Whiteshell Provincial Park: Manitoba’s Accessible Wilderness Playground

You’ll find Whiteshell Provincial Park roughly 120 kilometres east of Winnipeg, and Robin and Arlene Karpan are here today to help you figure out exactly what you’re going to do in this famed provincial park to make the absolute most of your visit.

Whiteshell Provincial Park
The Whiteshell Provincial Park entrance sign. Photo Credit: Robin and Arlene Karpan

Manitoba excels when it comes to nature and wilderness destinations, with one of the most easily accessible and popular being Whiteshell Provincial Park.

Beautifully set amid forested Precambrian Shield, it’s a land of rushing rivers, waterfalls, some 200 lakes, and rugged rocky outcroppings. The best part is that your stay can be as relaxing or as active as you like with everything from lounging on sandy beaches, to hiking, horseback riding, fishing, canoeing – even scuba diving. A couple of experiences are best described as out of this world.  

Named for the sacred white cowrie shell used by Anishinaabe people, Whiteshell Provincial Park spans over 2,700 square kilometres of protected wilderness about 150 km east of Winnipeg and next to the border with Ontario.

We visited the park along a drive of around 125 kilometres on Highways 44 and 307 between Falcon Lake on the Trans Canada Highway and Seven Sisters Falls to the northwest. Along the way are a series of resort communities, lodges, campgrounds, picnic sites, viewpoints, and trailheads for several fabulous hikes.

A Link to the Ancient Past at Bannock Point Petroforms

The park’s iconic symbol is the stone effigy portrayed on the welcome sign at the park entrance.

We can find the real thing and a lot more by heading to the famous Bannock Point Petroforms. A petroform is the placement of stones to create outlines of shapes or figures. At this site, we find patterns resembling a snake, turtle, people, and various abstract forms. 

We follow the short path through the forest to the main concentration of petroforms spread across an expansive clearing of smooth rocky outcropping. A huge stone circle dominates the site, surrounded by a series of smaller figures.

As we walk farther into the forest to other clearings we come across more effigies. It’s amazing how extensive and spread out the site is. Archaeologists surmise that some petroforms were placed in remote areas so that ceremonies could be conducted in private.   

The petroforms at Whiteshell Provincial Park. Photo Credit: Robin and Arlene Karpan

The figures are thought to date back centuries. Since the stones were placed on bare rock surfaces and were not covered with soil over time as in many archaeological sites, it isn’t possible to accurately determine their ages. According to the park, there are no fixed interpretations of the figures, but rather many levels of understanding. 

The site is sacred to the Anishinaabe and other First Nations who consider this a teaching and healing place to acquire spiritual guidance and knowledge. The original name of the site is translated as “Where the Spirit Sits”.

People often leave offerings such as tobacco or pieces of cloth. To delve deeper into this fascinating link to the past, visitors can take a guided tour with a park interpreter or an Anishinaabe Knowledge Keeper. 

Hiking and Getting in Touch with Nature 

The wide array of hiking trails is among the park’s top attractions, with everything from short nature walks to day hikes that provide more of a workout, and multi-day backpacking excursions such as the 63-km Mantario Trail through remote wilderness.

Trails Galore

Some easy day walks we enjoyed included the pleasant 2-km Falcon Creek Trail which is suitable for families, and the Top of the World hike, a 4-km easy loop walk through jackpine forest and across granite bedrock, ending at a clifftop lookout with sweeping views at one of the highest spots in the park. At White Lake, a short 15-minute trail brought us to Rainbow Falls, then roaring in full flood. Undeterred by the fast current, American White Pelicans were swimming and feeding on the opposite side.

A trail starting near the Nutimik Lake Campground crosses the impressive Whiteshell River Suspension Bridge, built in 2010 as part of the Border to Beaches portion of the Trans Canada Trail. After crossing the 86-metre bridge we can head to Sturgeon Falls or farther along the Trans Canada Trail.  

The McGillivray Falls hike took us past a small but fast-flowing waterfall in the forest, then across pink rocks and meadows surrounding McGillivray Lake. This is known as a great walk for birding and is part of Manitoba’s Pine to Prairie Birding Trail

Wildlife, Community & Canoeing

Another area that combines lakeside scenery with wildlife is the nature trail starting at the Alfred Hole Goose Sanctuary near Rennie.

Spring is the time to see nesting geese and young goslings, while the ponds bustle with excitement in the fall with migrating geese and other waterfowl. An interpretive centre has exhibits, and summer programs are offered. The day we visited, Rennie Falls which drains the Goose Pond was in flood, producing an impressive set of rapids. 

Rennie Falls at Whiteshell Provincial Park
Rennie Falls. Photo Credit: Robin and Arlene Karpan

Nearby Rennie is a small community with a big sense of humour. In a parody of town signs that boast a community’s claim to fame, Rennie’s sign says “Welcome to Rennie. Home of Something…Or Somebody Famous…Someday…Maybe…”

The extensive network of lakes and rivers makes this an ideal canoe-tripping country. One of the more unusual canoe excursions starts at Caddy Lake and goes through two tunnels. These were blasted through the granite to restore the natural flow of the Whiteshell River after building the railway. The trip depends on water levels, which were unfortunately too high during our visit.

This is at the top of our must-do list for our next trip to the park.  

Extraterrestrials and Unsolved Mysteries 

UFO landing spot, Rennie, Manitoba
Devin from Falcon Beach Ranch showing the UFO landing spot. Photo Credit: Robin and Arlene Karpan

West Hawk Lake is in a class by itself. Around 100 million years ago a meteor slammed into Earth, forming a huge crater that now holds the lake. This is the deepest lake in Manitoba at about 115 metres and 3.6 kilometres across. Because of its depth and unusually clear water, it is a popular spot for scuba diving.

The resort community has capitalized on its unique background by holding an annual Meteor Fest in July with live music, a Meteor Market, Meteor chocolate bars, a parade, and even an ice cream eating contest.

A Memorable Stay at Falcon Beach Ranch

We found a more recent extraterrestrial encounter at Falcon Beach Ranch. We spent a few days in one of their spacious, well-equipped cabins and used it as a base to explore the park.

The ranch, owned by Devin and Kendra Imrie, specializes in trail rides, everything from short jaunts near the ranch for young kids to more extensive trips in the wilderness, and occasional overnight excursions. In winter they bring out their heavy Belgian horses for sleigh rides. One option so intriguing that we couldn’t resist was the UFO Trail Ride to the site of one of Canada’s most famous unsolved mysteries. 

Horesback riding at Falcon Beach Resort
Is there any better way to investigate conspiracy theories than via horseback? Photo Credit: Robin and Arlene Karpan

Guided by Devin, we rode about 40 minutes through the forest in the park to where a mysterious saucer-shaped craft landed back in the 1960s. Devin recounted how amateur geologist Stefan Michalak approached the craft which suddenly took off, leaving him with burned clothing and strange grate-shaped burn marks on his chest. He suffered after-effects from the incident for years. 

Despite being exhaustively investigated by police, military, and international researchers, the bizarre episode was officially classified as “unexplained”, and is considered among the most credible UFO sightings anywhere.

It was featured on TV shows such as “Unsolved Mysteries” and the Canadian Mint even produced a commemorative coin with a flying saucer on it. 

Whiteshell Provincial Park Awaits

As you can see, there are many different ways that you can approach and appreciate Whiteshell Provincial Park. We took scenic drives, embarked on memorable hikes, and dove into a conspiracy theory or two, and the result was a memorable Canadian adventure.

If you’re looking for more information, you can check out Whiteshell’s site, which has an extensive listing of activities, accommodation, their trails, and other services throughout the park.

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