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Hecla Lighthouse Overlooking Gull Harbour

Hecla Island Manitoba For Hiking & History

There’s a good chance that unless you live in Manitoba or you’ve got some Icelandic blood in you, that you’ve never heard of Hecla Island, named for Mount Hecla, one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland.

Located about 90 minutes by car north of Winnipeg, the island has an interesting history as we learned from our hosts, Sharon and Dave at Solmundson Gesta Hus in Hecla Village. Sharon was actually born in the house and has lived through many of the changes the island has seen. (In 2021 the B&B is permanently closed.)

Hecla Island history

Originally settled in 1876 by people fleeing Iceland – initially because of an erupting volcano the island has been the recipient of off and on again economic success, mostly related to the freshwater fishing industry.

By the time the late 1960’s rolled around too many people were leaving the island, in large part because of a decline in the fisheries industry. To save the community and to provide employment, the islanders banded together and petitioned the Manitoba government to make the island a park. The park formally opened on July 26, 1975.

Now, as part of Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park, the island has plenty to offer the hiker, biker, kayaker, birder and history buff. And in winter, it’s great place to visit for cross-country skiing.

 A great big welcome sign greets you
A great big welcome sign greets you
One of the zillion frogs that startled me as I walked towards the water at the park entrance
One of the zillion frogs that startled me as I walked towards the water at the park entrance
Komid aftur means Come again in Icelandic
Komid aftur means Come again in Icelandic
Remains of the old ferry landing - used before the causeway was built
Remains of the old ferry landing – used before the causeway was built

Hiking on the island

I had come to the island, primarily for the hiking but in August when I visited, it was a wet one. Many of the trails were actually underwater. We made the most of it and checked out the following trails.

The Lighthouse at Gull Harbour

Throwing on some water shoes we waded through the water to the Lighthouse at Gull Harbour. You could have taken a dry route but this was actually more fun. As a a 6 km return hike, it offers beautiful island views, rocky beaches and loads of bird life. And the lighthouse itself is very photogenic.

The waters of Lake Winnipeg are higher than normal
The waters of Lake Winnipeg are higher than normal
The lighthouse overlooking Gull Harbour
Hecla Lighthouse overlooking Gull Harbour
The spotted sandpiper had no fear of humans
The spotted sandpiper had no fear of humans

Hike to the north end of the Island

Another option is an easy hike to the north end of the island. It takes you to a pretty park filled with birch trees and a viewing tower worth climbing for the views out to nearby Black Island.

Continuing around the top of the island, you run into a few beaches, though I think the prettier ones are accessed best from the trail to the lighthouse. For a look at some local history and an old limestone quarry, hike the10 km West Quarry Trail found in the northwest corner of the island.

A viewing tower at the north end of the island
A viewing tower at the north end of the island
The view to the other islands in Hecla Provincial Park from the top of the tower
The view to the other islands in Hecla Provincial Park from the top of the tower
Sand art on the beach
Sand art on the beach 
Excellent birding on Hecla Island
Excellent birding on the island

Grassy Narrows Marsh Trails

The Grassy Narrows Marsh Trails are accessed just after driving onto the island via the causeway. In total there are 25 km of hiking available over five different trails, some of them on boardwalk – though not in the summer I was there.

The one exception was the short Madtom Trail that was exclusively on boardwalk. A walk along it provided our first ever sighting of a bird called a Virginia Rail.

Unfortunately high water closed these trails
Unfortunately high water closed these trails
The Madtom Trail with a short section of boardwalk was open
The Madtom Trail with a short section of boardwalk was open

Black Wolf Trail

The Black Wolf Trail would under lower water conditions be the trail to access the most untouched areas of the park. With options to hike over 22 km, you can explore a landscape that includes marsh, forest and a section of Lake Winnipeg. Large mammal sightings are also possible, in particular black bear and rarely, black wolves.

A colourful start to the Black Wolf Trail
A colourful start to the Black Wolf Trail

Other things to do on the island 

The wind was blowing hard on the weekend we visited. Otherwise we would have considered renting kayaks and going out for a few hours. The waves were big and the skies forbidding so it just didn’t make sense on this visit.

We did see people riding bikes on quiet roads and if we’d had more time we would have investigated Hecla Village – where you can take a guided walking tour.

Where to stay on the island

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There are many options ranging from camping to luxury. You can camp south of Hecla Village, with primitive toilets only. The bulk of the campsites are at the north end of the island, close to tennis courts, beaches and a playground.

