Riding Mountain National Park was the first stop on our southern Manitoba road trip and it’s a great introduction to this beautiful part of Canada. It’s home to so many gorgeous lakes which you can explore by kayak, bike or hiking and there are some of the best opportunities to get up close to iconic Canadian wildlife we’ve experienced!
Best of all you won’t be fighting the crowds and you’ll get to experience many of the most picturesque spots all to yourself. There are so many things to do in Riding Mountain National Park that you’ll be kept busy whether you have just a few days or a full week.
Here’s a few of our favourite Riding Mountain National Park activities.
Where is Riding Mountain National Park?
Riding Mountain National Park is in south-west Manitoba and towards the border of Saskatchewan. The best place to base yourself in is the small village of Wasagaming which is on the shore of Clear Lake – the heart of the park. Many of the best things to do in Mount Riding National Park are based here as well as the hotels and restaurants.
Getting to Wasagaming is straight forward, it’s a three hour drive west of Winnipeg. You can make a few stops on the way (such as at the Farmery Brewery in Neepawa) if you fancy breaking up the journey.
The best things to do in Riding Mountain National Park
The Hiking Trails
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Mount Riding National Park and you’ll have a good choice of picturesque trails. The majority are relatively flat, which makes for easy walking where you can focus on the scenery and not be watching your feet all the time.
The majority of trails lead through beautiful forest and tend to either pass or finish at one of the more remote lakes in the park. There’s also a good chance of seeing some wildlife and we’ve heard of plenty of people seeing moose, black bears and even the occasional wolf on the trails.
However, if you fancy a bit of exertion, there are trails with a bit of an incline such as the Bald Hill Track.
Read next: The best hikes for an epic trip to Jasper
The Bald Hill Track - the most ‘difficult’ hike in the park
Type of trail: Loop
Distance: 11.5 km
Elevation: 266 m
Lots of people told us the Bald Hill Track is the hardest hike in Riding Mountain National Park, but don’t let this put you off – we were pleasantly surprised by how achievable it is.
If you’re happy to walk for a few hours and don’t mind a couple of hills then you shouldn’t have any trouble.
Starting at the east end of the park, the trail winds through forest on a mix of dirt track and boardwalk. It’s flat to begin with and then winds gradually uphill to a gorgeous viewpoint.
From the top of the aptly named “Bald Hill” you can see out over the forest and towards the prairies to the east of the park, continuing for miles.
We can imagine this being a spectacular place to visit at sunrise or sunset, but sadly the weather gods were against us and we had to make do with the two hour gap in the middle of the day!
Nonetheless, it’s a lovely trail to do at any time of day and easily one of the best things to do in Riding Mountain National Park.
If you fancy a shorter trail in the same part of the park you can try the Burls and Bittersweet Trail which is just 2.5km and leaves from the same car park.
Getting to the Bald Hill Trail
The Bald Hill Trail starts at the car park for the Burls and Bittersweet trail at the eastern side of the national park. It’s a 45 minute drive from Wasagaming with the majority being on a dirt road (which is flat and in good condition. You can easily drive here with a 2 wheel drive).
Read next: Mind blowing things to do in Lake Louise
Ominik Marsh Trail - for peace and tranquility
There are few better places to be in the late afternoon in Riding Mountain National Park than Ominik Marsh. This huge marshland has extensive boardwalk which takes you out into the middle of the water with plenty of places to stop and take in the views.
The walk here isn’t very long (our AppleWatch measured 1km) and it’s completely flat, making it a nice place for a leisurely stroll whilst looking out for wildlife.
You may see a beaver, but Ominik Marsh is so big that you’d have to get lucky and hope you’re in the right area (sunrise and sunset give you the best chance)! Despite not seeing any wildlife ourselves we really enjoyed the marsh and the beautiful views.
Getting to Ominik Marsh
Ominik Marsh is one of the closest trails to Wasagaming and is about five minutes away from the village.
Kinosao Lake - a stroll to a picturesque lake
Type: Loop if you include the Brule Trail on the way back
Distance: 3.3 km
The hike to Kinosao is a short and easy trail through another pretty forest to the shore of Lake Kinosao. This surprisingly big lake is gorgeous and a great place to grab a seat and take in the view.
In the fall, the leaves around here were a bright yellow which made the landscape even more photogenic.
