Manitoba road trips: Under the prairie sun

Posted April 30, 2021

From pretty valley views and cool prehistoric finds to modern eateries and contemporary gardens, this road trip through the Pembina Valley and gateway communities showcases all sorts of sun and fun waiting to be explored.

This summer, we're featuring an amazing collection of road trips that will help you explore every corner of Manitoba. The Under the Prairie Sun road trip takes you through the colourful rolling prairies near the US border southwest of Winnipeg, located on Treaty 1 territory. Take one part of the itinerary for a day trip, or combine them for a multi-day trip.

Part one

BC Robyn

Welcome to Pembina Valley Provincial Park

Creek bottom footbridge

Liz Tran

Views at Pembina Valley Provincial Park

Pembina Valley views

Start with a morning hike at Pembina Valley Provincial Park, a tiny 440-acre park tucked near the US border, approximately 50 kms south the cities of Morden and Winkler. This park protects the Pembina/Tiger Hills region of Manitoba and offers seven hiking trails, all of varying lengths and difficulty, through deciduous forest, grasslands and glacial river spillways. The 6.5 km Pembina Rim trail is a picturesque option that circumnavigates the park, offering multiple vistas of the Pembina River and a lookout tower. Hiking in the park is growing in popularity, but if you time your visit right, you can still feel like you have the trail to yourself.

BC Robyn

Flying over Pembina Valley

Liz Tran

Beautiful view of Pembina Valley

Ziplining with Hy Wire

Add a jolt of adrenaline to the day with an action-pack adventure to Hy Wire Zipline Adventures located 30 kms west of Pembina Valley Provincial Park. Hywire offers five or eight-line tours that have guests soaring 200 ft high above the Pembina valley for distances as far as 1500 ft. The adventure is ideal for all ages young and old (minimum age is two). It's guaranteed to produce hollers of excitement, and gorgeous views of Manitoba that make you forget you're in the prairies. Extend your stay with a meal on-site at the bar & grill and a game of mini golf.

Detour: Nellie McClung Heritage Site

Before returning to Morden after ziplining, consider taking a short detour west on Hwy 3 to the town of Manitou to visit Nellie's Homes. Walk in the footsteps of the brilliant 20th-century speaker, novelist and champion of women’s and human rights at a heritage site in the town she called home for nearly 20 years. Two of Nellie's former homes are on display, as well as other historical buildings from the early 1900s. Tours available, as well as a gift shop.

Explore what it's famous for

Chances are you've visited Morden for the Corn and Apple Festival, Manitoba's largest street festival that happens each August. You've likely heard of the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre, too, another cornerstone attraction.

As a community, Morden has an undeniable entrepreneurial spirit and cultural flare. Be sure to make time to stroll the quaint business district and patronize some independent businesses. Sip on a pint of local brew at Rendezvous Brewery and Taproom; shop at organic cosmetic brand Pure Anada at their flagship store; browse local art at the gift shop at the Pembina Hills Art Council, located in the historic Dominion Post Office; or have a meal fit for royalty at Bella's Castle B&B, which welcomes guests even if you're not overnighting.

Unwind at Lake Minnewasta

After spending some time at indoors, head to Lake Minnewasta Recreation Area, just 1.5 km west of Morden, forfresh air and nature. Here you can book a tee time at Minnewasta Golf & Country Club or reserve a nightly camping site in the large, family-friendly campground. Colert Beach and boardwalk is at the heart of the park, and visitors can spend time as they wish: sunbathing, swimming, fishing or even canoeing and other water sports. A 16-km single-track trail encircles Lake Minnewasta and is an attraction for avid mountain bikers and hikers.

Take a selfie with Bruce

A Manitoba Star Attraction, the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre houses the largest collection of marine reptile fossils in Canada. When in Morden, take your opportunity to see some of the most amazing and ferocious toothed beasts to ever exist in the seas, including Guinness Record holding ‘Bruce’ the mosasaur. Besides the myriad of fossil and geology displays at the museum, CFDC offers tours for a chance to become a paleontologist and join our crew on an actual fossil dig on the outskirts of Morden.

