Riding Mountain National Park - Treaty 2 Territory
In a summer full of fluid travel plans, social distancing, and an all-around new normal, there’s inevitably a lot of questions about what exactly summer looks like this year. I obviously don’t have all the answers. But when it comes to wondering what your trip to Riding Mountain National Park is going to look like, I can offer you one: Clear Lake Country is ready for YOU…whatever version of you that may be.
Personally, I love visiting places that offer variety, because when I’m on vacation there are many versions of "Joey" that pop up, sometimes without warning, and a truly satisfying trip is one that can satisfy any of those versions of me.
For example, after a tiring week sometimes you get Lazy Joe. When I’m feeling creative you get Artsy Joe. When I’ve got some extra energy you might see Sporty Joe or Sweaty Joe. Or when the sun’s setting and the waves are crashing you might get Serene Joe. A truly great trip is one that’s great for all my alter-eJoes (ugh, please keep reading, I had to, but I promise I won’t use that again), and Clear Lake has been and will continue to be one of my favourite places in the world because it does just that.
After spending a lovely June weekend in Clear Lake, I’m happy to report that the charm and variety typically attached to one of Manitoba’s only National Parks is very much still there, and is ready for any version of you that decides to come out and explore this summer.
You: The Foodie (or maybe just You: The Hungry)
Simply put, you’re going to eat well at Clear Lake. Whether you’re on the go, settling in with your family, or looking for the ambiance of a nice sit-down restaurant, you’re probably going to find what you’re looking for either in the town of Wasagaming, or right next door in Onanole.
A family tradition of mine is to spend our first Clear Lake night at one of my all-time favourites: TR McKoys. If you’re not ordering their legendary pizza, try out their penne pasta with sausage and chicken, which boasts a curried sweet chili cream sauce that might spark a tradition of your own. TR McKoys is a great pick for a full wine/cocktail/appetizer/main course combo, and it's quiet, dimly lit vibe makes it easy to forget that you’re actually in cabin country.
While the list of restaurants goes on and on, a couple quick-hits include the brand new Wok in the Park for something on the run, a patio session with fantastic food and drinks at Lakehouse, and one of the best burgers you can find at the newly renovated Sporty’s at Sportsman’s Park.
You: The Golfer
While Clear Lake looks and feels familiar, and is very much open for business, there are many ways businesses in the area are assuring safe practices with hand sanitizing stations, social distancing, and more. But the most creative solution in creating a safe summer definitely belongs to the Clear Lake Golf Course.
While the game of golf is quite socially distant in nature, the one trickier spot is the question of “How do I safely retrieve my ball from the hole?” At Clear Lake Golf Course, each pin is equipped with a system where all you need to do is pull up the lever with the head of your putter, and out pops the ball from the bottom of the hole!
This safe ball-retrieval is another way in which Clear Lake Golf Course goes above and beyond to make for one of the best golfing experiences in Manitoba. With beautiful greens and fairways, elevation changes, challenging obstacles, and a blind 9th hole tee-shot into a valley right in front of the boat launch (the most enjoyable tee-shot in Manitoba), the Clear Lake Golf course remains a must-play for golfers of all skill levels.
And if your “skill level” is “wait...skill?” the great news is there’s three mini-golf courses in the area to help you pretend to be the golfer you never knew you were. This year we tried out Adventure Mini Golf just next to the main boardwalk, but you could also visit the course at Sporty’s just outside of the park.
You: The Adventurer
With nearly 370km of hiking trails in Riding Mountain National Park, there is so much for the most adventurous version of yourself to explore. If you want to spend the whole day hiking something long but rewarding, you’ve got trails like Bald Hill, Grey Owl, or Gorge Creek to scratch that itch. Or, you could do what we did, and separate two shorter, easier trails (Brûlé Trail and Arrowhead Trail) with a little picnic at Lake Katherine just down the road between hikes. Pro picnic tip: Grab a Beach Bun at the Clear Lake Trading Post, buy some treats at Whitehouse Bakery, or bring your leftover pizza from TR McKoys and you're SET.
With so many kilometres of bush and trail, the park is also a mountain biker’s paradise. If you don’t want to bring your own, there are various bike rentals available, including fat bikes at Friends of Riding Mountain National Park, where they’ll also provide a map with some trail recommendations for those who are more new with the area (or in our case, fatbiking in general).
And just a note for those of you who haven’t tried fatbiking: we loved it! Imagine biking through bumpy terrain…but your wheels feel like they’re actually pillows…that somehow still work as wheels…and the bumps in the road now just feel like clouds...I guess that's how I would describe it. Yeah, I'm an expert now, clearly.
You: The Shopper
A friend of mine has a Clear Lake family tradition where they pick an afternoon and visit every shop on the main stretch of Wasagaming. We did the same, and just like many of the other aspects of Clear Lake, the shops are ready for you! Feel free to roam the town for gifts, goods, and some sweet Clear Lake merch, with bottles of hand sanitizer waiting for you at the entrance of the stores. If you’re like me, and are looking for Clear Lake specific clothing, check out The Chocolate Fox, the Clear Lake Trading Post, and Friends of Riding Mountain National Park, who have all sorts of great gear to keep you representing all year long.
I’d also recommend checking out Poor Michael’s Emporium, which is floor to ceiling full of books, records, local art, and much more, not to mention a cafe with delicious lattes that perfectly hit the spot for us on a cooler Saturday morning. And for something new, check out Mainly Manitoba which sells just that: Manitoba made art, treats, drinks, jewelry, and more.
You: The Photographer
If you’re a photographer of any level, Clear Lake provides one of the best canvases in Manitoba to explore your artistic side. Whether it’s the countless hiking trails, frequent encounters with wild life, clear water, beautiful rocks, or legendary sunsets, make sure you bring your gear to capture the magic.
As a hot tip, my three sunset sweet spots are: Ominnik Marsh, the main boardwalk, and Lake Audy, all pictured above.
You: The Sweet-Toother
It’s hard for me to not write in superlatives when describing some of my favourite places in Manitoba, but let me go on the record by saying the maple cinnamon buns at Whitehouse Bakery are better than any food I’ve ever tasted. Wild, I know. But when it comes to my favourite snack - it's cinnamon buns, and there are simply none better than these.
To be clear, Whitehouse Bakery is also far from a one-trick pony. Not only can you just have a great breakfast there, but their butter tarts are spectacular, Nanaimo bars: tremendous, carrot cake sandwiches: wonderful. Really, whatever your sweet tooth is, you can likely find something to satisfy it. If not, just head down to the Sugar Shop down the street, and there will surely be something for you there. And don’t even get me started on the ice cream…
You: The Icecreamer
An evening stroll in Clear Lake Country is only complete with ice cream. Actually, I heard it's mandatory. After dinner, walk through the town and grab some ice cream at The Boardwalk or Lakehouse, or gelato at The Chocolate Fox, and you’ll suddenly realize you’ve joined just about every family in the park participating in what is an essential Clear Lake tradition.
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