The Long Way to Winnipeg Beach 2017 (Throwback Edition)

Doc McCoy

Untitled Offroad
So I forgot I wrote this thing but I originally meant to post it here and on the Untitled Offroad forums. In addition to the Continental Divide trip I did with my daughter and the Colossal trip I tailgunned with Addison/Rickashay and the Tamarack Media Co crew, I also went 'cross the Canadian Prairies. Here are the words and pics from that trip ... hope ya like 'em.

The Long Way to Winnipeg Beach (or portions of the Trans Canada Adventure Trail in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in August of 2017)

So I've got a problem underestimating how much time the "long way" is going to take. I VASTLY underestimate it time and time again. It happened earlier this summer on the way down to Denver along the Continental Divide and it happened again along the Transcanada Adventure Trail from here to Winnipeg.



If you're unfamiliar with the TCAT, I highly recommend checking out the great work being done over at Gravel Travel . They've got a route that spans from Coast to Coast (including Vancouver Island and Newfoundland). I'd love to do the whole thing some day but I now realize it might take a number of months to complete. To give you an idea ... I drove from Calgary to Maple Creek. A drive that should take just under 4 hours ... in just under 15 hours.

Here is a close up of my route to Maple Creek;


I will say this. The route is amazing. If you are not in a hurry to get somewhere. I always try and shoehorn these trips in with another trip or vacation (one with hard times and dates) in which I cannot possibly hope to complete the route properly. Not the best way to do it but it does get me out there. If you had the time? It'd be spectacular. Joining up with the route just east of Calgary, turning south before Strathmore. I immediately knew it was going to be interesting when I saw I sign that said "No Exit" just 1km south of where I turned off.

The GPX track that I had obtained indicated there was most certainly an exit. I stopped near the sign and cross-referenced the Backroads Mapbook (henceforce the BRMB) and it did have a line that also continued on. My GPS apps on my phone were not as sure. I gambled and continued on. I was rewarded when I got to the end of the gravel and a patch of truck wide tracks continued on through the field along what was clearly a road right of way that was undeveloped. Having seen that before with different signage before, sometimes "No Exit", sometimes "Summer Road" and sometimes "Road May be Impassible", I felt comfortable enough to continue on. Glad I did.





South of Carseland and just across the Bow River is where I joined up with the Bow Irrigation Canal. One of a number of irrigation canals that snake through the province providing water to the farmers and ranchers of southern Alberta. This one just so happens to have a service road that runs along a good portion of it. It's a change from the typical Alberta North-South / East-West roads the prairies are filled with. And while not a true river, you almost never travel along the water's edge in this province.





Following along the canal from Carseland to Milo and the north end of McGregor Lake Reservoir. I passed by more birds than I think I have ever seen. Falcons, hawks, ducks, robins, sparrow looking things, geese and even cormorants. I live beside the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and still it has nothing on this canal. Unfortunately, me driving the cruiser through their undisturbed living areas caused most of them to flee in panic as I approached so getting a sharp image of some of them proved difficult. Especially the cormorants which I think I might have only seen for the first time on this trip.



As I navigated around the shores of McGregor Lake it appeared that I would be on regular roads again for a while. Neither the tracks nor the map seemed to indicate that anything unusual would be taking place. I passed various oil and gas leases and a bunch of very nice home situated just off the shore of the lake. And that's where I lost the track. Completely couldn't find it. I doubled and then tripled back and forth. The GPX track had been amazing accurate up until this point and I was frankly confused as to how it could've let me down. Stopping to get my bearings and to cross-reference the BRMB again I noticed that there was a road that just didn't seem to be there in reality. I zoomed WAY in on the GPX track and drove slowly back up the road once again to see if I had missed something. That's when I saw a patch of grass that looked like it may have been a road at some point. A few hundred feet further down the raised section of grass was a gate with a sign. "Use Road at Own Risk"



The above image is of an actual road right of way. You have to open, and then obviously close behind you, a few gates, but it is a road. So after seeing the sign, opening the gate, closing the gate behind me and continuing along a set of very vague tracks in the grass, I could see I was back on top of the GPX track. Insanity.



It was such a pretty drive and I passed a number of old dilapidated old farm and ranch buildings. Tried to check out some of the dams of reservoirs in the area but they were either inaccessible from the route or uninteresting as they were mostly just berms with siphons. As I continued south and approached Travers Reservoir a bunch of windmills rose from the prairies in the distance.



After that I joined back up with the irrigation canal and continued southeast.
 
Last edited:

Doc McCoy

Untitled Offroad


Back on the canal for a ways. Came across another couple siphons and spillways but it was becoming increasingly repetitive and there was a LOT more of the canal service road to go. Being that I was getting low on gas and it was well past noon and I hadn't stopped for lunch, thought it would be a good time to haul *** to Vauxhall.

