Autumn is fast approaching, and if you haven’t had a chance to get outside and enjoy the summer, there are a number of ways to do so without leaving Manitoba. The province features a host of beautiful hiking trails – with varying levels of difficulty – and the Whiteshell region is home to many of them.
We arrived at the Hunt Lake Hiking Trail head at 10:30 a.m. The informational sign at the entrance explained that the trail covered 12.6km along the southeastern shore of Hunt Lake, the eastern shore of West Hawk Lake, and ended at Little Indian Bay, at which point you turn around and head back. The sign suggested giving yourself about six hours to complete the trail: this isn’t something you can casually attempt in a bathing suit after spending the day at the beach.
Hunt Lake is unique in that it is a trail where you can walk through one of the country’s most westerly ranges of mature Red and White Pine on the high rocky outcrops, then dip down into low-lying stands of Eastern Red Cedar. Unfortunately, in recent years high windstorms have knocked over a lot of these ancient trees. Nonetheless, you’ll pass through bogs, hike past marshes and beaver lodges, climb steep, rocky inclines and take in some absolutely beautiful views of West Hawk Lake from the cliffs above. While the trail information suggests it is a difficult backcountry hike with steep climbs that require some skill to traverse, I didn’t find it as difficult as I expected. The majority of the steep climbs are in the first hour of the hike – which only really becomes tiring when you’re in your last hour, making your way back to the parking lot and wishing you had brought more water with you. Additionally, in between those short, steep climbs are large sections of relatively flat terrain, giving your legs and lungs a break. For someone who doesn’t do a lot of hiking, and has essentially given up on running because she prefers not to torture herself, I didn’t find it hard to make it through the 4.5 hours it took my aunt and I to hike the trail at a leisurely pace. That said, even the flat terrain is somewhat precarious, with sharp rocks and tree roots jutting out, so you need to be mindful of your footing.
The trail’s midpoint is equipped with a shelter and a campfire pit if you want to cook lunch on your break. Unfortunately the fire pit was full of granola bar wrappers and empty cans of El Jimador – I’m not sure who those hikers thought were responsible for cleaning up after them. If you can carry it in, you can carry it out. I didn’t have a bag with me so hopefully some good samaritan who stopped there after me was able to take it with them.
By the time we were about halfway between the trail’s midpoint and the parking lot (around 2:15 p.m.), it started to get quite busy with hikers (so it’s best to go early in the morning to avoid the traffic). There’s something really heartwarming about the friendly greetings we would exchange with strangers along the way – feeling a kind of bond (even if short lived) with each person we would pass, smiling and nodding as if to say “we’re doing this! Look at us all being so Canadian!” While I’m not sure if everyone we passed was planning to hike the entire trail, I did have to wonder about the woman I saw attempting to climb up a particularly steep incline in a pair of flimsy flip flops. I wore a pair of sturdy hiking boots and my feet were sore when we finished, so I can’t imagine how hers would have felt.
The valleys of cedar trees, the cliffside views of West Hawk Lake, the momentary bond shared with passing hikers, the sun streaming in through the Red and White Pines while my aunt and I chatted and laughed and I tried not to trip over my own feet – this is what made the Hunt Lake Trail a really great experience, one that I would recommend to anyone looking to get out and explore Manitoba’s wilderness.
Jessica Antony is a wordsmith and winesmith from Winnipeg. Follow her immature jokes on twitter @boozeandbooks