Did you know?
The Great Trail in Manitoba measures over 1,600 kilometres, on land and water.
The name ‘Manitoba’ traces its origins back to the legends of the Cree and Assiniboin First Nations. The unique sound from the waves washing near Lake Manitoba Narrows was said to be the ‘Manitou’, or Great Spirit.
At the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, the Forks in Winnipeg has been a meeting place and trading centre for Indigenous communities and settlers for at least 6,000 years. Today, locals and visitors continue to gather here to enjoy the various restaurants, attractions and cultural experiences. While there, visit The Great Trail pavilion!
Despite its reputation for intensely cold winters, Winnipeg experiences one of the highest amounts of sunshine in Canada!
Manitoba was once home to Lake Agassiz – the largest glacial lake in North America. Only remnants of the lake exist today, but the former lake basin and sediments have created vast swathes of fertile land in the province.
Three Days, Three Adventures: A Manitoba Itinerary
The Winnipeg region offers an incredible diversity of trails, both within the city limits and short drives away (read: approximately an hour). This itinerary is all about options. To cover more ground, and therefore see a greater array of trail sections, you might choose to drive to different attractions along The Great Trail. Alternatively, you could select the most appealing highlights from the itinerary and devote an entire day to discovering them. No matter how you decide to tackle the trail, we recommend downloading The Great Trail mobile app. It will help situate you on the trail, while also enabling you to track your distance and progress. Looking for transport options? Enterprise Rent-A-Car is a sponsor of The Great Trail, so if you need a vehicle to visit the Pinawa Trail or the Crow Wing Trail, consider renting from them.
Day 1: Winnipeg
The name “Winnipeg” comes from the Cree word for “muddy waters.” The region was a trading centre for Indigenous peoples long before the arrival of Europeans. These days, Winnipeg has a significant Indigenous population, with both the highest percentage of Indigenous peoples (12.5%) for any major Canadian city. The city also has the greatest percentage of Filipino residents (8.7%) of any major Canadian city. While the majority of citizens speak English or French (or both), you’ll also hear Tagalog, German, Punjabi and Ukrainian.
This itinerary presents a counter-clockwise loop around the francophone neighborhood of St-Boniface. The route can be walked or cycled, and ultimately made in whichever direction you’d like.
An ideal starting point to explore the city, The Forks is a confluence of two bodies of water: the Red and Assiniboine rivers. For more than 6,000 years, this intersection has been the meeting place of Indigenous communities. Eventually, it also became a headquarters for trappers and traders from Europe. Now it’s the cultural and culinary hub of Winnipeg.
Start your walk at The Great Trail pavilion (adjacent to the Variety Heritage Adventure Park), where you’ll get a sense of the hundreds of people who have donated time and money to help create sections of the trail in Manitoba.
Arguably the most popular attraction in all of Winnipeg, The Forks Market is a historic shopping and dining complex that offers plenty of delicious treats to fuel your walk or cycle.
From The Forks, head southward over the Assiniboine River using the pedestrian footbridge, and into South Point Park. Next, you’ll cross the Red River and into the historic neighborhood of St-Boniface.
The heart of Manitoba’s French community, St-Boniface is known for picturesque bistros with classic French cuisine and spirited live music. In St-Boniface, The Great Trail follows the Red River, and then turns along Avenue de la Cathédrale.
Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum
History buffs take note: this National Historic Site is a gorgeous two-storey structure showing influences of Hudson’s Bay Company construction techniques. It is the oldest remaining structure in the city of Winnipeg and the largest oak log building in North America. The building serves as the St-Boniface Museum, which features artifacts from French-speaking and Métis societies. Take in the sights before indulging in a hot turkey sandwich, Caesar salad or poutine at Seine River Cafe.
Site commémoratif de Louis Riel
The leader of the Métis during the Red River Rebellion of 1869, Louis Riel played a critical role in the founding of the province of Manitoba. He was recognized for his efforts to protect the rights of the land rights of Métis peoples and the language rights of French-speaking citizens. Those who are interested will want to stop at the Louis Riel tombstone (190 ave de la Cathédrale) to pay homage.
With beautiful riverside scenery, this green space is a local hotspot for trail cycling, dog walking and leisurely weekend picnics. Fort Gibraltar – a fur-trade era fortress built in 1809 – is now a cultural interpretive centre with a mandate to promote joie de vivre and extend the reach of French language.
Named after Louis Riel, this cable-stayed “people path” bridge is a perfect location for photographers and architecture aficionados. The inclined pylon rises 57 metres above the Red River, making it one of Winnipeg’s most recognizable landmarks. Incidentally, it’s the only bridge in North America with a restaurant.
