Whether you come by canoe or car, this small town packs big surprises.
Once the place where fur trading voyageurs carried canoes from the Assiniboine River to Lake Manitoba, Portage has long welcomed explorers. Now a railway town, this is one of few spots where Canada’s two national lines come together—visit the restored CPR station and rail cars at the Fort La Reine Museum. Once you step back from the tracks, this place will wrap you up in greenery. Sitting in an urban forest with some of the biggest cottonwoods in the country, Portage’s Island Park is the “island on the prairie.” Actually a peninsula on an oxbow lake, here you can walk several kilometres of paths, play 18 holes of golf, swim, and otherwise enjoy the weather in one of Canada’s sunniest cities. Then head to the parks, just outside of town.
The park’s Carberry Sand Hills—also known as the Spirit Sands—are an unusual system of stable sand dunes, rising as high as 30 metres and home to cacti and hognose snakes. Walk through the dunes to the Devil’s Punch Bowl, a cool blue-green pond, then stay the night at the Kiche Manitou Campground.
A big beach just north of town, this small park is set on the shores of Lake Manitoba. Stroll the boardwalk to the viewing tower to spot all sorts of migratory and other birds, including pelicans, warblers, catbirds, and the endangered piping plover. The beach is perfect for a long afternoon in the sun, with sandbars and shallow inlets just offshore.
While you won’t find any snow-capped peaks here on the prairie, this is the highest point between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Home to the Manitoba Escarpment, the “doorstep to the west,” hike to McCreary Lookout for sweeping views over the patchwork of fields below. The 3,000-square-kilometre park is home to black bears, elk, wolves, and even herds of free-roaming bison. Enjoy the wild, then head to the park town of Wasagaming on the blue waters of Clear Lake for a swim, a visit to the log cabin visitor centre, and a bite to eat.
Temperature swings are dramatic in this part of the land-locked west. Summer is hot and sometimes humid, and Portage has more sunny days than any other place in Canada. Winter is windy, snowy and cold (the average daytime temperature in January is 14°F (-10°C), so you’ll have to bundle up to skate on the pond or ski the trails at Island Park. Swimming is best in July and August, and while temperatures can drop quickly into September, most mosquitos are gone by then.