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Take a hike up the ‘Turtle’s Back’

Be sure to take binoculars and a camera. You’ll be glad you did as you enjoy the views from the tower

With the arrival of autumn, it’s time to try some of those hikes you might have put off during the heat of summer. One interesting hike, which my husband and I recently took, is the one in William Lake Provincial Park that takes you to the top of the “Turtle’s Back.”

This small park is associated with, but east of, the main Turtle Mountain Provincial Park. It is known for its fishing (mainly brown trout, small-mouthed bass and small perch), its beach and its campground, but also for the interesting Turtle’s Back Hiking Trail that takes you to the summit of a peak locally called the Turtle’s Back.

The Turtle’s Back is located on the southwest side of William Lake. It is a prominent feature, rising about 84 metres above the lake, and giving a spectacular view of the surrounding area — plains to the north, and the hills, trees and lakes of the Turtle Mountains to the south. The summit was likely used as a lookout by various native tribes in the distant past, perhaps as long as 10,000 years ago when the last of the glaciers melted away. It was definitely used as a point of reference in the 18th and 19th centuries for explorers, settlers, and Métis buffalo hunters. Today, it is still quite noticeable above the surrounding landscape, if you are arriving at William Lake from the east or north.

A hike on the Turtle’s Back trail can be started at two spots: at the south end of William Lake or at the northwest side, at the west end of the campground. Distance to the summit starting and ending at the south point is about five km; distance there and back from the north end is seven km. To hike up one section and down the other (about six km), you’d need to walk around the east side of the lake to get back to your starting point — an additional two km. Alternatively, you can leave a vehicle at one end of the lake and find alternate transportation back to the other. (That’s what we did, using a bicycle to retrieve our vehicle from the starting point.)

The trail passes through the Turtle Mountain Community Pasture, using old-fashioned stiles to climb over the fence, so hikers need to be on the lookout for livestock (we saw only a few, in the far distance). If there have been recent rains, there may be muddy spots, but most are easy to bypass. Wear good hiking boots or walking shoes and take a hiking stick if you use one, as the trail is classed as moderate. (As seniors, we were glad we’d taken ours.) As you near the summit the trail becomes fairly steep, but don’t give up, as the view from the top of the tower is very rewarding. Be sure to take binoculars with you, and a camera as well to take some panoramic photos.

View of William Lake from the tower.
photo: Gamache Photos

To the north, the town of Boissevain can be seen; to the northwest, the waters of Whitewater Lake are visible through binoculars; and to the northeast one can pick out Killarney. In between are miles and miles of flat farmland, stretching into the distance. When looking to the south and southwest, the rolling hills, forests and lakes of the Turtle Mountains — stretching south towards the American border and into North Dakota — offer a surprisingly different view. Scan towards the southeast to see the many windmills which are just over the U.S. border, and be sure to read the interpretive signs that describe the history of the hills.

To reach William Lake, drive 11 km south of Boissevain on Highway No. 10 to Highway No. 341 and follow the signs 6.5 km east, and then south about eight km. Allow at least a couple of hours for the hike, or more if you want to walk more slowly and/or spend some time at the top. Remember that William Lake is a provincial park — entry pass required.

Carry water with you, especially if it’s a warm day, and perhaps a snack. By the time you’re back to the bottom, you may want to stop for a picnic along the lake. If you choose a sunny day and the right time of autumn, the coloured trees will add a real bonus to your visit to the area.

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