We’d heard that Parks Canada leave a canoe here in high season which you can use to paddle around the lake for free, so if you time it right you may get lucky! Just make sure to leave it where you found it.
If you don’t fancy walking back the way you came, then head to the Brule Trail for a change of scenery but without any extra distance or elevation. We took this route and recommend it as it also takes you over the boardwalk in the photo below.
If you want a longer hike the Grey Owl Track also starts from this area which is a much bigger endeavour at 8.7km one way.
Getting to the Kinosao Lake Trail
The car park for the Kinosao Lake Trail is just 12 minutes east of Wasagaming and is easy to find. It’s also the place where the Brule Trail returns to.
Bead Lake - our favourite lake hike
If you’re looking to encounter a wild moose, Bead Lake is the place to go. The trail has regular sightings and seems to be a favourite of this huge animal. Sadly we weren’t so lucky, but we could see all the signs of moose (mainly huge amounts of dung with berries in them!).
The trail is beautiful - even if you don’t see any wildlife - and it takes you around two lakes – one of which had a beaver lodge right by the trail. It’s another great place for fall colours as the trail boasted numerous shades of orange, yellow and red all the way along.
This was our favourite lakeside hike both for the chance to look for wildlife and because we never saw another soul anywhere around this area at all, so it had a real wilderness feel.
Getting to Bead Lake
Bead Lake is a 25 minute drive north of Wasagaming, but isn’t well signposted. You’ll want to set the location on a GPS device before you go so you don’t miss the turning off route 10.
Arrowhead Trail - for an easy forest walk
Across the road from the Kinosao Lake trail, the Arrowhead trail is another pleasant forest loop which you can complete in less than an hour. The hike is mostly flat (despite the signs saying this track is moderate with hills!) and takes you past a couple of pretty lakes (but not down to the shore).
There are a few places to sit and take in the forest but the excellent trail means you can enjoy it all whilst walking as the footing is easy.
Activities in Riding Mountain National Park
If you fancy more than just hiking, then there are plenty more activities in Riding Mountain National Park. There’s something for everyone from relaxing things like epic sunset spots to the more adventurous biking trails or kayaking on Clear Lake.
Take in a sunset at Clear Lake
These piers were one of our favourite spots in the whole park and must be one of the best places in Manitoba to watch the sun go down!
Looking directly to the horizon, the piers are incredibly picturesque and a small crowd gathers most nights to take in the view.
It’s not hard to see why this man proposed to his girlfriend at this exact spot! And happily it was a yes : )
Getting to the Clear Lake sunset spot
The piers for sunset are just by the Wishing Well at the eastern side of Clear Lake. It’s a 10 minute drive from the centre of Wasagaming.
Hire a bike and explore
There are numerous trails at Riding Mountain National Park which are for both hiking and biking, with a bike you can cover a lot more ground if you have the energy! There are a couple of places that hire bikes including fat bikes which have much bigger tyres to deal with all kinds of terrain.
You can choose to simply cycle round the famous Clear Lake, or take them further afield onto one of the more remote trails.
If you’re in a group, check out the Old Station for their tandems or bikes that can take up to six people!
Go for a kayak or paddle board
Clear Water Lake is a great spot for kayaking and paddle boarding. This beautiful lake is huge and has plenty of room for everyone to explore even in high season. All you need to do is walk up to the marina, hire a kayak or paddle board and you’re off! If you prefer something more sedate you can also hire motor and pedal boats.
Hiring a kayak and paddle board costs $22 CAD for the first hour and $10 per hour after.
Note that if you want to bring your own boat on to the lake it must be cleaned and expected first to protect the lake.
Take in the fall colours
Manitoba’s fall colours start pretty early (we were there in the second week of September) and Riding Mountain National Park puts on a stunning display.
The best place to take them in is on one of the hiking trails where you won’t have to go far to be walking through forests of vibrant yellow, orange and red.
The best trail for colour was Bead Lake as it had the most deep reds we had seen anywhere in Manitoba.
Watch out for the Northern Lights
You’ll need a bit of luck with this one, but Riding Mountain National Park is one of the best places in Southern Manitoba to take in the northern lights. The best time of year for sightings is generally winter, but it can happen any time - even the summer!
We didn’t get lucky on our trip, but make sure you download the app ‘My Aurora Forecast’ so you can keep an eye on your chances of witnessing one of the most spectacular events in nature.