At the gas station I quickly filled the thirsty cruiser. After filling up I went in to pay and get the skinny on the best place to get fat in Vauxhall. Asking the gas station attendant, "is there a good spot here in town to get a burger and fries". She responded by saying that there was a "Wendy's" down the street. Hoping I had hid my intense disappointment at her answer, I got back into the truck with a plan to look for any small town diner over the chain restaurant she had suggested. Driving only a block south I almost passed the "Wendy's" she was talking about.



I was very happy to discover the misunderstanding ... and a good little spot to get some grub. @Sterdog believes the food was better here before the new ownership but I have to say it was exactly what I was looking for after being on the road for a little over 5 hours.



Left Vauxhall with both myself and the cruiser full and headed back to the TCAT. Never joined back up with the canal system. Just headed deeper into the grasslands of southern Alberta. Gravel roads and random hamlets. The route was going to take me to the Grand Forks or where the Bow and Old Man rivers meet. I drove into another area that said there was no river access and no exit. The GPX track hadn't led me astray yet and I planned on trusting it at least a bit more.

Almost as quickly as I entered the area, I left the track. Not sure as to what was going on I once again zoomed in and careful drove the cruiser back to where the course veered away. There was an unassuming track that left the road an led to a small texas gate protected opening in a fenced off section. A small sign declared that this was the private property of Hays Grazing and to kindly go find myself ... unless I had permission. With a couple bars of data reception on my phone I was able to pull up the contact info I needed and despite following NONE of the instructions on how to properly obtain permission to cross the area, I obtained permission directly from the range boss himself.



Cleared to continue on my way, I headed along the track to the confluence of the two rivers. Though I wasn't able to drive down to the shores where they meet I could've easily walked there if I had more time. I was able to see each river by looking in a different direction in the location pictured above. Looks like a good spot. To the south on the Old Man there also looked to be a good little campsite.

I continued on out of the area controlled by Hays and contacted the Range Boss to let him know I was gone. To be honest, I'm not sure he would've cared either way but it was an east courtesy. The rest of the drive in the prairies was pretty easy going. I passed a few items of interest;



There were the transmission lines and towers that reminded me of that end scene from the movie "Seven".



A couple bee farms that were visually intriguing.



A few deer and lady pronghorn bounding (or looking over their shoulders at me).



A number of completely useless road signs.



But mostly it was a lot of driving down random prairie roads. South on the range roads and east on the township roads. It was beautiful but I was not making a lot of headway and I was burning daylight as it were. Two places were worth a longer stop along my way. One was the Red Rock Coulee area and the other was the big green gem of Cypress Hills.
 

Doc McCoy

Untitled Offroad
So this isn't marked as a place to stop along the TCAT even though you pass right by it. And I have no idea why. Red Rock Coulee. It's about a kilometer and a half (or a mile) south of the route and midway between Bow Island and Cypress Hills so it makes a great place to get out and stretch your legs. It's a small little area of prairie that is covered in these spherical red rocks. It's really bizarre. I wouldn't recommend the 3 and half hour drive from Calgary just to see them but if they are already on your way ... stop and check 'em out.





Max really loved getting out and running around and through them. She was probably more happy to just be out of the truck at this point. Considering this, I probably spent about 30mins just wandering around and checking the area out. My thirty minutes didn't include reading the interpretive sign at the entrance though so I can't tell you anything about them or why they're there.





After Red Rock Coulee it was back on the TCAT towards Cypress Hills. Now, this is another spot I've never been. It might just be my new favourite spot in Alberta. I've heard it described in a couple different ways but it was by people that have journeyed there from the north and the Medicine Hat area. That would certainly be the quickest way to get there from Calgary. The way I've heard it described is thus; you drive through the flat wheat fields, grasslands and barely rolling hills. Off in the distance you can see this tiny speck of green. As you get closer, Cypress Hills rises before you, a green tree covered monstrosity towering above the golden prairie below.

I didn't get the perspective. I approached almost directly from the west and the hills gradually got larger and larger as I approached. After cresting one rise I would drop into a seemingly deeper valley than the last only to crest a hill taller than the one before. Steep hills and tight gravel road curves keeping me on my toes. There were beautiful farms and ranches in the valleys that reminded me a lot of the homes, barns and stables you might see along Hwy 22 and the foothills to the Alberta Rockies to the west. As I got closer there were more and more trees. I can tell you that after being on the road in the prairies for a little over ten hours, trees are a welcome change. And then suddenly I found myself in Cypress Hills in the town of Elkwater.