Looking through the jaws of Bruce the Mosaur at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre
Must do!
Vehicles are lined up watching a large movie screen at a drive-in movie theatre
Stardust Drive-In

One of two operational drive-in movie theatres in the province, the Stardust is a nostalgic family night out in Morden. Shows run on weekends only, and feature new Hollywood blockbusters, old favourites, and recorded music concerts from A-list acts.

Part two

Step back in time

At CFDC, you step back in prehistoric time, while at Pembina Threshermen's Museum, you step back to the simple pioneer times. Located midway between Morden and Winkler on Hwy 3, this outdoor museum has historic and replica buildings full of antiques, artifacts and working farm machinery collected from families around the Pembina Valley. An immersive flashback to life on the prairies during the early 20th century, the village is replete with retro and photo-worthy sets such as a barber shop, gas station and old-fashioned variety store. Read more about the top spots to check out at Pembina Threshermen's Museum.

Only a 10-minute drive apart, Morden and Winkler are essentially twin cities. When you visit one, you should really go explore the other. After a morning of learning at the Pembina Threshermen's Museum, continue east on the highway to Winkler, an industrious community rooted in agriculture and Mennonite heritage.

Pembina Threshermen's Museum exterior
An old cash register at the store at Pembina Threshermen's Museum
Old wood house exterior Pembina Threshermens Museum

Lunch time in Winkler

Charley B's Classic Grill is a lively gathering place for creative burgers and fast-food specialties that tout using local, farm-fresh ingredients. Del Rios offers a unique Mexican-Mennonite menu that features enchiladas and burritos alongside traditional Mennonite dishes like kielkje and perogies smothered in cream gravy.

Over a dozen hamburgers lined up on a tray
Charley B's

Visit parks and gardens

Bethel Heritage Park is at the heart of Winkler. With its well-manicured gardens and angelic water fountain, it's a peaceful stop for a stroll along the walkways and picnic. For more natural surroundings, the Discover Nature Sanctuary is the spot for bird and wildlife watching along the preserve's easy walking trails. Next to the Winkler Art Gallery, the butterfly garden attracts the winged insects, but also those wanting to take a photo with the giant monarch butterfly on display. A different kind of park (but perhapsa touch more fun if you're travelling with kids) is the Winkler Aquatic Centre, which features a pool and waterpark with speed slides, a twisty slide and climbing wall.

Part three

When in the region, explore beyond the twin cities of Morden-Winkler to learn more about the Russian Mennonites who settled the area and whose culture remains celebrated in nearby towns of Neubergthal and Altona.

Neubergthal

A National Historic Site of Canada, Neubergthal is the best preserved, single-street Mennonite village in North America. Do a self-guided walk or guided tour through the village to admire the distinct yard layouts and architecture, mostly notable the housebarn, a building that allowed the farming families to live close quarters with their livestock (a sensible arrangement during the early 1900s and prairie winters).

Neubergthal Heritage Foundation

Gallery in the Park

The town of Altona is home to rural Manitoba's top sculpture garden: Gallery in the Park. This beloved attraction, which is open seasonally from May to October, is located at the restored Schwartz heritage home near Centennial Park. The house features an indoor gallery space for rotating exhibits from local and national artists, but the real draw is strolling the grounds for up-close connection with the cute and curious bronze sculptures.

Gallery in the Park
Historic home in a park in Altona called Schwartz House
Gallery in the Park
Sandy Friesen
Photo Op!
Jim Kibiuk
Sunflower Capital of Manitoba

When in Altona, go see Van Gogh. The landmark replica of the famous Sunflowers painting stands (very) tall against the blue sky. It's a symbol of the town's appreciation for the arts, as well as a nod to the fertile soil of the region that grow the crop.

Where to stay

Hotels: Best Western Plus (Morden & Winkler), Quality Inn & Suites (Winkler)
Unique stays:
The Herdsman House (Neubergthal), Bella's Castle B&B (Morden)
Campgrounds: Lake Minnewasta (Morden), Buffalo Creek Nature Park (Altona)