Scenic bush trails, rolling hills and warm-up shacks

Sledders in Manitoba's Swan River Valley will find scenic and rewarding snowmobiling here, with fully equipped warm-up shacks along the way

by Karen Kornelsen

trees, snow, a single snowmobile and blue skies on a snowmobiling trail
The Cowan Trail is a pretty trail southeast of Swan River. Lana Sagert photo

Swan River, Manitoba, has a lot to offer snowmobilers of all abilities. Located near the Saskatchewan border, the trails in the Swan River Valley are blessed with heavy snow all winter long. Swan River is the hub for two snowmobile clubs with the Swan Valley Snowmobile Association to the south and the North Mountain Riders to the north. Combined they offer over 750 kilometres of trails. 

Derek Sagert, groomer operator for the Swan Valley Snowmobile Association, said his club was one of the only clubs in Manitoba to have all its trails open the whole season last year. The trails in the valley are very well maintained and well marked, and riders need not worry about ever getting lost. The Swan River Valley also offers warm-up shacks that are all fully stocked and equipped with propane barbecues, firepits and all the cooking utensils needed.

Sagert highlighted a few of the must-do rides in the area. For all trails, staging is accessible in any of the smaller towns, as well as right from the hotels in Swan River.

Benito and Pretty Valley trails

If you're looking for a family outing or just a leisurely ride that will take a couple of hours, you could head out on the Benito Trail. This involves about 15 kilometres along smooth fields. You can then take a left on the Pretty Valley Trail, where you may see a few deer or other wildlife.

"You can also see our little provincial mountain, which is more like a hill," laughed Sagert. "From there, you can take the junction with the Wellman Lake Trail and take a right to our warm-up shack near Finch Lake. It is completely stocked with frying pans, wiener sticks—all the utensils."

From there, you can double back up to the Minitonas Trail, which is another 17 kilometres. Sagert said it's a really nice straight stretch of countryside with lots of deep snow along the way. Going left from Minitonas leads you back to Swan River.

"Depending on how fast you want to drive, it could take you all day or just a couple of hours," he said. "It's a very nice family ride."

Thunderhill Trail

If you are a snowmobiler with a little more ability and want to do some sledding in the hills, you can ride the Thunderhill Trail straight west from Swan River. You will come to Knot Corner, where there is a big tree with knots in it. Since you are right on the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border, you can go to Moose Range Lodge and explore the trail there or continue south to the Thunderhill Area.

"There is a ski hill there, so if you want to take the day off to go skiing, you can," said Sagert. "If not, you can hit up the lodge there, where they can cook for you. Or we have one of our nicer warm-up shacks there where you can have a cookout."

From this point, you'll head into the town of Benito, where you can get gas and food, or you can turn back towards Swan River at the junction by choosing the Benito Trail.

"This trail will take about three hours if you are a moderate driver," said Sagert. "There is some really nice scenery there and it takes you through many rolling hills. If you want to make it a full day, you can head back through the Pretty Valley Trail where you could venture off the trail and play in the powder and the hills."

Wellman Lake Trail to Pine River Trail to Cowan

As Sagert said, no trail is too difficult in the Swan River Valley, but this route will offer some scenic bush trails and some amazing views. You leave Swan River to the south and take the Wellman Lake Trail; the first stop will be the warm-up shack near Finch Lake. Continuing south, you'll be in the trees.

"This area has very big trees and winding, tight corners," said Sagert. "It's a beautiful trail."

When you reach Wellman Lake, you can stop at the lodge, get food or fuel and continue south. Soon, you will head east towards Pine River, which typically has lots of deep snow, then north on the Pine River Trail, an old rail bed. Sagert said it's very smooth and very fast here, kind of like the Autobahn of the Swan Valley trail system. From the little town of Cowan, you'll follow the Little Duck River, being treated to splendid views of the river valley from above. This is the most scenic of the bush trails and is nice and wide. At the Cowan warm-up shack, there are firepits and barbecues as well as an amazing view of the river from the cliff above near the shack. This route is about 100 miles and can take you all day.

Know before you go

Maps for the Swan River Valley trails can be picked up at most restaurants and gas stations in Swan River and surrounding towns like Benito and Cowan. The warm-up shacks also usually have maps.

In Manitoba, you will need a snopass. You can purchase one from any MPI/Autopac agent in the province. An annual pass costs $125 while seven-day pass costs $60.50.

The great thing about getting a snopass in Manitoba is that it can be used in Saskatchewan as well, and vice versa.

For more information, you can check out the Swan Valley Snowmobile Association's website.

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