Having travelled extensively in every province in Canada but Newfoundland (I promise to get there soon!), I can say that Northern Manitoba is one of my favourite places to be, and it’s not just because I grew up there. This location might not be front-of-mind for an adventurous family summer vacation, but I believe it should be!
In Northern Manitoba, you can experience the amazing beauty and fun of true wilderness, lakes, beaches, and the Boreal forest without crowds or inflated prices while at the same time being close to a city (Thompson) where restaurants, attractions, and services are plenty. Loons, black bears, eagles, lynx, and wolves live around here so look for them!
Northern Manitoba, the Thompson area in particular, may take a bit more effort to get to but the memorable experience that awaits your family makes it a trip well worth taking. I bring my family here from London, ON.
This is what makes the Thompson area so special:
Paint Lake Provincial Park is a family playground heaven! Paint Lake has: a marina with a boat launch, a large beach area that you can park close to, playground, picnic area, hiking trails, fishing, and a beautiful campground. Paint Lake also has cottages along its waterfront, where several people who work in Thompson live. If you are interested in renting a cottage, boat, or other watercraft like canoes, contact the Paint Lake Lodge.
The fishing in Northern Manitoba is outstanding, particularly in the early part of the summer, so come prepared to fish! If you need any fishing gear, get what you need at the Thompson Canadian Tire (you can get a fishing licence here, too). The Paint Lake Lodge also has a fair selection of supplies. Don’t forget to buy minnows!
The fish caught here are walleye/ pickerel, pike (locals call them “jack fish”), and perch, and sauger. Our family just keeps the pickerel to eat but others say pike is very tasty too, but you’ll need to know how to fillet out all the bones.
Pisew Falls is the second highest waterfall in Manitoba, and one of the prettiest I have ever seen. It is located 74 km South of Thompson on highway 6, along a short side-road off the highway. The picture at the top of this post was taken there.
The area in and around Pisew Falls is purely stunning. There is a boardwalk leading down to the falls themselves, and a path from the other end of the parking lot to the Rotary Suspension Bridge that spans the lower part of the falls. Keep your eyes open for eagles here!
Pisew Falls is a good half-day adventure for families. I’d suggest taking a snack or picnic lunch and having that in the large grassed area in the middle of the driving loop at the Falls trailheads. The path to Pisew Falls is well marked on the South side of the loop, and the Suspension bridge path is not as well marked, located on the North side of the driving loop.
If you are interested in a challenging hike, consider the 22km loop to Kwasitchewan Falls, which is the highest falls in Manitoba. The trailhead for this trek is at the Suspension bridge.
This is a tough, backcountry hike so make sure you are in great shape and have the proper gear to do it. My sister and I did this hike several years ago in a single day (we started early in the morning), and really enjoyed it. Please read through the hike recommendations and view a map of the trail in this link to Manitoba Parks website.
The Setting Lake, Sasagiu Rapids Lodge, and town of Wabowden area provides full-service camping, fishing, touring, and cottage-going. There is a campground and boat launch at the South end of the lake and also another one at Sasagiu Rapids Lodge.
Setting Lake is the other major cottage area near Thompson: 90 km South on highway 6. This picture adequately demonstrates why this lake was named, “Setting.”
There are four cabin roads here, which provide access to all the cottages on this lake. These cottages are home to many families who either live here year-round, part-time, or visit recreationally. Within these roads are hiking paths, ATV trails, beach access, and Canadian Shield boulders to climb.
A Hudson’s Bay fur trading post was established in 1795 on Setting Lake in the area known today as “Sandy Beach.” Visitors to this area can see the original chimney from the post as well as a trapper’s cabin built in the 1960s. Please read this website for more information. I took this picture of Sandy Beach last week when we were there:
This beach is located on an island so you’ll need a boat to get there. Steve Grandbois at Sasagiu Rapids Lodge provides Sea-Doo and boat tours to this area (as well as cottage rentals) if you need someone to take you there.
We also had the great fortune to watch an Eagle soar down from a tree to grab a fish right out of the water a short distance a way from us!
Some information about the restaurants in the area:
Sasagiu Rapids Lodge serves Canadian and very good Thai food (free wifi). Please note they are closed on Tuesdays.
My’s Place is a beautiful log building at the turn off from highway 6 to the town of Wabowden. You can buy gas and minnows here, too.
Wabowden Ice Cream Parlour: In addition to soft and hard ice cream, this is a sit-down restaurant with great burgers and fries. Turn off of highway 6 towards Wabowden. Go through town, over the tracks, and turn right onto Cran Dr. There is a general store next door that has basic groceries, as well as an ATM.
I have to mention the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) of the North! An expert to contact regarding seeing or photographing this natural phenomenon in Northern Manitoba is Hugh Fraser. Hugh is a nature and wildlife photographer who lives at Setting Lake. Please visit his website to see the wonderful photos he has taken in this area and to contact him if you are interested in photographing the Aurora yourself.
There are bugs in the North. Actually, there are bugs here in London, too, and other cities around Canada, but it’s good to know that the mosquitoes, blackflies, and “horse flies,” can be out up north.
My suggestion is to prepare for the bugs and try hard to not let them, well, bug you. The mosquitoes are generally not around during the day, particularly if it is windy. The horse flies (think big house flies that bite) do come out if you are near the lake and are wet. Have a towel handy when you get out of the water to prevent bites.
Denim, rubber boots and bug spray are the best way to reduce bug bites. Also stay indoors from dusk to sunrise.
There is much to see and do in this area—I recommend reading through the Heritage North Museum’s website, as well as contacting the executive director, Tanna Teneycke who is a wealth of information about the region.
We spent our Thompson days trekking through Spirit Way, playing at the many wonderful playgrounds in the city, and visiting the location of the best French fries I have tasted (and I’ve been all over the world!): Popeye’s Restaurant.
It’s worth the trip for an experience of a lifetime!