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Riding Mountain National Park

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Half a days drive to the east of Winnipeg lies Riding Mountain National Park, home to many of the mammals most closely associated with Canada. These include the Black Bear, Grey Wolf, Bison, Moose, Elk, and Beaver. The park is so vast that only a small section of it is accessible by road, but that section is sufficiently large to provide enough wildlife encounters to fill a week. The nature of the park is such that good wildlife viewing opportunities can be had at the roadside given a little patience, awareness of your surroundings, and luck. Alternatively the services of an excellent local guide and wildlife biologist can be enlisted to take you to various wildlife hotspots in the park and the surrounding area.

The park is perhaps best known for its wild population of Bison which graze a vast tract of fescue grassland in the heart of the park. Threatened with extinction at the end of the 19th Century, the Bison is once again thriving with as many as 40,000 in Canada alone, but Riding Mountain NP is one of the few places you can see a sizeable wild population in its natural habitat. Moose are also a common sight in the park, particularly during the Fall mating season when the males with their magnificent antlers are a sight to behold. Elk and other smaller deer species are also frequently encountered.

Of course where there are large grazing animals there are predators, and the park is home to the Grey Wolf, Coyote, Cougar and Lynx, though they are rarely sighted due to their shy nature. Also present is the voracious Fisher, a cat sized member of the weasel family, noted for its boldness and ferocity. Far more conspicuous is the industrious Beaver whose habits have had a fundamental impact on the landscape of the park.

Although not strictly speaking a predator given its omnivorous nature, the Black Bear is the largest meat eater in the park. While they are rarely sighted within the park itself, there is a wonderful guest ranch just outside the park boundary which has a permanent hide from which they can be observed in the late afternoon and early evening. Many of the bears observed at the hide are seen year after year and are well known to the guides. Sporting coats as varied as blonde, cinnamon, and chocolate brown, they are living proof of how inaptly named the Black Bear is. There have also been sightings of Lynx and Fisher from the same hide, and the ranch also has wonderful bird watching on a private lake.

The ranch is owned and operated by a wildlife biologist and his wife, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Their warm and gracious hospitality is a major feature of any stay at the ranch, an experience similar to a farm stay, which is fitting as it used to be a working cattle ranch. A daily program of guided wildlife activities includes morning vehicle safaris in the park itself, and afternoon viewing sessions in the hide back at the ranch. Between scheduled wildlife activities guests can relax or go kayaking or canoeing on the lake. Horseback riding can also be arranged on request.

With easy access from Winnipeg a visit to Riding Mountain National Park is a must for any wildlife enthusiast looking to see a broad cross section of North American fauna, and certainly combines well with a visit to Churchill for a more varied wildlife experience.

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