Check out the Farmery Estate Brewery on your way to or from the park
The Farmery Estate Brewery in Neepawa is popular in Manitoba and you can visit the main brewery on your way to or from Winnipeg as it is about an hour from Riding Mountain National Park. It’s a great family run business and you can stop by for a tour or just for a tasting.
We loved it because there is a mix of traditional and unusual beer flavours - Cat loved the pink grapefruit and she’s not a beer drinker!
Tastings cost $7 for a paddle of five or the tours are $10 (including a beer flight). Non alcoholic options are also available.
Wildlife at Riding Mountain National Park
Searching for wildlife is definitely one of the best things to do in Riding Mountain National Park and it isn’t hard to find some of Canada’s iconic animals here. The national park is teeming with wildlife and we’ve put together some of the best spots to seek out the local inhabitants.
Lake Audy Bison Enclosure
Lake Audy is a great area for wildlife watching in general (we’ve heard about a lot of people seeing bears and wolves on the way), but the highlight is definitely the Bison Enclosure where you have the chance to see the herd up close. Bison were once everywhere in Manitoba, but were sadly hunted to near to extinction in the nineteenth century.
A herd of around 40 bison have been re-introduced to the area and you can drive through the enclosure for a chance to see North America’s largest land mammal. The area is fenced for their protection but as soon as you drive over the cattle grid it feels completely natural and we were delighted that the herd wandered right up to our car completely un-phased by our presence.
The best time to visit is around sunrise and sunset when they are most active. We visited at sunrise and watching the herd from the safety of our car was a magical experience.
Whilst you can drive around the enclosure, the roads don’t cover the whole area and the herd moves around so it’s worth going early on in your trip in case you need to make a second visit.
Getting to Lake Audy Bison Enclosure
The Lake Audy Bison enclosure is a 45 minute drive west from Wasagaming. The majority of the drive is along a dirt road, but it is in very good condition and you can drive a 2wd here.
Lake Audy Dam - for beavers and birds
Lake Audy Dam is a wildlife mecca and it’s a great place for bird watching especially early or late in the day. The sound of the loons in the early morning mist was incredibly atmospheric.
We saw lots of birds including kingfishers, woodpecker and loons. If you’re really lucky you might even spot a beaver or otter.
Even without the wildlife, Lake Audy Dam is an incredibly peaceful place and well worth stopping off after you’ve seen the bison.
Getting to Lake Audy Dam
Lake Audy Dam is only five minutes away from the bison enclosure and is well sign posted.
Bead Lake - for moose and black bears
Bead Lake is one of the best places to see a moose in Riding Mountain National Park with numerous people talking about their encounters online.
The bad weather must have put them off when we visited, but we couldn’t miss all the signs of moose around (scat was in dozens of places around the trail).
We did see another black bear in this area though which was fantastic, we couldn’t believe we saw more bears in Riding Mountain than we did in Jasper which is supposed to be a top bear watching area!
Ominik Marsh - for black bear & beaver
Having a stroll around Ominik Marsh is one of the best things to do in Riding Mountain National Park, especially if you get lucky with wildlife as well.
We got precariously close to a black bear when we arrived and you can also see beavers on the lake here too. Keep your eyes open and you may spot something whilst walking along the boardwalks.
Riding Mountain National Park entrance fee
To visit Riding Mountain National Park and you will need a parks pass. Entry to Riding Mountain National Park costs $9.80 CAD per person per day ($7 USD).
If you plan on visiting multiple National Parks in Canada, you could look at the annual pass. It costs $136.40 CAD ($102 USD) for a whole car and will get you entry to 80 parks in Canada.
Where to stay in Riding Mountain National Park (Wasagaming)
We stayed at the Lakehouse Hotel which was the perfect place to retreat to after a day in the park: comfortable, cosy and with a great shower! It’s right in the heart of Wasagaming and a couple of minutes walk to Clear Lake. As well as the rooms, we loved the coffee and freshly baked muffins they served every morning! There’s also a hot tub to warm up in after a day on the lake.
Our trip to Riding Mountain National Park was in partnership with Travel Manitoba and Destination Canada. All opinions are - as always - our own.
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Are you planning a trip to Manitoba? Which activities in Riding Mountain National Park would make your list? Let us know in the comments below!