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How to take a mountain getaway this winter without leaving Manitoba

Posted December 07, 2021 | Author Jillian Recksiedler

No need to head west to the Rockies for that family winter holiday. Head to Manitoba's mountain - Riding Mountain, that is - to find tons of fun in the snow, as well as cozy hygge vibes.

A visit to Manitoba means travelling through Treaty 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Territory and through communities who are signatories to Treaties 6 and 10. It encompasses the original lands of the Anishinaabeg, Anish-Ininiwak, Dakota, Dene, Ininiwak and Nehethowuk and the homeland of the Métis. To learn more about Manitoba's Treaty areas, click here.

A little change of scenery is always good for the mindset. My family and I are not ready to venture too far from Manitoba just yet, but we needed a little time away from our daily routines to connect as a family and to connect with winter.

Like many Manitobans, we are huge fans of Riding Mountain National Park in summer. It's a tradition. But what we learned: Clear Lake Country is just as gorgeous and fun in the off season. It also oozes the charm of a winter mountain getaway...without the mountain and downhill skiing...and we found lots of ways to have fun in the snow.

A deluxe, multi-family escape: Arbutus Cabins

Arbutus Cabins, a sister company to Moosawa Resort, is a collection of six newly built boutique cabins located on Moosawa Drive in Wasagaming, a short walk from the shores of Clear Lake.

This year, Arbutus is officially open all winter, and it should be at the top of your accommodation list if you have a family who like to escape with grandparents or cousins in tow or for anyone who likes to escape with a small group of friends.

Looking across a kitchen island into the open dining area with vaulted ceiling and floor to ceiling windows.

We stayed in the luxury cabin #333, which is perched on a ridge with private views of the forest. The cabin is handsomely decorated with warm neutral tones and high-end furnishings, and has four bedrooms (sleeping eight people comfortably) and three bathrooms. Whether it's the large deck and yard, or the loft bedrooms, there is plenty of space for families to have the space they need while still coming together.

A fully-stocked, modern kitchen opens to a spacious dining room and living area. A stunning stone gas fireplace is the heart of the cabin, dividing the TV room from the sunroom, where everyone finds themselves cozying up with a book or binoculars to bird watch out the picture windows.

Fat bikes + kicksparks: Friends of Riding Mountain Learning Centre

When we vacation, we always make time to schedule a few activities. The Friends of Riding Mountain Learning Centre is the hub of winter recreation at Clear Lake. After a hearty brunch at the cabin, we walked to the snow-covered log cabin and were greeted by a lineup of brightly coloured winter equipment for rent. Friends of RMNP makes unique winter sport accessible for families who may not have means or experience.

My 7-year-old son was drawn to the fat bikes, which come in kid and youth sizes, and he eagerly hopped on and zipped off without hesitation. Kicksparks - a mash up of a scooter and cross-country skis - are a common mode of transportation in Scandinavia and are finally becoming more popular in Canada. My daughter stood on the light-weight sled and in no time was tailing behind her brother.

We stayed within the townsite of Wasagaming with our rentals, heading to the shores of Clear Lake and through some forested trails behind the Parks Canada Welcome Centre. As my kids get older and bolder, we'll plan to rent for more hours and go further in to the park, but for first-timers, this was definitely an entertaining way to pass a few hours.

We returned our fat bikes and kicksparks, and with the kids in such great spirits, we decided to keep the momentum going. This time we rented more familiar equipment - snow tubes and snowshoes - and trekked to the sliding hill and forest trails behind the Anishinaabe Sharing Lodge on Ta-Wa-Pit Drive.

We let loose in the fresh snow, zipping down the little hill and having running races in the snowshoes. The just-below-zero temps had us basking in the midafternoon sun. Even though there is no downhill skiing in Riding Mountain, there was no shortage of adrenaline-pumping activities for the family to make it feel like a real winter holiday.

Ice skating is also a must-do (rentals available at Arrowhead Resort), with land trails and rinks behind the Parks Canada Welcome Centre and skating trails cleared on Clear Lake.

Cozy cabin time

With our 'mission: fresh air & exercise' accomplished, we headed back to Arbutus Cabins.

The accommodation, itself, is such a delight that if we did nothing but hang out at the cabin for all our time in Clear Lake, it would be time well spent. Movies, board games, and good food were on our menu for the evening.

We upped the level of hygge (the Danish word associated with getting cozy and comfortable) by enjoying a cup of hot chocolate around the indoor fireplace. Cabin #333 also offers a barrel sauna experience just outside the door for an ultimate way to wind down and warm up after a full day playing outside. Resort owners Cam and Pamela McMillan are never too far away to help out with the sauna, if needed.

Clear, dark skies mean that star gazing is optimal, and if you're lucky, the northern lights may come up to perform. We bundled up one last time at night and headed out for a bonfire in the yard before bedtime.

Nature's classroom: Parks Canada Welcome Centre

We started the next morning at the newly renovated Parks Canada Welcome Centre to grab a map and learn more about the backcountry that we wanted to explore on a drive.

Add some time to the itinerary to check out the new exhibits at the welcome centre where children and adults alike can learn about the variety of critters that call the park home. My daughter loved the touch screen map showing where the animals roam in different seasons, while my son loved petting the beaver on display. They engaged most in completing a bison puzzle that had them constructing the prairie icon in layers starting from skeleton to hide.

Enjoy the views: Highway #19 + the East Gate

Exploring beyond the townsite of Wasagaming is really important to take in the real beauty of the park. Popular drives include out to Lake Audy to view the bison preserve or north along highway #10 to Moon Lake to look out for other wildlife. We opted to head east through the park, winding our way along highway #19, which took us over the mountain (AKA the Manitoba Escarpment). With the switchbacks in the road mixed with changes in elevation and towering pine and spruce trees, we felt transported outside of Manitoba and like we were truly on an alpine adventure.

We pulled over and stopped at a marked look-out, peering down at the sprawling prairie covered in snow and ice. Now we felt transported back in time and we marveled how this view is as impressive now as it must have been thousands of years ago.

We drove all the way to the historic East Gate complex, a beautiful truss bridge that spans two turret-like cupolas that greet visitors arriving at the east entrance of the park. This gate was built when the park was established in the 1930s, and its rustic log and stone design really adds to the vibes of a mountain winter getaway, especially when you enter the park from here and ascend the escarpment heading to Wasagaming.

Dining and shopping time

We returned to Wasagaming just as the sun was setting. To add to the charming rustic theme of our day, we decided to have supper at Lakehouse, a popular boutique hotel and restaurant in town, and one of a few properties open during the off season. Reservations are recommended, but take-out back to your cabin also an option. Nearby Elkhorn Resort's The Buffalo Bar is also open year-round if you feel like supporting local restaurants while on vacation.

For shopping options in winter, The Chocolate Fox stocks designer fashions and footwear as well as cute Clear Lake souvenir items and treats, while Jewels of Siam in next door Onanole is a must-stop for gifts and home decor.

But don't leave Clear Lake Country without purchasing some of their stylish merch that is for sale at the the Nature Shop at Friends of RMNP Learning Centre. While the fashionista in our family was thrilled with a crewneck sweatshirt with whimsical hand-drawn icons of the park, my son opted for a moose stuffed toy from the shop to remember our family winter getaway to 'the mountain.'

Travel Manitoba staff was hosted by Clear Lake Country, who did not review nor approve this story.

Jillian Recksiedler, Travel Manitoba

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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