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“Wilderness” Sites You Can Drive To

We’ve been going there for more than 30 years, and it’s my favourite camping spot.

If your trips to Riding Mountain National Park usually take you to the Clear Lake/ Wasagaming area, with all its amenities and people, why not try a different experience in some of the quieter sections of the park? There are many back-country trails and campsites for those wanting a few days in the wilderness. But if you’re not up to long-distance hiking or biking, while loaded with camping equipment, there are several alternatives where you can get an almost-wilderness experience – and you can drive there.

One of the easiest sites to reach is Moon Lake, which is right beside Highway No. 10, south of Dauphin and 35 km north of Wasagaming. The Moon Lake campground has 29 sites, some of which are suitable for moderate-size motorhomes or campers, and some of which overlook the lake. If you come in from the north, you can buy your park pass first at the Mountain View Esso in Dauphin.

For day trippers, there’s a nice picnic spot beside the water, a small sandy beach and a shelter if it rains. Canoeists love this lake too, as it’s well protected and boats with motors over 10 hp are not allowed (carry-in only). For hikers, a nine-kilometre trail will take you around the lake, or if that’s too far for your family, there are shorter trails nearby such as the one-kilometre Boreal Island Trail, with several boardwalks that young children usually enjoy. We’ve often seen moose in the Moon Lake area, and an occasional bear along the lakeshore.

Whirlpool Lake (15 sites) is another semi-wilderness campground, this one for tents only (walk-in access.) If you don’t use a tent, plan on going there for a picnic, a short hike or a canoe ride on the lake. This campground is located about three kilometres off Highway No. 19, northeast of Wasagaming. The sites are close to the lake and the small creek at the south end. Chipmunks and squirrels are frequent campsite visitors, and there’s usually a bald eagle nest or two on the far side of the lake. It’s a nice spot to get back to nature, and it’s quiet since no motorboats are allowed.

The campground we’ve used most often is located at Lake Audy (34 sites) near the bison enclosure. We’ve been going there for more than 30 years, and it’s my favourite camping spot. There are large sites suitable for motorhomes, as well as a tenting section. It can be accessed two ways: by turning west off Highway No. 10 at the north end of Clear Lake, or by driving west from Onanole on No. 270, then north and west again on No. 354. (The route through the park was very rough last summer, so you might prefer the south entrance if you’re pulling camping equipment.) Make sure you get your park pass (and fishing licence if you plan to fish) before you go to Lake Audy (available at the south gate entrance to Clear Lake).

Lake Audy is known for its spectacular sunsets and is a prime spot for viewing wildlife, especially in the evening, so it’s nice to be camped there. In addition to the bison herd in the nearby enclosure, we always see elk and deer, and most years a bear or two, and one or more moose. There are always one or more pairs of loons on the lake, and usually beavers. Two years ago, I sighted a family of otters, as well as one of the elusive fishers in the bison enclosure. For me, summer isn’t complete until I’ve spent a few nights at Lake Audy.

There’s one other small semi-wilderness campground in Riding Mountain – Deep Lake at the west end of the park, northwest of Rossburn on No. 264. We’ve only camped there once, but we enjoyed the peaceful, scenic spot (no motorboats). We didn’t have any luck fishing, but we were the only ones camped there. We hiked and biked and enjoyed the feeling of being in the wilderness. If you go to Deep Lake, you can purchase a park pass at the Deep Lake warden station.

Of course, these campgrounds don’t have the comforts and facilities available at Clear Lake. There’s no electricity, and cellphone reception is sometimes doubtful. The washrooms are the more primitive type – except for Moon Lake, which does have flush toilets – and there are no showers or running water. Drinking water should be boiled, or bring your own in. But if it’s a wilderness experience you’re wanting, who needs these facilities?

– Donna Gamache writes from MacGregor, Manitoba

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