Story by Shel Zolkewich
WASAGAMING, MANITOBA — You need to start your day early. Very early if you’re interested in getting a glimpse at the wildlife that call Riding Mountain National Park home.
We’re on the road to Lake Audy. “Sometimes you come over a hill and there’s a moose standing on the road,” I say to the carload. Thirty seconds later, we come over a hill and there’s a moose standing on the road. Two moose actually, a cow and a calf, and we share a round of goosebumps when we catch sight of the great Canadian beast, up close, as the sun is coming over the spruce trees on this summer morning.
We’re all aflutter because we’ve seen wildlife. Five minutes down the road, a bull moose steps out of the bush. We stay a few strides behind him as he trots alongside us — for half a kilometre, giving us a good look at his blacker-than-black hide and displaying his goofy run. Within a hour we see six moose, seven elk, one fox, 50 bison (because there’s a resident herd in an enclosure at the park) and two whitetail bucks in velvet. This is all before breakfast.
It’s a toss-up. The iconic Whitehouse Bakery has irresistible cinnamon buns. Deciding which flavour of cinnamon bun is your favourite — maple, cream cheese or regular — often requires multiple taste tests.
The new kid on the block — Sparrow’s Bakery — also has irresistible cinnamon buns, these made with organic grains. Either way, you can’t lose.
The Day Ahead
You could get ambitious and head for the Clear Lake Golf Course. The first nine holes of this 1930’s beauty were designed by renowned architect Stanley Thompson, who gets high marks for his work on Alberta courses in Banff and Jasper. Designers of the back nine followed Thompson’s lead to build a course that is, well, no walk in the park.
Or you could be less than ambitious and stroll the spruce-shaded main drag of the park’s only town, named Wasagaming, but always called Clear Lake, popping into boutiques to pick up a souvenir or two. Wasagaming Community Arts houses a mix of local and Manitoba artists. It’s where you can invest in a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry or a ceramic sculptured fish. At The Park Bench, weary shoppers can rest on the benches outside while diehards ooh and aah over the upscale collection of housewares and gifts.
Pick up a geocaching kit, complete with an easy-to-use GPS unit at the Nature Shop in town. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself surrounded by wildflowers in a meadow or tiptoeing through a spongy moss trail leading to a natural spring.
Late afternoon is the perfect time to head south, just outside the park gate, and visit Poor Michael’s Bookstore. The coffee is worth the trip. The selection of local art and global gifts will most surely lighten your wallet. And you may get lost for the rest of the day in the hand-picked collection of used books.
Make a Reservation
Without question, T.R. McKoy’s is the busiest restaurant in town, and for good reason. This Italian-inspired eatery will warm your soul with the low lights, glowing log interior and outstanding cuisine. Start with bruschetta or a plate of boneless ribs ($10) and follow it up with one of their signature pastas: penne with sea scallops, shrimp and mushroom ($19). For heartier appetites, the rolled veal stuffed with sundried tomatoes, spinach, ricotta, goat cheese and pine nuts ($27) will not be a disappointment.
Lay Your Head Down
You have at least a dozen choices when it comes to a bed at Clear Lake. Dotted around the townsite are clutches of cottages ($120 and up per night), some brand new and fireplace-equipped, others “rustic,” meaning they aren’t going to win any home décor awards. Several properties feature a heated pool, a nice alternative to the always-refreshing waters of Clear Lake beach.
Vacay.ca contributor Shel Zolkewich is on a road trip through Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Read her previous entry about the Yellowhead Highway and watch for more of her stories in coming days.