You need to squint to find it on the map. A tiny lake community hidden away in the wilds of the Turtle Mountains in southwest Manitoba. Lake Metigoshe.

The freshwater lake straddles the Manitoba-North Dakota border, with majority of the waters in the U.S. If you Google it, chances are only American sites come up about a popular state park near Bottineau. To further the obscurity: Canadians pronounce it Met-i-GOSH, while our American friends call it Met-i-GO-SHEE. (It's a legendary debate in these neck of the woods as to who says it correctly).

Curious to know more, I set out on a weekend road trip from Winnipeg with my family to discover this resort area near Boissevain that I never knew existed. 

On the 3.5 hr drive, rolling farmland stretches far as the eye can see. Creeks, meadows and pockets of forest are reminders that fishing, hunting and trapping were the way of life here long before agriculture. Today, Lake Metigoshe is gaining a reputation as a summer retreat for prairie folk who need an escape from the toils of the land. 

A little cabin in the woods 

Our home base for exploring Lake Metigoshe is Turtle Mountain Resort, a small cluster of road-side cabins that is the heart of the community. Weekend anglers stop in to buy bait and fishing licenses at the Trading Post store and locals flock here for Sunday brunch at the Velvet Antler Café. The resort is newly owned and operated by Chris and Carol Light, a young couple who have roots in the area and aim to attract new travellers - beyond resident cottage owners - to their special corner of Manitoba.

The resort's five rustic cabins range in size and number of bedrooms, but all are ultra cozy and decked out in decor and artwork to complement the unexpected wilderness setting. Families will love that the cabins come with a fully stocked kitchen and all linens provided. For even less hassle, forget the groceries and ask the Trading Post to deliver breakfast-in-a-box to your cabin in the morning: eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, bread and juice dropped off at your door for you to cook at your leisure. 

Head to the beach

The cool waters and pebbly shores beckon the kids soon enough. The main public beach on Lake Metigoshe is a hop and skip down the road from Turtle Mountain Resort, where kids keep entertained on a floating dock or a play structure. There's a second public beach around the bend - requiring you to drive and 'ooh and aah' over lakefront mansions along the way. Whether or not the kids swim at this beach, they're entertained by the constant action on the water of pontoon boats and jet skis. We had fun with the idea that as soon as you wade offshore for 10 ft, technically we've entered another country.

Eat, play, explore, repeat 

Fresh air means a big appetite, and the Velvet Antler Café attached to the Trading Post store is too perfect to pass up. Owner Chris Light is a Renaissance man of sorts: proud Métis, an avid outdoorsman, a new dad and the resort chef.

Velvet Antler Café easily has the most sophisticated menu in the Turtle Mountain area, with a line-up of juicy burgers and hand-cut kettle chips that folks drive miles to try. Rare to find on menus in rural Manitoba, bannock plays a supporting role in many dishes, a stand-out being Turtle Mountain Sunrise, the resort's take on eggs Benedict.

The decor is simple yet poignant: a curated collection of antiques ranging from a young deer's velvet antlers to a framed sketch of a tipi to a striking wood carving of a First Nations chief. Indigenous spirit is alive throughout Turtle Mountain Resort - the Light's generous hospitality is another indication of it.    

Animals come to life 

Keen to learn more about the Indigenous culture and natural history of the Turtle Mountains area, we hopped in the car and took the 30-minute drive back to Boissevain, a town with a population of about 1,500 that acts as the business centre for the region. Locals encouraged us to take the kids to the wildlife museum in Boissevain, a gallery with 40+ taxidermy animals native to Manitoba and Canada. 

The wildlife museum was founded by Irvin Goodon, a Métis businessman who was born in the backwoods of the Turtle Mountains and made his millions pioneering the the log-post construction industry in Western Canada. The museum is tucked inside the tourist information centre, a handsome log structure (à la Goodon's signature style) marked with an impressive arch of intertwined deer antlers. 

Inside the museum, my kids gazed in wonder, getting up close to many animals they had up to this point only seen on an iPad screen. Boissevain's wildlife museum is much more than a display of dead, stuffed animals - it's a science classroom. Mostly woodland creatures are presented with artful backdrops, curated specifically to depict the rawness of nature. The predator vs. prey relationship is on display: one exhibit shows a cougar downing a deer, and in another a musk ox fights off a pair of wolves. The burly bison is another favourite stop, and interpretation explains the significance of the bison hunt to the Métis and First Nations people inhabiting the region.

Digging for cultural history

Next door to the Irvin Goodon International Wildlife Museum, take a tour through the Mocur Gallery for curious artifacts from the people of the plains collected by a local amateur archaeologist. The crown jewel of the collection are the council stones, sacred stones gifted by former chieftan Sitting Eagle. A handsome bison fur coat stands in the corner, a symbol of the region's significant Métis culture. A large layered map adorns a back wall, inviting visitors to flip through and learn how human settlements in southwest Manitoba have evolved over the centuries. A life-sized replica of a sod house is also on-site, a tribute to Irvin Goodin's childhood home in the woods, and is a photo-worthy stop.

Strolling the streets of Boissevain

We took the rest of the afternoon to explore present-day Boissevain, saying 'hello' to Tommy the Turtle then ordering fresh sandwiches to-go from Sawmill Tea & Coffee Co (a community non-profit venture run by Prairie Partners that help persons with disabilities find employment). We headed to the picnic shelter at Arts Park, a flower/sculpture garden that pays homage to the seasons and the town's agriculture identity.

We strolled South Railway Street, stopping by a handful of art murals and historic buildings that give a nod to Boissevain in its heyday. While many prairie towns seem to be shrinking in population with an aging population, Boissevain has a palpable resurgence: kids are biking through the streets and young entrepreneurs - educated afar and choosing to return home - are setting up thriving businesses to serve the community.

The town's pride and joy is Boissevain Bakery, doling out drool-inducing donuts and artful Monarch butterfly sugar cookies, and Busy B Drive-in, a seasonal burger and ice cream haunt that is jammed packed with locals during summer. 

Exploring the land 

We returned to Lake Metigoshe, inspired to explore the land that has attracted life for over 12,000 years. After the last ice age, the Turtle Mountains area was the first land in present-day Manitoba to be free of ice and thus inhabited. Nearby Turtle Mountain Provincial Park is well-marked on the map and well-promoted for hiking, but the community of Lake Metigoshe is quietly mapping its own trails for visitors to explore outside of park boundaries. 

The Lake Metigoshe trail near Turtle Mountain Resort is an easy 1.5 km loop for young families to attempt. The trail takes hikers to an observation tower where you can see for miles over the lake and into the U.S. It winds through deciduous forests, past a floating dock on wetlands and over a bridge next to a shallow lake. The experience is an outdoor classroom for school-age kids.   

And the curtain closes on Lake Metigoshe

Sunset on Lake Metigoshe

Child at sunset at Lake Metigoshe

One thing visitors will take away from a cabin getaway at Turtle Mountain Resort is the sunset over the water. While the land, wildlife and people who have inhabited southwest Manitoba have changed over the centuries, the sunsets have remained constant. 

Travel Manitoba staff was hosted by partner Turtle Mountain Resort, who did not review or approve this story.