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Road trip options abound in Manitoba

From tranquil wilderness settings such as Reed Lake (pictured) to prairie spectacles such as the spring and fall waterfowl migrations and the Narcisse Snake Dens, Manitoba offers a wealth of road-trip options for the outdoors enthusiast. Contributed photo / Travel Manitoba1 / 5
The Narcisse Snake Dens in Manitoba's Interlake Region offer up a spring spectacle as thousands of red-sided garter snakes emerge from the limestone caves that shelter them from the harsh winters to mate. Thousands of people from around the world flock to the site every spring. Joshua Komer / Forum News Service2 / 5
Crowduck Lake in Manitoba's Whiteshell Provincial Park offers easily accessible walleye fishing in a wilderness setting with boat rentals through Crowduck Lake Camp. Submitted photo / Brad Durick3 / 5
The Manitoba side of the Red River near Lockport and Selkirk has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best channel catfish destinations on the planet, but historic sites such as Lower Fort Garry and popular tourist spots such as The Forks in Winnipeg provide additional options for enjoying the river. Brad Dokken / Forum News Service 4 / 5
A small sample of the water at Oak Hammock Marsh shows that every inch of the place is stirring with life. Anyone interested can look at the different bugs and organisms with this interactive station in the Interpretive Center. Joshua Komer / Forum News Service file photo5 / 5

GRAND FORKS — Spring continues to be little more than a promise on the seasonal horizon, but outdoors lovers shouldn't let the gloomy weather put a chill on their plans for summer.

What better way to weather the storm, after all, than planning a trip? When it comes to the great outdoors, planning and anticipation is half the fun.

Planning a trip doesn't have to mean traveling for hours. Just across the border in Manitoba, a plethora of opportunities can be found to get outside and experience nature in a variety of forms. Sure, you'll need a passport, but that's not an insurmountable obstacle, and the exchange rate on the Canadian dollar continues to be favorable for U.S. travelers.

With that in mind, here are some outdoorsy Manitoba road trip options within a few hours' drive of the Red River Valley.

Reed Lake

Carl Wall, a retired fisheries manager for Manitoba Natural Resources, once called Reed Lake a "rare gem" where anglers can catch trophy northern pike, walleyes and lake trout on the same body of water.

Located in northern Manitoba about 7 hours northwest of Winnipeg off provincial Highway 39, Reed has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best drive-to fishing destinations in the province. The big lake spans about 14 miles from east to west and 12 miles from north to south.

Some friends and I fished Reed Lake through the ice in late March and early April 2007, a year when deep snow resulted in massive amounts of slush atop the ice. That limited our ability to get around, even by snowmobile, but we still encountered the best northern pike fishing any of us ever had experienced. Three of us who deviated from the original plan and targeted northern pike instead of lake trout all caught and released pike large enough to qualify for Manitoba's Master Angler program.

The pike fishing, in a word, was spectacular, and going back to Reed Lake again someday ranks high on all of our lists.

We stayed at Peterson's Reed Lake Lodge, a rustic camp with a long history on the big lake. The lodge doesn't have a website, but more information is available by calling (204) 620-1546. For anglers seeking more deluxe accommodations, Grass River Lodge (grassriverlodge.com) is open from May through September. In addition, Reed Lake Campground, also off Highway 39, is open from Canada's May long weekend to mid-September.

Oak Hammock Marsh

I had a chance to visit this prairie jewel about 30 minutes north of Winnipeg on a cold, blustery day last May when being outside was absolutely miserable.

The hours a co-worker and I spent at Oak Hammock Marsh were absolutely enjoyable.

Even on a blustery spring day, the marsh was teeming with waterfowl and shorebirds of all kinds. And the Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Center offers an assortment of well done exhibits and interactive learning displays pertaining to the natural world, the marsh and the critters that call it home.

Completed in 1993, the building made from native limestone houses the Canadian headquarters of Ducks Unlimited on one side and the Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Center on the other. Native grasses that grow on each level of the roof had just been burned a few days earlier and soon would turn a lush green.

Oak Hammock Marsh offers interpretive programs throughout the year. Events on tap in April include an Astronomy Night at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 19, and a guided Hike the Dike event on Sunday, April 29.

Oak Hammock Marsh's "Bird in Hand" program, which offers visitors the opportunity to experience songbird banding and releasing the birds, is a Canadian Signature Experience, and Oak Hammock Marsh is a Provincial Star Attraction, making it a Manitoba showcase destination.