Now, I didn't get nearly enough photos of this beautiful place. The sun was going to be setting soon and I was trying desperately to get into Saskatchewan before that happened. I will say that Cypress Hills reminds me of a miniature version of the Adirondack mountains that I had visited previously on a trip through New York. The town of Elkwater is a cute little mountain town sitting on the side of the hill and the shore of Elkwater Lake. Back on pavement again I filled up in Elkwater and prepared to be on pavement for the rest of the way through Cypress Hills. The TCAT goes through Elkwater and through a campsite and up into the hills. This is where the TCAT and Cypress Hills had another great little surprise for me. Most of the roads and such are barely developed trail. I reached the plateau and saw a sign indicating what roads were open. All of which seemed to be except one. It wasn't the trail I was heading down however so I didn't take much notice of it.



There are water crossings inside a provincial park. Granted, it's a paved fording point but you still drive through water. Mind = blown. This is along Graburn Road and there was also an amazing looking backcountry campsite and clearly logging activity. Also, it was a Friday night and there was not a soul on the roads with me. Brilliant little area. My excitement is palpable as I near the end of Graburn road and I'm about to leave Alberta for Saskatchewan. And then I see it ...



Saskatchewan was closed due to wildfire risk. I later found out that both the Western Block, the Central Block and the Gap Road that links the two were all closed by the government of Saskatchewan to hopefully mitigate the risk of the whole place lighting on fire and going up like a tinder box. That didn't help my current predicament however. I was pretty deep in Cypress Hills and back tracking was going to eat up a ton of time. As I sat in the cruiser looking for a way out of Alberta a SRD truck rolled up. After chatting with them for a while they suggested heading north towards the number 1 and simply taking that east towards Maple Creek because they didn't know what else that the gov't of Saskatchewan had closed.



On my way north the sun finally gave up and went to bed. It also set on the idea of not finding a backroad into Saskatchewan. I turned around and took the south way out of the park and just on the west side of the border. As day gave way to night and twilight set in, the four legged animals really started coming out. More and more I could see my headlights reflected, in more and more animals eyes looking back at me. Saw so many deer, pronghorn, foxes and so on. In fact, never have there been so many attempts on my life by such a varied amount of wildlife. To be precise one family of deer attempted to kill me twice by jumping out into the road.



This group was sitting on one side of the road and jumped in front of me as I approached. I slowed down and they hopped over the fence and then up and over a hill. I checked my pants and then continued on. The road turned south and lo and behold my favourite family of deer were waiting for me in the middle of the road. I once again missed them and they bounded back up over the fence and back to the top of the ridge. There they stood and looked back at me as the last remaining light bled away.

From there I was into Saskatchewan but it was pitch black and I had trouble navigating my way out of the area and back to the TCAT. It's here where I discovered that not only the West Block but also the Gap Road was also closed. Since it was approaching midnight and I still was, according to the not long way on google maps, 10 and half hours away from my destination, it was time to cut and run. I decided to drive through the night along the highways, effectively skipping all of Saskatchewan, and rejoining the TCAT in Manitoba in the morning.
 

Doc McCoy

Untitled Offroad




Things didn't work out exactly as I planned. I had a few interrupted cat naps along the #1 highway and I didn't make the best time due to construction along the highways. I ended up skipping the rest of the TCAT on the way east and headed directly to the Winnipeg Airport to pick up my family. After that it was a straight shot north to the cut little town of Winnipeg Beach on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. It was a good trip filled with extended family visits, swimming, longboarding and boat rides. All in all a pretty good trip but it didn't leave a lot of time for exploring while I was actually in Manitoba.



This was punctuated by the fact that I had setup the tent in the back of our cottage. With all the different ages of kids and babies staying here it was the only way to make sure that everyone got a decent sleep. It did however make it prohibitive to take down and restup every day while I was there. I decided to leave a day earlier than everyone else. That allowed me to take down the tent and do some exploring on the last day. It also meant that I would be skipping much of Saskatchewan again on the way back lol.

My parents were feeling a little nostalgic and wanted to check out this place they used to go to for hot dogs in the town Lockport. I guess they had paddled the Red River north through the locks at Lockport and had stopped at a joint called Skinners. Hot dog history. This place had been around since 1929!





From there we headed back northwest along the TCAT. This is what sealed the deal. I'm going back to do more of this thing. Again there were portions where there would be signs saying to turn left or right but the GPX track indicated to continue on. After quickly referencing the BRMB for Manitoba I'd continue on straight. Directly into and thankfully through big thickets of trees.





Between these sections and random Manitoba backroads we made our way west and north of the town of Argyle. There heading north is the Interlake Pioneer Trail. An odd thing is its history. A former decommissioned railway. In 97 the right of way was sold to the Interlake Development Corporation and managed by the Prime Meridian Trail Association as a non-motized trail for hiking and biking and the like. Prime Meridian being the name of the trail at the time. In 2009 the South Interlake ATV club managed to gain control of it and it became the IPT and motorized travel was allowed.



