Riding Mountain National Park, Canada

Photo: Dano from Winnipeg, Canada (Clear lake) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Dano from Winnipeg, Canada (Clear lake) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The days are getting shorter, the air is getting cooler, and the leaves on the trees are starting to crinkle. For most people, that means it’s time to move inside—at least until snow blankets the ground. But you see empty hiking trails, calm water, and deserted parking lots. October is the perfect time to explore a national park.

This autumn, you’re determined to travel to a national park that you’ve never visited. You can take it up a notch by making it one you’ve never even heard of before. Riding Mountain National Park is in southwestern Manitoba, one of Canada’s most overlooked provinces. It sits atop the Pembina Escarpment, a steep slope that covers parts of Manitoba, North Dakota, and South Dakota. It’s home to a snow forest, deep valleys, soaring hills, and alpine lakes—all a sharp contrast to the nearby flat prairie.

Riding Mountain National Park’s land was once a remote post where French Canadians explored and traded with the First Nations. It became a 1,100-square-mile national park—the first in Manitoba—in 1933. Paper and white birches, black and white spruces, and balsam poplars fill the park. Black bears, elk, moose, wolves, and even a herd of bison live in the park. Canadian geese and common loons also call it home. While the lakes are filled with perch, walleyes, and whitefish.

You approach Riding Mountain through Highway 10 and the small town of Wasagaming. Your first stop is Whitehouse Bakery for still-warm cinnamon buns and a steaming cup of coffee. The rustic bakery is just a few streets from Clear Lake. The largest lake in the national park attracts swimmers, sailors, and even scuba divers during the summer. You have it all to yourself right now. You sit on the sandy beach to eat your gooey cinnamon bun and watch ripples race across the water. Soon, you’ll visit the historic East Gate, walk along the Ochre River Trail, and look for the bison near Lake Audy. There’s no need to head indoors yet.

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