Info: oakhammockmarsh.ca or (204) 467-3300.

Narcisse Snake Dens

I've never been a big fan of snakes, but the Narcisse Snake Dens, about an hour's drive up the road from Oak Hammock Marsh in Manitoba's Interlake Region, is a springtime spectacle the likes of which has to be seen to be believed.

I saw it for myself last spring and definitely plan to go back.

Every spring, red-sided garter snakes by the thousands slither out of cracks and crevasses deep within the limestone of this wildlife management area and congregate in pits to breed before slithering across the countryside up to 15 miles away for the summer.

They return to the dens in the fall to hibernate, but the show typically isn't as spectacular as the springtime displays.

Located about 3½ hours north of Grand Forks, the Narcisse Snake Dens attract thousands of tourists every spring from around the world to witness the slithery spectacle. Last year during Mother's Day weekend, 1,200 to 1,500 people visited the dens each day, said Pauline Bloom, a wildlife manager for Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, who hosted us on our tour of the dens.

There's no charge to visit the dens, but timing is everything. Snakes, being cold-blooded critters, are most active on warmer days, and afternoons typically offer better action than mornings. The show usually gets rolling in late April, but every year is different. This spring, which lags behind last year, could delay the show.

There are four dens on the site connected by a limestone trail that covers about two miles. Snake activity typically peaks in mid-May but again, it all depends on the weather. Interpreters are onsite from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends and select weekdays throughout the spring viewing season.

If you combine a trip to Narcisse with a visit to Oak Hammock Marsh, staff from the marsh are offering a guided tour of the Narcisse Snake Dens from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, May 6. More information on the tour is available on the Oak Hammock Marsh website.

The best way to keep tabs on snake activity is through the Nature North website, which offers regular updates at www.naturenorth.com/spring/creature/garter/Narcisse_Snake_Dens.html.

Crowduck Lake

Anglers looking for a fly-in type of fishing experience without the expense of a floatplane trip could do a lot worse than Crowduck Lake.

Situated in Manitoba's Whiteshell Provincial Park about 2½ hours northeast of Winnipeg, Crowduck Lake is known for its walleye fishing. Anglers fishing Crowduck couldn't keep any walleyes until 2016, when the province implemented a regulation allowing anglers to keep two walleyes that must be under 17¾ inches.

Crowduck Lake Camp is the only resort on the lake, which is lined by miles of tree-studded wilderness shoreline. Trying to get a cabin is nearly impossible, as resort cabins often are booked months or even years ahead of time, but owner Bill Kolansky offers a fleet of rental boats and shuttle service from the pickup point at Big Whiteshell Lake and across the land portage into Crowduck Lake.

The operation runs like a well-oiled machine, and if you want to be picked up at 10 a.m., Kolansky or someone else from the camp will be at the Big Whiteshell Dock waiting for you at 10 a.m.

Camp staff provide maps to proven fishing spots and guides aren't necessary.

Boat rentals cost $295 Canadian per day, which includes the shuttle from Big Whiteshell into camp and back, along with boat, motor and fuel for up to three people.

Info: crowducklakecamp.ca, (204) 222-7307 or crowducklake@mts.net.

Red River

Sure, the Red River flows through Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, but the Canadian side of the river still is worth a visit.

The catfish grow bigger here, for one thing, especially on the downstream side of the St. Andrews Lock and Dam in Lockport, Man. And big "greenback" walleyes migrate into the river every fall, drawing anglers by the boatload.

And there's plenty to do along this river besides fishing.

Several years ago — more than a decade now — a friend and I took a break from catfishing in Lockport and boated through the locks upstream to Winnipeg on a beautiful Friday afternoon in July. We fished our way into the city, ending up at The Forks for lunch and a beverage before fishing our way back to Lockport. There was ample dock space right at The Forks, allowing us to keep tabs on the boat while sitting on the patio of a riverfront bar and restaurant.

Another time, on a stiflingly hot July day when being in a boat was miserable, we took a break from fishing to visit Lower Fort Garry, a Parks Canada historic site situated along the banks of the Red River just a few minutes up provincial Highway 9 between Lockport and Selkirk, Man.

Actors dressed in period costumes took as back through time to the days of York boats and fur traders. The Visitor Center was air-conditioned, and the old limestone buildings were pleasantly cool, even on such a hot day.

More information about Lower Fort Garry, including hours of operation and admission price, is available on the Parks Canada website at pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/mb/fortgarry.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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