We’ve dabbled in camping over the last couple of years – both in a tent and a tent trailer. But our first family visit to Riding Mountain National Park saw us spend the weekend in one of 30 oTENTiks nestled among the trees in the Wasagaming Campground. An oTENTik has a wooden frame with canvas roof and walls. Their shape resembles that of a traditional prospector’s tent, but with some added comforts – including a laminate floor, two queen and one double sleeping platform complete with mattresses, a table and chairs, along with lighting and an electrical outlet. All we had to bring was our bedding and food (there is a fire pit and barbecue at each oTENTik site).
Our oTENTik, #709, was called the Bee Hive, and the walk to the nearby bathroom building had the kids squealing with joy as we read the names of the other insulated oTENTiks (there are five winterized oTENTiks that are equipped with a heater and wood stove) — the Bison Paddock, the Lynx Lair, the Spider Web – and their favorite – the Bat Cave.
The kids loved the upper bunk – climbing up and down (and not always using the ladder) made for hours of fun, while I also appreciated the camping experience that didn’t include me sleeping on the ground.
With the Bee Hive as our home base we explored the park – checking out the historic East Gate and panoramic views from the top of the Manitoba Escarpment.
We learned about the wildlife of the park – bears, cougars, moose, lynx and so many more – at the gorgeous log building housing the Parks Canada Visitor Centre. We checked out the board where wildlife sightings are indicated with coloured pins.
And we had a few of our own sightings. On our way to the Lake Audy bison enclosure we saw a couple of grouse as well as some deer. But the real star were those bison – even from a distance we could tell these were huge animals. And there was one curious squirrel that emerged from the woods every time we sat down at our picnic table to eat.
We also learned about the creatures that live in Ominnick Marsh. For $3 we rented a critter dipping kit from the Nature Shop inside the Parks Canada Visitor Centre. The kit came with nets, a pan, a magnifying glass as well as a booklet with pictures and information on what we might find. We barely stepped foot on the boardwalk of the marsh before the kids were up to their elbows in the water, scooping up the tiniest of critters. They caught and identified water tigers, watermites, damselfly nymphs and a water strider. We shared our kit with some other kids who came by – and they were all thrilled to show off their finds to each other.
We saw boats, kayaks and paddle boards at the ready to get out onto the stunning waters of Clear Lake. And we enjoyed the resort-town atmosphere of Wasagaming, including its charming animal topiaries.
We had half our meals in the campground (is there anything better than hot dogs cooked over a campfire?) and half our meals in town. Delicious and monstrous cinnamon buns from the infamous Whitehouse Bakery, house-made gelato from the Chocolate Fox, a delectable salted caramel ice cream sandwich from the Lake House and hearty pasta dishes from TR McKoy’s. And while we didn’t make time to shop (those critters weren’t going to dip themselves), the shops of Wasagaming offer lots of unique products and locally made goods.
And with the townsite kicking off summer with its Moon Light Madness and National Aboriginal Day events, there was no shortage of things to do. I wondered if it was always as happening as it was when we visited, but it really didn’t take me long to realize that yes, it likely was. The charm of the community, the beauty of the park – it’s no surprise why people love this place. I was easily won over. And when you add in the fact that we didn’t have to take down a tent – we simply packed up our belongings and locked the door to our oTENTik – well, it might have just been our best camping experience so far.
What you need to know:
Reservations are highly recommended: Campground Reservations, 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783)
There is still availability for oTENTiks during the week, as weekends this summer are already fully booked
Rental fees are $100 per night during peak season and $90 per night during the shoulder season
A valid Parks Canada pass is also required — entry is free in 2017!
The oTENTiks can be booked until the October long weekend and the five winterized oTENTiks are available until May