Manitoba road trips: Wild west wanderings

Posted April 30, 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 summer, 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

Gardens and iron fence at Daly House Museum Gardens

Gardens at Daly House 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. Staff offer guided interpretive tours, and be sure to save time to stroll the beautiful gardens. 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 come for ice cream and a stroll or to 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.

Crow's General Store in Brandon has many antiques and collectibles on display

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 summer 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. Festival Park, with its covered outdoor stage and amphitheatre-style seating, is a gathering place for live music events.

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 picnic. 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 through the sand hills 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.
A highway sign that indicates a Seaton Provincial Park rest and picnic area along the Trans Canada Highway

Picnic spot

Continue east on your road trip along the Trans-Canada Highway. Just past the Carberry turn off is quaint Seaton Provincial Park and Rest Area - an ideal stop for a lunchtime picnic among the trees and sandy soil of the unique sand hills landscape. Seton Provincial Park is dedicated to Ernest Thompson Seton, a naturalist who documented the plants and wildlife of the Canadian Prairies in writing and art during the late 1800s, and travelled the continent speaking about it.

Back to the roots

Spend the later half of the afternoon learning about Manitoba's pioneer past at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum just outside the town of Austin. A must-see at this Manitoba Star Attraction is The Homesteaders' Village, which represents prairie village life in the late 19th century with an 1883 schoolhouse, a post office that once served all of northwestern Manitoba, an elegant clapboard mansion, a general store, and more. If you're visiting in July, the museum's signature event, the Manitoba Threshermen's Reunion and Stampede, features its collection of vintage farm machinery in action, along with children’s activities, a pioneer fashion show, and music.

Two mules pulling a small carriage at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum Threshermens Reunion in Austin, Manitoba
An old log cabin at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum in Austin
Vintage village at Manitoba Agriculture Museum in Austin

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, located 45 km west of Brandon, is at the heart of the RM of Sifton. This town-lake-recreational area is a jewel hidden in the seemingly endless farmland of southwest Manitoba. A short drive from the town of Oak Lake, via Hwy 254, is Oak Lake Provincial Park. The main draw is a sandy, family-friendly beach equipped with two play structures, volley and basketball courts, and picnic shelters. A marina allows you to put a boat into the water for a day of fishing (rumored to be exceptional) or watersports. Many locals own cottage properties around the north shore of Oak Lake known as Cherry Point Park.

Next door to the beach is Oak Island Resort, an all-inclusive getaway that touts a pristine 18-hole golf course and massive 400-site campground with seasonal and overnight options. The resort has everything needed for a weekend or week-long getaway: an on-site convenience store, Creemee ice cream shop, mini-golf course, two heated, outdoor swimming pools and vacation cabin rentals for non-camping families.

A prairie gateway

Whether you spend a few hours or a few days discovering Oak Lake, at some point 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), and provides history of the area starting before Confederation. 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. The Aud is still used today by community arts and theatre groups.

If time permits, choose a museum to visit in the area. The Virden Pioneer Home Museum harkens back to the Victorian lifestyle of a wealthy pioneering family in Virden. Just up the highway in Elkhorn, MB the Manitoba Antique Auto Museum is regarded as one of North America's best for car enthusiasts.

Cap off your visit to Virden with a stop at either Gopher Creek Coffee Company for an iced coffee or a cool treat at iconic Ice Cream Island.

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

Eternal Springs, a hidden oasis located 7 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 and picnic - 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), Oak Island Resort (Oak Lake), Prairie Sky Cabins (Virden)
Campgrounds:
Grand Valley Campground, Turtle Crossing Campground (Brandon), Aspen Grove Campground (Oak Lake)

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