Many of us think of our parks as a place for summer recreation, after the May long weekend, but there’s no need to wait that long. Manitoba’s parks are open all year and, if you’re dreaming of warmer weather, a spring hike is just the ticket.
If there is still snow in the bush you may find some of the trails snow covered or icy, so choose your trails carefully. Avoid ones that have really low spots, as they may have water on them. Wear good hiking boots that can stand a little mud or water, and take a hiking stick to help you through any icy patches.
Spruce Woods Provincial Park is an excellent spot for a spring hike or for birdwatching. Last spring we hiked there the second week of April on a warm day, and had a great afternoon. We took the trail to the Spirit Sands, anticipating that it would be drier than the other trails, and were rewarded with beautiful scenery and numerous wildlife sightings. Crows and ravens, robins and purple finches flew from tree to tree, while high overhead sandhill cranes gave their mournful sound and a vee of Canada geese honked its way northward.
Along one trail wild turkey tracks were visible in the mud, while deer tracks criss-crossed the desert sands. Some were very fresh, so perhaps we had scared a deer or two ahead of us, though we didn’t catch sight of any. As we made our way back to the parking lot we were surprised to find a beaver calmly chewing on a small poplar tree it had just cut down an unusual sight for mid-afternoon, as beavers usually appear in the evening. The ponds were still ice covered and the river was in flood, so perhaps it was really hungry. Later, we also saw several wild turkeys crossing the road, and hunting through the grass for food.
If flowers interest you, early spring is the time for crocus hunting, usually in late April perhaps earlier this year while early buttercups, cowslips and violets can often be found in early May. A little later in May, the Epinette Trail and the bike trail around Kiche Manitou Lake (by the campground) often sport clumps of marsh marigolds.
Another good spot to visit in the spring is Turtle Mountain Provincial Park, though you may find some low trail sections muddy there if you go too early. By early May or sooner if spring is early, hiking and biking are possible, and once the fishing season opens, the fishing is usually good – for rainbow trout at Bower Lake; northern pike at Adam and other lakes; and brown trout and smallmouth bass at William Lake. Loons, terns, pelicans, cormorants, grebes and a variety of other ducks are there for birdwatchers, and last May a pair of Canada geese with four goslings had made the beach at Adam Lake their home. By mid-May, yellow-rumped (Myrtle) warblers flit through the bushes and red-eyed vireos sing from the treetops.
In early spring, before the leaves come out or as they’re just beginning, visitors can see things not so noticeable in summer such as nests of crows, magpies or other birds. Last spring we saw a large beaver dam we hadn’t noticed on earlier visits though it had obviously been there for years, hidden by thick bushes. Moose droppings along the trail were evidence of their recent passing also less visible once the new grass grows.
Spring is a good time for parents to introduce children to other activities, such as geocaching. We found several caches in the Adam/Bower Lake region, and most were very child oriented by the type of “treasures” in the cache boxes. The fitness trail at Adam Lake, near the campground, might interest older children, too.
These two parks are just a sample of what Manitoba has to offer in spring. Take my advice and don’t wait for summer; spring is one of the best times to explore the outdoors. – Donna Gamache writes from MacGregor, Manitoba