Most Manitoba parks offer a variety of hikes, often through forested areas, but for a different experience try a trip to Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park. Since 1971, Hecla has been joined to the mainland by a causeway, but technically visitors are on an island in Lake Winnipeg, so most of these walks begin and end at, or follow, the island’s shoreline.
The most popular Hecla hike is probably the one out and back on the peninsula to the lighthouses at the entrance to Gull Harbour. It is scenic, relatively short (about three km return) and close to the provincial campground and the Lakeview Hecla Resort. The older, small lighthouse was built in 1898 to warn ships about this peninsula, by means of a kerosene lantern. The bigger lighthouse, built in 1926, used a similar lantern, but also had a foghorn and rotating reflector. Automation occurred in 1962. During the early years a full-time lighthouse keeper lived nearby, but it is now maintained by the Canadian Coast Guard.
A different kind of trail is the one in Hecla Village which depicts the history of the area’s Icelandic settlers — more of a self-guided tour than a hike. Visitors use a brochure (available at the trailhead) to explore historic buildings, including a church, a school and a 1928 house, now a museum. A general store still operates, and the Hecla Fish Station gives a commercial fishing demonstration and fish fry a couple of times a summer. Allow an hour or two to explore the village.
A third popular walk is Harbour Trail which follows the lakeshore around the northern tip of the island. This one is about five km long, but a shorter section — the more scenic part — can be accessed behind the Gull Harbour Motel or from the campground. Visitors can see the lighthouse peninsula and explore small isolated beaches. At the north end of the trail take time to climb the tower for an excellent view of several other nearby islands.
The West Quarry Trail is also on the northern part of the island. It takes hikers or bikers to the remains of a fishing camp which lies adjacent to an abandoned limestone quarry. In 1913 the Lake Winnipeg Shipping Company opened a quarry here, on the edge of the lake, to mine limestone, popular as a building stone at the time. The quarry only operated for a few years and now there’s not much evidence of the facilities, which included railway tracks to transport limestone to the dock. A small kiln can still be seen, and remains of the dock, as well as a building used as a fish station during the 1950s and ’60s. If started from the campground, this trail is about 10 km return, and is excellent for biking. For walkers wanting a shorter route, it can be accessed at the west end of the North Shore Subdivision (the road going to the cottages). Along the trail, take time to read the interpretive signs about moose, and stop at the marsh overview/blind to look for ducks and other marsh birds.
At the south end of Hecla Island, outside the park entrance and near the causeway, is the Grassy Narrows Marsh Trail. This is an excellent spot for birding enthusiasts and includes viewing blinds, a boardwalk and trails of various lengths through the marsh, ranging from half a kilometre to 10 km or more. A longer route is the Black Wolf Trail (about 35 km return) which can be accessed from the Grassy Narrows Marsh and passes through some of the more undeveloped sections of the island.
To reach Hecla Island, drive north of Winnipeg on Highway No. 7 or No. 8, and then follow No. 8 north and east of Riverton. Because it’s a little off the beaten path, a trip to Hecla Island usually means visitors will want to spend at least one night there. You could stay at the Lakeview Hecla Resort (which has a scenic 18-hole golf course); at the small motel at Gull Harbour; at the Solmundson Gesta Hus Bed and Breakfast; or in the spacious provincial campground which has over 200 sites as well as 15 cabins for rent. Whichever you choose, try a different experience this summer — take a shoreline walk on an island.