Manitoba road trips: Water, water everywhere

Posted April 04, 2022

Boasting 100,000+ lakes and waterways, Manitoba has no shortage of adventures, attractions and communities to draw visitors close to shore. This scenic road trip offers some of the best vistas of Canadian Shield wilderness along the mighty Winnipeg River, paired with stops to the powder-soft sands of Lake Winnipeg's east beaches.

This summer, we're featuring an amazing collection of road trips that will help you explore every corner of Manitoba. The Water, Water Everywhere road trip takes you along the water's edge of the Winnipeg River and Lake Winnipeg, located on Treaty 1 and 3 territory, in eastern Manitoba. Take one part of the itinerary for a day trip, or combine them for a multi-day trip.

George Fischer

Part One

Hiking & biking in Pinawa

Start this road trip in the town of Pinawa, nestled where the highway ends along the scenic shores of the Winnipeg River. Pinawa is a hub for outdoor recreation in all seasons because of the town's public waterfront and extensive network of trails, which are part of The Trans Canada Trail.

One of the most popular routes is the Ironwood Trail, which commences at the town beach (where you'll also find family favourite inflatable waterpark Hoopla Island). The trail encircles the town and offers beautiful views of the area's granite ridges, mixed forests and calming waters. Be on the lookout for wildlife such as deer, beavers, turtles along the shore, and plenty of birds overhead. This trail connects to Pinawa Channel Heritage Walk, where a photogenic suspension bridge spans the iconic channel. On the other side of the bridge, the trail plunges deep into Canadian Shield wilderness.

Bike rentals are available at Pinawa Motel for those who prefer covering ground by two wheels.

George Fischer
Sean Scott

Pinawa Dam Provincial Heritage Park

Built in 1906, Pinawa Dam was Manitoba's first hydro-electric generating station and was crucial to providing power to a burgeoning Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th century. Turning off the power in the 1950s, the dam is now a popular heritage park and day trip destination. Self-guided walking trails take visitors around the concrete monolith to learn the engineering history. Be sure to pack a picnic, and set up on the flat granite rocks by the rapids to dip your toes while you lunch.

Float-in diner

Rural Manitoba has a fair share of seasonal, fast food drive-ins. Perhaps the most unique is in Pinawa, where guests don't drive up, but walk up, to the floating Burger Boat. Anchored near the town beach, Burger Boat serves all the summer favourites like burgers and ice cream. Other dining options in Pinawa include On the Water Eats food truck and the dining room at Pinawa Golf and Country Club.

NOTE: Burger Boat unfortunately will not be open in 2023! Check back in 2024.

Play the Channel

Whether you choose kayak, canoe, SUP, or the ever-popular inflatable tube or raft, floating the Pinawa Channel is a must-do summer activity in Manitoba. Plan to spend 2-3 hours navigating the lazy river as it gently pulls you downstream from the launch near the golf course to the suspension bridge. To make it easy, visitors can book a tour time and equipment with companies Float and Paddle and Pinawa Unplugged Eco-Tours.

House on the water

Immerse yourself in the scenery with an overnight stay aboard Voyageur Houseboats, handcrafted tiny houseboat rentals anchored among the islands just minutes offshore from Pinawa in Whiteshell Provincial Park.

Family fishing in Lac du Bonnet

Continue on your road trip to the neighbouring town, lovely Lac du Bonnet. With over 60 kilometers of nearby lakes and rivers, Lac du Bonnet is a popular, multi-species hotspot for both experienced and newbie anglers. Even if you don't own a boat to get out on the water, there are endless accessible shoreline spots where you can cast your line for a few hours. Head to the town dock and Winnipeg River Bridge.

Turn your fishing afternoon into an overnight adventure by renting a cute family cabin at Granite Recreation Park off Cape Coppermine Road. The resort also features GiGi's drive-in restaurant, a convenience store, seasonal RV campground and boat launch, making it the perfect all-inclusive getaway to fish around Lac Du Bonnet.

Nearby Granite Hills Golf Course is easily in the top 3 of Manitoba's most picturesque courses. With sweeping views of Lac du Bonnet and fairways flanked by rock ridges, Granite Hills shows off Manitoba's incredible Canadian Shield scenery. If time on your road trip does not permit for a full 18-rounds, hit a few balls at the driving range at least.

Granite Hills
Granite Hills

Events under the sun

Lac du Bonnet has a few summer signature events that bring together the community, cabin-goers, and road tripping visitors. The town is renowned for having the best fireworks display in rural Manitoba on Canada Day, which happen over the water at the town beach. The award-winning Fire & Ice Music Festival brings live music acts to multiple outdoor stages in town every August long weekend. The Farmers' Market is one of the largest in Manitoba with over 90 vendors to discover local goods, gifts and produce. It takes place Saturday mornings from May long weekend to September long weekend.

