Entrance to the Wilderness

July 19, 2010

Manigotagan River Provincial Park
Wallace Lake Provincial Park
Nopiming Provincial Park

Nopiming means “entrance to the wilderness” in Anishinabe. This term couldn’t be any more true, when applied to Nopiming Provincial Park.

Straddling the Manitoba – Ontario border and bookended between the unspoiled wilderness of Atikaki Wilderness Park and the heavily developed Whiteshell Provincial Park, Nopiming Provincial Park is a happy medium between its two neighbours. There’s cottage development throughout the park, with most of it at Bird, Beresford and Long lakes, but the majority of the park is wilderness.

The easiest route to access Nopiming is by driving northeast of Winnipeg, passing through Lac du Bonnet, and entering the park on Provincial Road 315, near Bird Lake. However, my travel companions and I decided to go about it another way.

With stops planned at Manigotagan River Provincial Park and Wallace Lake Provincial Park, we entered the park by a more circuitous route, Provincial Road 304, through Pine Falls, Manigotagan and Bissett.

This 373 kilometre journey, ending at Tulabi Falls, at the southern end of Nopiming, was made on winding, hilly gravel roads through primeval Canadian Shield boreal forest. A warning for those planning on taking this route – between Manigotagan and Tulabi Falls, Provincial Roads 304 and 314 are poorly maintained and chock-full of jagged “tire-popper” stones. The drive took almost six hours, but at least it was through picturesque country.

Our first stop was Manigotagan River Provincial Park. This park is a narrow corridor along the Manigotagan River, between Nopiming Provincial Park and Lake Winnipeg.

The river is the most southern Class “A” white-water canoe route in Manitoba. Judging by the small section of the river that we saw, east of the town of Manigotagan, the river lives up to its billing.

Just off of Provincial Road 304, the river drops suddenly through a tight gorge. The falls drop off right beneath the highway bridge, with frothing rapids continuing for a quarter of a kilometre. It’s quite a sight. We weren’t sure what to expect, but the Manigotagan River certainly lived up to its reputation.

Wallace Lake Provincial Park is 73 kilometres east of Manigotagan, on Provincial Road 304. Along the way, the town of Bissett and the San Antonio Gold Mine are worth a quick stop.

The provincial park is situated on the shores of Wallace Lake and includes a campground, boat launch, and some cottage development. The lake is known for its northern pike and walleye fishing, but is better known as the entry to the Atikaki Wilderness Park.

At the north end of the lake, a six-kilometre canoe portage brings you into the vast, non-road accessible wilderness park. With rain beginning to fall, our stopover at Wallace Lake was a brief.

South-east of Wallace Lake is the northern entrance to Nopiming Provincial Park, the headliner of this week’s trip. Just inside the park, we drove into a clearing and crossed the weirdest looking mud flat I’ve ever seen.

Instead of being brown, the mud was bright orange and yellow in colour. It turns out that this mud flat is all that remains of Wadhope, a mining town that was abandoned during the 1930s. The brightly coloured mud is the result of mine tailings that leached into the soil. Almost 80 years later, the soil remains too toxic for vegetation to reclaim it.

Driving south through Nopiming on Provincial Road 314, there are several places to stop and hike. Near Beresford Lake, the Fire of ‘83 and Walking on Ancient Mountains trails lead through rocky sections of the park, providing grand views over the area that was devastated by fire in 1983.

In the central region of the park, Black Lake is a popular campground, while to the north a small woodland caribou herd lives near Flintstone Lake. The 50 to 60 animals of the “Owl Herd” are Manitoba`s most southern caribou herd. This caribou habitat is off limits to travellers during the summer calving season.

Bird Lake and Tulabi Lake are at the south end of Nopiming Provincial Park. Between the two lakes is the thundering Tulabi Falls, our final destination.

The campground at Tulabi Falls is basic— no running water and the campground office is only open one hour a day — but it`s situated close enough to the falls to hear the water surging over and between the rocks.

The falls are spectacular – much larger than the falls at Manigotagan.

Both Bird and Tulabi lakes are typical Canadian Shield lakes. Bird Lake is heavily developed with cottages, but still not quite as busy as the cottage-developed lakes of Whiteshell Provincial Park.

Tulabi Lake has very little boat traffic and has several towering cliffs near the falls to jump off. After our long drive down through the park, it was both exhilarating and relaxing to jump off the cliffs into the refreshing lake water.

Nopiming Provincial Park lives up to its name as the “entrance to the wilderness”. It was one of my favourite places to travel to when I was younger. Even after visiting a lot of new areas of Manitoba this summer, Nopiming remains near the top of my list.

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