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 Mt. Hecla, one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland. Located about a 90 minute drive 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.
Originally settled in 1876 by people fleeing Iceland – initially because of an erupting volcano, it has been the recipient of off and on again economic success, mostly related to the freshwater fishing industry. But 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 Hecla 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.
I had come to Hecla Island, primarily for the hiking but this past August was a wet one so many of the trails were actually underwater. That didn’t deter me from throwing on some water shoes and wading through the water to the Lighthouse at Gull Harbour. You could have taken another dry route but this was actually more fun. As a a six kilometer return hike, it offers beautiful island views, rocky beaches and loads of bird life.
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 where you can see 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 the ten kilometer West Quarry Trail found in the northwest corner of the island.
The Grassy Narrows Marsh Trails are accessed shortly after driving on to the island via the causeway. In total there are 25 kilometers of hiking available over five different trails, some of them on boardwalk – just not this past summer. 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.
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 kilometers, 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.
The wind was blowing hard on the weekend we visited, or otherwise we would have considered renting kayaks. 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 Hecla Island
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.
We stayed at the very comfortable Solmundson Gesta Hus – a B&B that stays open year round.
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 near Hecla Island
You can eat at Seagull’s Restaurant at the Lakeview Hecla Resort. But if you’re visiting Hecla 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 Hecla 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.
Have you ever traveled to Hecla Island?
Thank you to Travel Manitoba for help with some portions of this trip.