For a dash of luxury book the Lakeview Hecla Resort. It overlooks bird-filled marshes and is an easy walk to a pretty beach on Lake Winnipeg.

Where to eat 

You can eat at Seagull’s Restaurant at the Lakeview Hecla Resort. But if you’re visiting the island on a Friday or Saturday night between mid-June and mid-September, I would recommend heading to Integrity Foods, located north of Riverton, but before you reach the island.

Starting at 5 PM you can choose a pizza topping, perhaps one where you’ve gone into their garden to pick some of the herbs and garden vegetables you want on the pizza, and then watch as it bakes in the outdoor wood-fired oven.

Grab a lawn chair and enjoy your pizza – with an organic spelt crust – surrounded by flowers and farm country – farm animals included. This is a fantastic multi-generational outing.

Picking garden toppings for your pizza at Integrity Foods in Riverton
Picking garden toppings for your pizza at Integrity Foods in Riverton
Our southwest pizza before it went in the oven
Our southwest pizza before it went in the oven
Super hot pizza oven cooks them in about 5 minutes
Super hot pizza oven cooks them in about 5 minutes
One of the friendly goats at Integrity Foods
One of the friendly goats at Integrity Foods

Further reading on things to do in Manitoba

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

A Visit to Hecla Island in Manitoba

Thank you to Travel Manitoba for help with some portions of this trip.

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 36 Comments

  1. I hadn’t heard on Hecla Island before but it looks and sounds wonderful. I love birds and this looks like a great spot. The idea of picking your own pizza toppings makes me want to check out Integrity Foods too! Thanks for all the great info and photos.

  2. Your photographs are enchanting and I love your sand art –
    Do you know of Andy Goldsworthy’s art works all created in nature from whatever is around? Its impermanence being part of the essence of its creation!
    Search his name with the word Images – You’re in for a treat πŸ™‚

  3. Like Sue commented, I had never heard of the place before – I love how you introduce me to such places! The frog photo is especially charming and I can see how you might have missed him and thus been startled by him!

  4. wow, I had no idea that Canada had a little piece of Iceland, even though we are as multicultural as any country can get! But I’m guessing with all that water, the bugs must have been epic! πŸ˜‰

  5. What a lovely, wild area with an out-of-the way feeling; just my kind of place! Your photos are great and I especially like the colorful flowers in the garden where you could supply some of your toppings for your custom made your pizza. Sounds delish!

  6. I’ve wanted to go here for ages, but when I finally made it to Manitoba I went to Churchill instead, so I really enjoyed reading about it here.

  7. I hadn’t heard of Hecla Island before but it looks like quite an interesting place to visit. Manitoba and Saskatchewan are the only provinces that I haven’t been to so I have to head out that way soon to explore a bit!

    1. @Lisa Despite preconceptions of flat and boring prairie country, I think there’s plenty to do to keep all family members busy. One look at the map and you’ll see a heck of a lot of lakes to explore as well. How about a train trip in the summer to Churchill? That would be a cool thing to do.

  8. I grew up in Winnipeg so we often went to Hecla Island. Lots of important history there. I’ve never seen it so wet as it is in your photos though – it almost looks like Costa Rica it’s so lush! We always ate fish and chips on our road trip to Hecla but that pick your own topping pizza place sounds like fun and looks delicious.

    1. @atastefortravel I think it just started raining in August and didn’t stop though we didn’t actually have any rain when we were there. I was disappointed that some of the great hiking trails were under water but it just gives me an excuse to return. Unfortunately saw no fish & chips so don’t know if that place has disappeared or we just missed it.

  9. No, I’ve never been to Hecla island – but it looks like an interesting place to visit and hike. We would love spotting birds and of course the trails would be the best bit for us … just before the pizzas πŸ˜‰

  10. I’d never heard of Hecla Island, but now I have, I’m just back from Iceland, so I can relate to the comparisons.

  11. You’re right — I’d never heard of Hecla Island. It’s interesting that the Icelandic people fled to Manitoba, in particular. I wonder what drew them there. Looks like a place to get away from the bustle and explore a beautiful area.

  12. Great post! I was just at Hecla today and decided to hike the Grassy Narrows Trail based on your beautiful photos! It was absolutely lovely and I enjoyed spending the day there. Your photos are so gorgeous. Thanks for writing such a wonderful and in-depth post about your time at Hecla. I enjoyed reading about your experiences!

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