Musée canadien des droits de la personne
What are human rights? This is the first question that visitors are confronted with upon entering the visually-striking building. The Human Rights Museum offers a journey from darkness to light. Visitors gradually move higher through the building via a series of inclined ramps that reveal insight into our collective humanity. Give yourself at least to hours to explore.
Day 2: Pinawa Trail
Located approximately 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, the little hamlet of Pinawa is Manitoba’s cottage country. The Pinawa Trail is a well-maintained path that runs through grasslands, granite shield and boreal forest. Trail users have the opportunity to see wildlife, such as deer and rare birds, as well as views of rivers and dams. From Winnipeg, the drive to Pinawa takes approximately an hour, depending on weather conditions.
At one point it was a technological triumph, but these days Manitoba’s first hydro-electric station has the visual characteristics of ancient Roman ruins. The Pinawa Dam was developed in pre-war years in response to the demand for residential and commercial power and was crucial to the rapid growth of Winnipeg. The station began delivering power in 1906 and then ceased generating power in 1951. The townsite was abandoned, and the dam structure was used for artillery practice. What exists now is a blend of park space and crumbling archeology.
The dam is the crown jewel of the Pinawa Trail, and you’ll want to spend a couple of hours exploring the site. History buffs will also appreciate the 13 interpretive signs that describe the dam’s history, the process of generating electricity from moving water and the people who called Pinawa home. Parking and picnic tables are available on-site.
The 54-metre Pinawa suspension bridge was constructed as a labour of love by local volunteers and was formally opened in 1999. The bridge is part of a loop for interpretive walks, while offering opportunities for casual fishing, as well as cross-country skiing in the winter months. Yes, the suspension bridge is bouncy. But that’s part of the fun.
Village de Pinawa
The town of Pinawa is small but handsome. For lunch, stop at the Pinawa Golf and Country Club. The fully licensed, four-season restaurant features a pretty patio and offers a nostalgic menu, with items such as beef dip and homemade chicken soup.
If you’d like to stay the night in the region, Wilderness Edge is a huge retreat centre with a hot tub and a fire pit (among other amenities). They also offer lazy river tubing adventures on the Pinawa River, which is quickly becoming one of Manitoba’s coolest summer activities.
Day 3: Crow Wing Trail
At 191 kilometres long, the Crow Wing Trail is the longest section of The Great Trail in Manitoba. The trail connects Winnipeg to Emerson (at the Canada-U.S. Border), closely following the Red River Ox-Cart Trail used in the mid-1800’s to transport goods and people between Winnipeg and St. Paul (Minnesota).
This region was once the bottom of the ancient glacial lake Agassiz that formed after the last ice age. As it drained north, the lake left silt and sediment that became the base of the fertile land now famous for wildflowers and tall grasses. Today, the region is highly productive agricultural land with remnants of tall grass species found along the Trail.
To access the Crow Wing Trail, drive south out of Winnipeg. The Great Trail mobile app is handy to help locate the trail. Also consider ordering the official Historical Map, which are bilingual and chock full of notable tidbits. These can be ordered through the Crow Wing Trail website.
Monument du sentier Crow Wing
On the grounds of the St-Pierre-Jolys Museum, this monument commemorates the Crow Wing Trail, which connected the Red River Settlement (now Winnipeg) to St. Paul, Minnesota. Referred to locally as “Chemin St-Paul”, the Crow Wing Trail is a storied route. Golf lovers should visit Maplewood Golf Club for its bucolic links and relaxed atmosphere.
In 1958, a dam was constructed over the Rat River to create a reservoir and divert water to local farms. The 4.2-kilometre St. Malo loop is an ideal way to discover the lake and the local landscape. The route starts at St. Malo Provincial Park located on the eastern side of town and on the northern shore of St. Malo Lake. The trail passes by the St. Malo Grotto—a reproduction of the Grotto in Lourdes, France. After, use the sandy beach to jump in the lake, which is one of southern Manitoba’s recreational gems, largely due to the absence of powerboats.
Pont suspendu de Senkiw
Originally built in 1946 as a crossing for children attending Senkiw School, the bridge was rebuilt in 2004 by local volunteers who sold bridge planks to raise funds. Roseau River has a steep gradient as it winds its way from Northern Minnesota, through sandy forests of south eastern Manitoba towards the prairie near the Red River. The undisturbed riparian zone offers many varieties of wildflowers. A 2.4-kilometre trail loop makes an ideal way to explore the area.