills loop with wooden features. But you don’t need to be a cyclist to enjoy this year-round park - walkers can connect to Neepawa’s 10-km portion of the Great Trail and in the winter it’s a destination for cross-country skiing to complement the trails at Langford Winter Park.

Pit stop

After all that fresh air, it’s time to quench your thirst. Head over to Farmery Estate Brewery. This local brewery is the first one in Canada to grow its own hops, barley and rye. Take a tour of the brewery and hop yard, and enjoy a flight of their latest brews. The food truck onsite offers some tasty beer-themed fare (think beer battered fish and chips). You can also pick up some beer to take home (who doesn’t love souvenirs) from the Farmery Craft Beer Store on Main Street in town.

Beer flight and food from Farmery

And if you’d prefer blooms over brews, check out the Lily Nook, a beautifully landscaped plot featuring over 1,500 varieties of lilies, including several hybridized by the owners. While mail orders for these special lilies are available, gardeners will delight at the chance to check out the lilies, with peak blooming season around mid-July. Around this time, potted lilies are available from JC’s Lily Shoppe, which also features a selection of lily gifts and souvenirs.

Neepawa has a growing Filipino community - visit Rotor’s Bakery n’Pizzeria orLola’s Bakery for some authentic Filipino treats and savoury dishes, like pianono (rolled sponge cake) or pancit (fried noodles). Other options in town include the Brews Brothers bistro and coffee shop, featuring homemade soups, raved-about pizzas and a large hot beverage menu.

Neepawa has one hotel and two motels along with a campground located next to the town’s outdoor pool.

PART 3

Experience valley life

Highway 5 connects through Neepawa - a beautiful scenic drive known as the Parks Route if you are headed north to Riding Mountain National Park or south to the desert-like dunes near Carberry. But if you continue west along the Yellowhead for just 20 minutes, you’ll arrive in Minnedosa. Its name means “flowing water” in Dakota, which is the reason why a dam was constructed here on the Little Saskatchewan River in 1912. And while the dam no longer provides power to the town, its infrastructure has left some legacies, including the popular recreation destination, Minnedosa Lake.

The lake boasts a nice beach complete with concession, boat launch and rental options for kayaks and other paddling gear. There is a campground next to the beach, with full service sites as well as some sites that overlook the lake. Minnedosa Lake is also the site of Manitoba’s very first floating water park. Splish Splash Water Park features slides, trampolines and tons of floating fun. Purchase a day pass or opt for the hourly rate, which includes mandatory life jackets if you don’t bring your own.

Flag Walk over spillway in Minnedosa
Red octagon building at Minnedosa Heritage Village
Two kids holding hands crossing suspension bridge in Minnedosa

Enjoy the views of the lake and spillway with a stroll along the Flag Walk. This path flying flags from many provinces and countries connects the beach with the Minnedosa Heritage Village. This charming museum features nine restored heritage buildings, including the impressive octagon-shaped Agricultural Display Building -- one of only three left in Manitoba. There is also a school, church and the former electrical power plant. The heritage village is one access point to the Oxbow Trail. This nature trail that follows the river also features a lookout tower and swinging bridge, and takes you past the bison compound. For more ways to enjoy Minnedosa’s beautiful scenery, go for a round of disc golf at River’s Edge Recreation Park or opt for 18 holes at the links-style Minnedosa Golf and Country Club, carved out the valley.

Next, it’s time to explore downtown Minnedosa. Take the self-guided Stone House Tour to see 10 heritage buildings that turn up the charm. These include the impressive post office and railway station and even some heritage homes that are now bed and breakfasts. There are a few B&Bs in town along with some hotel/motel options.