Manitoba fall road trips: Wild west wanderings

Posted September 15, 2021

Explore Manitoba's second largest city, Brandon, where you instantly feel at home and are welcomed like an old friend. Then soak in the splendour of the land with a series of day trips to museums, attractions and parks throughout the rolling hills and golden wheat fields of Manitoba's western region.

This fall, we're featuring an amazing collection of road trips that will help you explore every corner of Manitoba. The Wild West Wanderings road trip takes you through Brandon and the western region of southern Manitoba, located on Treaty 2 territory. Take one part of the itinerary for a day trip, or combine them for a multi-day trip.

Part one

Colourful heritage buildings line the streets of downtown Brandon

Brandon's historic downtown

Inside gift store, Charlow, located in downtown Brandon

Local shopping at Charlow

Two kids stand in front of a mural of a sunset and Canadian geese that is on the side of a building in downtown Brandon

Murals in downtown Brandon

Wander the historic HUB district

There's a lot to explore beneath the Wheat City's quiet, agrarian facade. Brandon’s historic downtown, nicknamed The Hub, is like a kid sister to Winnipeg’s Exchange District. Centered along Rosser Avenue, a handsome collection of heritage architecture with faded ghost signs is a testament to Brandon's prosperity at the turn of the 20th century. Spend a few hours visiting the independent, local businesses that now occupy these buildings. On your list should be Charlow for creative gifts and scents; The Brow Loft for beauty items and accessories; One & Only for trendy home decor; and the gift shop at Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba for locally made items.

Colourful murals
are popping up on buildings downtown, too. Brandon Tourism offers an online, interactive mural walking tour map so visitors can plan a self-guided tour of the art.

Daly House Museum exterior

Daly House in Brandon

Vintage yellow airplane from WWII

Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum

Brandon brings you back

At the turn of the 20th century, Brandon was a hub for trade and commerce as the Prairies were settled and Canada expanded west. The best place to learn about this early life is at Daly House Museum, the Victorian-style stone home of Brandon's first mayor. Another must-see museum is the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, which is located in a hangar at Brandon's municipal airport 10 kms north of the city centre. It is full of historical aircrafts and artifacts that commemorate the role that the prairie sky and Brandon played in the Royal Canadian Air Force air training school during World War II.

Crow’s General Store is a hidden gem in the forest along the Assiniboine River in Brandon's East End. Visitors stroll and take pictures among the impressive collection of antiques and curiosities. From vintage cars and bikes to sewing machines and typewriters to a faux facade of an old post office, you will be transported back in time.

Hills and Valleys

The rolling landscape surrounding Brandon makes for some great outdoor adventures that many don't expect during a visit to this prairie city.

In the afternoon, run for the hills! Located 10 kms south of Brandon off of Highway 10, the Brandon Hills Wildlife Management Area is an all-season playground for hikers, cross-country skiers, and birdwatchers. This recreation area is particularly well-known for single-track mountain biking. There are multiple loops ranging from 2-7.5 kms throughout the 722 hectare area.

Or choose to go west. Grand Valley is a tiny provincial park hidden away in the Assiniboine River valley 10 kms west of Brandon along the Trans Canada Highway. Check out Stott historic site, a former bison impoundment and Indigenous village dating back over 700-1900 years ago. Interpretive signs along the 1.5 km self-guiding Buffalo Chase trail explains the process of a historical bison hunt and its significance to the First Nations and Métis communities of the area. A viewing tower also gives visitors a wonderful look of the scenic river valley.

Admire the Assiniboine

As the sun starts to set, head back to the centre of the city to the network of 17 kms of walking trails at the Riverbank Discovery Centre. Here, locals and visitors can connect with this river ecosystem that defines the land and city. Take in views of the Assiniboine River while crossing the Red Willow Pedestrian Bridge.