Fire & Water Music Festival

Part Two

Drive the La Vérendrye Trail

The 50-km stretch of Highway 11 between Lac du Bonnet and Sagkeeng First Nation, part of the historic highway called La Vérendrye Trail, is one of the province's most scenic summer driving routes. The highway winds along the shores of the mighty Winnipeg River before it empties into Lake Winnipeg. As you drive, you'll be in awe of wide river vista on the edge of wilderness, and you'll gain a new appreciation for the province's history as a hydro-electric powerhouse when driving past towns like Great Falls and Silver Falls.

Along the northern point of the La Vérendrye Trail is the town of Powerview-Pine Falls, the walleye fishing capital of Manitoba. The area is an all-season fishing mecca, with popular derby tournaments attracting anglers from all over North America. If a full-day of fishing is not in the plan, get a taste of it with a stop at PT Grill located at PaperTown Inn where pickerel (which is what locals like to call walleye) is often on the menu.

Papertown Motor Inn

Paper Town Pickerel

Photo Op!

In the quaint town of St-Georges, a modern, new building stands proud, preserving the unsung stories of First Nations and Métis peoples of The Winnipeg River. This is the perfect stop to stretch your legs, walk the grounds and take in breathtaking views.

Winnipeg River Heritage Museum

Part Three

As you turn onto Highway 59, the rugged rock outcrops and dense forests along the Winnipeg River transition to the sun-kissed, sandy dunes along Lake Winnipeg's east shore. Here is a well-travelled summer route for day-tripping beach goers.

Beaches of 59

There are over a dozen public beaches along this eastern Lake Winnipeg route, dubbed Beaches of 59, and you could spend every summer weekend visiting a new one. While amenities like washrooms, food service and parking vary at each community, all the beaches guarantee plenty of space to chill, soft sand for digging, and shallow, warm waters for letting the kids run wild. Beaches within Victoria Beach are private and flanked by high sand cliffs, giving off a Mediterranean vibe. A visit to Albert Beach is not complete without crêpes from La Goûter and treats at Saffie's store. Hillside Beach is an escape nestled in a quiet bay (ideal for bird watching, too) and offers stand-up paddleboard and kayak rentals.

While the route is famous for world-class beaches, sunbathing is not the only activity in the area. Well-marked ATV trails through Belair Forest, hiking around remote Elk Island Provincial Park and popular golf courses like Grand Pines are ways to get the adrenaline pumping.

Life is Grand

The crowning jewel of Beaches of 59 is Grand Beach, which is Manitoba-famous for its wide, long shoreline and powdery sand under foot, even when in the water. Located adjacent to the community of Grand Marais, Grand Beach Provincial Park has two beaches - east (more chill and remote) and west (people watching, water sports, boardwalk snacks).

Sunbathing and swimming is the top reason for heading to Grand Beach, but after a few hours of soaking up vitamin D, we recommend you set out to explore. The 2.1-km Ancient Beach Trail is a popular hike in the region that leads visitors across the sands of glacial Lake Agassiz, which disappeared from North America about 8,000 years ago. The park also has one of the largest provincial campgrounds for nightly bookings, making it a popular spot for campers of all levels. On Fridays and Saturdays throughout summer, check out the Grand Marais Central Market for handcrafted goodies and gems.

Time for a break? The day's activities are bound to have you working up an appetite, and there are a few options in Grand Marais that will satiate your hunger. Lanky's Drive-In is an institution that is famous for its 24" hotdogs. Be sure to save room for soft serve, too. Spirit Rock Inn is the perfect stop for a midday iced coffee break. Back at the beach, Gray's Boxcar on the boardwalk has a fresh menu featuring noodle bowls and salads.


Magic Hour

If you time it right, stay for sunset over the water at any Lake Winnipeg east beach. The light, the colour of the sky, and the calm ripples in the water will make your heart skip a beat. Guarantee you will fall deeper in love with Manitoba.

Where to stay

Hotels: The Lakeview Inn (Lac du Bonnet), Birchwood Motor Inn (Traverse Bay)

Unique stays: Lee River B&B, Pebble Springs B&B, Lester Beach B&B, Lazy Days Lodge (Lac du Bonnet)

Campgrounds: Grand Beach Provincial Park, Grand Palms RV Park (Grand Marais), Pioneer Bay Campground (Pinawa)