What there is, on this dirt road in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain
National Park, is an impressive pile of bear poop. Not exactly
steaming, but fresh enough to excite our guide, and fresh enough to
make some of us glance nervously at the forest hemming us in on either
We’ve been up since before dawn, lured by the prospect of
seeing wildlife. Elk and bison were mentioned. Bears, I guess, would be
Riding Mountain gets 350,000 visitors a year, but few are
from outside Manitoba. That’s a shame, as it’s only an hour’s drive
north of Trans-Canada Highway 1 at Brandon, half that if you’re using
Trans-Canada No. 16.
“Mountain” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s actually a
pistol-shaped plateau covering 3,000 square kilometres and rising more
than 425 metres above the surrounding grain-rich plains.
Boasting one of the highest wildlife densities of any North
American park, Riding Mountain is the core of a UNESCO biosphere
Our quest for critters is led by Celes Davar. After 17
years working for the park, he launched Earth Rhythms, which puts
together learning adventures for small groups. (Visit
www.earthrhythms.ca or phone 1-888-301-0030).
Davar finds lots of elk tracks, but no elk, and uses a
birchbark moose call to no avail. But he hits pay dirt in the Lake Audy
bison range, one of the few rescue grasslands left in Canada.
The resident herd, numbering about 35, appears as if on cue.
First up are three big bulls, one of which delights us by rolling in a
nearby mud wallow. Around a bend, the rest of the gang lines the
roadway. Some come within three metres of our van, a fabulous photo-op.
Davar uses other strategies designed to put us more in touch
with our surroundings. We form a circle, close our eyes and listen to
the wind in the aspens, pick and eat highbush cranberries, and,
pretending we’re elk, go blundering through a tangle of beech and
The park also offers nature activities, either free or for a nominal fee.
When the elk rut — mating season — starts, usually in late August,
there are twice-weekly tours in which a staff member tries to lure
randy males by bugling, using a device to imitate a female.
In September, when we visited, they were doing Lake Audy in
autumn, taking convoys of visitors in their vehicles to see the bison
herd. (Phone 204-848-7275 or visit www.pc.gc.ca/ridingmountain).
To seek out moose or elk on your own, try Lake Audy at
either dusk or dawn, particularly after the leaves have fallen and
visibility is better. The big animals also graze alongside Highway 10,
the Riding Mountain Parkway, in summer.
The park is on the central migratory flyway, and more than
270 bird species have been recorded. Naturalists say your best bet is
Take Highway 19 to the historic East Gate for a panoramic view. It’s a 45-minute drive from the visitor centre.
Clear Lake Golf Course is a pretty 18-hole layout, and there’s a nine-hole course and spa at Elkhorn Resort.
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