Dining in Brandon

Save the evening for indulging in global flavours. While Brandon has many chain restaurants, it also boasts a great selection independent, multicultural kitchens that are standouts in the community. The Chili Chutney is well-loved for Indian specialties that visitors will drive for hours to taste. Sabor Latino serves authentic Latin cuisines from burritos to pupusas. Tana’s brings gluten-free tastes from Ethiopia to the prairie city.

Worker inside an Ethiopian Restaurant in Brandon
Tana Ethiopian

Part two

Spend the day road tripping east of Brandon to some of the most unique museums found within an hour's drive.

Fuel for the road

Komfort Kitchen, a downtown staple, is the best deal in town for a hearty plate of eggs to start your day. Stop in at Chez Angela Bakery for coffee and a box of rustic baking for the road. The display case is drool-inducing with all its breads, pastries and cookies. Tip: order some croissant sandwiches, pizza or quiche to go and bring along for a mid-day snack. Locals-in-the-know also snag loaves of the signature Wheat City Sourdough before it sells out.

The baking display at Chez Angela Bakery in Brandon
Photo Op!
Speckled lizard on a log at the Westman Reptile Gardens in Brandon.
Westman Reptile Gardens

For the reptile lover in your family, Westman Reptile Gardens is a short 20-km drive east of Brandon. Some kids will squeal in delight (or horror?) at the display of 300 reptiles including snakes, turtles, lizards, crocodiles, spiders and much more.

More military history

Continue east to Canadian Forces Base Shilo and the on-site Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) Museum. The RCA museum is a unique national gem because it is dedicated solely to the history of the 200K+ Canadian Gunners who have served in war and peace since 1855. Upon arrival, 40 gigantic artillery pieces and vehicles greet visitors in the parking lot. Inside, decades of war history is condensed into a 12,000 sq. ft. space among an imposing collection of self-propelled Howitzers, anti-aircraft guns, soldier dioramas and more. Take time to discover the smaller artifacts and special exhibits that wait quietly to be discovered.

View of some of the uniforms and a truck from the RCA Museum.

Part three

Commencing in Brandon, this second day trip heads west towards Saskatchewan to discover some gems in the region that mostly only the locals know about.

Lake life on the prairies

Oak Lake Beach, located 45 km west of Brandon, is at the heart of the RM of Sifton. This lake and recreational area is a jewel hidden in the seemingly endless farmland of southwest Manitoba. The main draw is a sandy, family-friendly beach, which is one of the best places take in a sunset over the water, but the shallow lake is also a magnet for bird watchers who are interested in the fall bird migration. Next door to the beach is Oak Island Resort, a pristine 18-hole golf course that draws visitors from all around southwestern Manitoba.

A prairie gateway

Continue your journey west along the TransCanada Highway to Virden, a town renowned as the gateway to the Canadian Prairies and the centre of Manitoba's small oil industry.

A wonderful way to learn more about the personality of Virden is on a 2-hr guided historical walking tour. The tour starts at the historic CPR Station, which is now home to the Arts Mosaic Gallery (and super cool costume closet). Hear about the famous Fort La Bosse, the stern-wheelers on the Assiniboine River, and the Aud Theatre, an ornate concert hall built 1911 renowned for its outstanding acoustics and classical style.

Cap off your visit to Virden with a stop at Gopher Creek Coffee Company for a late and lunch before patronizing some of the great independent shops and boutiques found in some of the historic building downtown such as Garb and Guise, Virden Footwear and ShariLyn Fashions.

Detour!
A small swinging cable bridge over a creek
Eternal Springs

Eternal Springs, a hidden oasis located 20 kms east of Virden, has walking trails that lead to a 66-ft swinging bridge over two small stocked trout ponds. It's an ideal spot for a secluded nature walk in fall - that is, if you can find it.

Where to stay

Hotels: CanadInns Destination Centre, Lakeview Inn & Suites, Victoria Inn (Brandon), Comfort Inn & Suites (Virden)
Unique stays:
Nature's Getaway (Brandon), Prairie Sky Cabins (Virden)

A yellow, twisty waterslide and pool area against the backdrop of a mural with tropical plants and exotic animals