The trail is very well marked and maintained. Much of it is like the treed in sections of the TCAT. It crosses the backroads many times but the signage is great including trail crossing and traffic signs. The motorized section of the trail stretches from just north of Argyle to Fisher Branch about 100kms to the north. They brag about the diversity of plants and animals that can be found along the trail. All in all it's very beautiful. Just off the trail I knew of an abandonned rock quarry / swimming hole that locals used so I took my parents through there to show them. And to let Max out to have a run and a soak.





From there it was back to Winnipeg Beach for dinner and then to prep for my evening drive home.
 

Doc McCoy

Untitled Offroad


Not much to tell about the way back. I left in the evening and tried to make decent time into Saskatchewan. I headed straight west from Winnipeg Beach and I stopped at any of the "Biggest X" roadside attractions I passed close to. In Komarno, it's a big Mosquito. In Inwood, it's a big statue of some garter snakes.





Joined up with the TCAT on the north end of North Shoal Lake. Many of the lakes in Manitoba seem pretty shallow almost to the point of being swamps. Really pretty swamps but still ... where one lake or wetland starts / begins or ends can be a little hard to define. So some "lakes" seem to run into one another. So it seems as though, at least on the portion of the TCAT I was on, you drive in the middle of the lake.



I only followed the TCAT for about 180 kms from North Shoal Lake to the Narrows and across Lake Manitoba. This did however put me past another "Biggest X" in the form of the Lundar Goose.



Continuing on I past next to the shores of Lake Manitoba a couple times. Max needed a break and the sun was setting so we stopped. I let here out and enjoyed the sunset.



I was planning on stopping and checking out the Narrows but it was already dark and I wanted to make some headway into Saskatchewan. From just past the Narrows, I abandoned the TCAT and made a route via highways back to the #1 in Regina and then back home. A couple of roadside naps, a bunch of nighttime driving and then I found myself in Moose Jaw as the sun was rising. Figured I could use a coffee and to stretch my legs so I took a few minutes to check out the town.



The city had commissioned a number of murals around the historic downtown Moose Jaw but none were as interesting as the graffiti I found down by the train yard. I was suprised to find such interesting old architecture in Moose Jaw as well.



After filling up again, I was off for the super boring #1 highway drive home in the daylight. The whole way thinking about how great it would be to get back on the TCAT.
 

Doc McCoy

Untitled Offroad
And that was my trip along two sections of the TCAT. One in Alberta, one in Manitoba and skipping Saskatchewan in both directions! Sorry Saskatchewan. Thanks for checking this out!
 

tennesseewj

Observer
Thanks for the photos and write-up! Canada sure is pretty.

Do you have a thread anywhere with details on your 80? Looks like a really nice one

Sent from my Pixel using Tapatalk
 

icedragonmx

Adventurer
Great pictures and story. I wish I had time to take the back country roads but normally just rush down on Hwy #1 till i get past Calgary. Awesome to see some of the areas in detail.
 

Doc McCoy

Untitled Offroad
Thanks for the photos and write-up! Canada sure is pretty.

Do you have a thread anywhere with details on your 80? Looks like a really nice one

Sent from my Pixel using Tapatalk
I'm biased, so I think Canada is pretty alright too. Don't even really have a build thread on the Untitled or Ih8Mud forums. hmmmm, I probably should ... now I just need to find some time.

Great pictures and story. I wish I had time to take the back country roads but normally just rush down on Hwy #1 till i get past Calgary. Awesome to see some of the areas in detail.
I normally try and do a straight shot across the prairies as well. Last year, I made a point of taking twice as many hours / days it should take to get some place and jam four times as many miles off highway. It basically allows me to tack on the kind of vacation I like onto trips I would not normally be that excited for.

looking forward to your adventure reports!
Thanks! Hoping I can get some more trips in soon.
 
A creative alternative

While this adventure seems very interesting and I love the bikes and jeeps at this place, you know what I love? Riding my skateboard through the streets especially in beachy areas.
 

Xinirgi

New member
Awesome write up, super cool seeing how untraversed that route is. I'd like to see those wind generators up close some time, are they near Crowsnest by any chance?

Sent from my SM-G930W8 using Tapatalk
 

Doc McCoy

Untitled Offroad
Nice report and great looking truck. I see it in the hood all the time as I'm on 8th Ave.
Nice! I'll be on the look out ...

While this adventure seems very interesting and I love the bikes and jeeps at this place, you know what I love? Riding my skateboard through the streets especially in beachy areas.
Strangely enough ... I was riding my long board to get around once I got to Winnipeg Beach.

Awesome write up, super cool seeing how untraversed that route is. I'd like to see those wind generators up close some time, are they near Crowsnest by any chance?

Sent from my SM-G930W8 using Tapatalk
They've got a whack of wind gennys outside of Pincher Creek ... but the ones in the photos are from WAY east of there. Almost directly north of Lethbridge and just south of Traver's Reservoir.
 
Top