Meet thousands of frenzied snakes, decipher ancient writing on rock walls, dig for fossils and venture into cavernous depths. Manitoba’s natural wonders match any adventure had by film hero and archaeologist Indiana Jones.
World’s largest snake pits
Located between the towns of Narcisse and Inwood, red garter snakes emerge from their winter hibernation each spring to perform a frenzied mating ritual. During this amazing slithery spectacle, tens of thousands of snakes do what comes naturally. Mating is a competitive sport here and the odds are stacked against the males. There are about 5,000 males for every one female. The best viewing times are typically the last week in April and the first three weeks in May. Find the Narcisse Snake Dens six kilometres north of Narcisse on Highway 17 in Manitoba’s Interlake Region.
North America’s largest urban bison herd
Located in the heart of Winnipeg (off McCreary Road) FortWhyte Alive boasts the largest urban bison herd in North America on its 70-acre Bison Prairie. The centre is home to about 30 of the burly behemoths. The large furry beasts once freely roamed the plains. Hunted to near extinction in the late 1800s, these magnificent creatures are definitely worth seeing. FortWhyte also has one of the largest waterfowl preserves in Manitoba as well as an interpretative centre, hiking and cross-country skiing trails and much more. Be sure to check out the Manitoba Fish Aquarium, stocked with species that can be found in provincial waterways. The centre is open year round and has lots of indoor and outdoor activities and events planned throughout the year.
Pictographs & petroforms
Some 1,500 years ago, First Nations peoples designated their sacred places with designs depicting wildlife, people and traditional objects. These so-called pictographs and petroforms can be found throughout Manitoba. For the unitiated: Pictographs are stories and images depicting Aborginal scenes painted using red ochre (naturally tinted clays found in the soil and earth) on cliff faces. Petroforms are mosiacs made by stacking and placing boulders and rocks on forest floors. In Manitoba, pictographs can be found on rock cliffs lining many of the province’s waterways including Tramping Lake on the Grass River and upstream from Artery Lake on the Bloodvein Canadian Heritage River. Traces of petroforms can still be seen today in Whiteshell Provincial Park, particularly at Bannock Point, north of Pine Point Rapids. There’s a strict look-but-don’t-touch policy at all of the province’s pictographs and petroforms, as they are sacred sites.
A bustling biological centre of activity for the past 100 million years, Manitoba is loaded with ancient underground relics. The province is home to the famous Tyndall stone, a form of mottled calcitic and dolomitic limestone used in the construction of some of Canada’s most celebrated buildings. Manitoba boasts a rich natural history including fossilized prehistoric creatures. In Winnipeg, check out fabulous fossils and dinosaur skeletons at the Manitoba Museum.
Visitors can hunt for fossils on their own in numerous places throughout the province. The quarries in the Interlake region in the towns of Garson and Tyndall (northwest of Winnipeg on Highway 44) are prime fossil-finding spots. Amid the primordial rock, you will find everything from fossilized cephalopods to traces of corals and other prehistoric vegetation.
You can also get your hands dirty and help excavate new fossils at The Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden through their Public Paleontology Program and even meet Bruce, the world’s largest publicly displayed mosasaur.
Caves of Manitoba
Dripping water echoes throughout dark, cavernous, musty tunnels and underground caves in Manitoba’s Whiteshell, Interlake and northern regions. While it’s ill advised to explore these secluded, dangerous and ecologically fragile geological formations alone, Manitoba’s caves continue to attract many spelunkers eager to explore the depths. Caddy Lake Rock Tunnels in the Whiteshell and the Manitoba Lowlands region near the town of Grand Rapids have some of the province’s best caving sites. Or head to Clearwater Lake Provincial Park just north of The Pas where the Caves Self-Guiding Trail features open rock fissures. The fractured bedrock aren’t really caves by definition but they still provide great adventures for underground explorers. Want to learn more about Manitoba’s caves? The Speleological Society of Manitoba can help!
The Grass River Karst Spring
Shrouded in a mist of secrecy, the origin of the Karst Spring has baffled visitors since the early 20th century. A steady stream of water gushes out of the solid sedimentary rock cliff in the Manitoba Lowlands before flowing into the Grass River. Surrounded by boreal forest and carpeted with rich moss, the Karst Spring Self-Guiding Trail (3.2 km) is a true delight for any nature lover. Located in Grass River Provincial Park, a 45-minute drive northeast of The Pas, the Karst Spring is a true oddity.
The Kettle Stones
Located in the heart of Kettle Stone Provincial Park (northeast of Swan River on Provincial Road 268), the Kettle Stones are large concrete-like limestone boulders. They were formed in three stages beginning with the Cretaceous period between 70 million and 135 million years ago. Buried under layers of sand and silt, gradual wind erosion exposed these large rocks to plain view, some of which measure up to 15 feet in diameter and weigh up to 14 tons. Accessing the park and the Kettle Stones requires good road conditions and guidance from park officials.
The famous Spirit Sands are just a 90-minute drive west of Winnipeg along Highway 1 (Trans Canada Highway) and south along Highway 5. This desert-like area has long been viewed as a place of great spiritual significance for the Aboriginal peoples of Manitoba. Hike to the Devil’s Punch Bowl or climb the dunes along the Spirit Sand’s Self-guiding Trail. The sands are protected within Spruce Woods Provincial Park, where visitors can also enjoy camping, swimming, biking and canoeing.