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A Visit to Historic Hecla Island in Manitoba

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.

"Welcome to Hecla Island, Manitoba"

Welcome to Hecla Island

"frogs on Hecla Island"

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

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.

"The waters of Lake Winnipeg are higher than normal"

The waters of Lake Winnipeg are higher than normal

"The Lighthouse at Gull Harbour"

The Lighthouse at Gull Harbour

"The spotted sandpiper had no fear"

The spotted sandpiper had no fear

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.

"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 Hecla 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.

"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

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.

"Black Wolf Trail"

A colourful start to the Black Wolf Trail

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.

"Integrity Foods in Riverton"

Picking garden toppings for your pizza at Integrity Foods in Riverton

"Integrity Foods pizza"

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

Have you ever traveled to Hecla Island?

A Visit to Hecla Island in Manitoba

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

Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

More posts by Leigh

Join the discussion 33 Comments

  • Sue Reddel says:

    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.

  • I’ve never heard of Hecla Island! Looks to be a lovely getaway.

  • You’ve done a great job, Leigh, in highlighting Hecla Island. It really is a great place. Amazing at how many frogs, isn’t it?

  • I’d never heard of this place. It looks very remote and lush. I have to admit that seeing all of that standing water made me feel like grabbing the mosquito repellant!

  • Linda ~ Journey Jottings says:

    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 :)

  • Suzanne Stavert says:

    I have never heard of this place! I love to read about new adventures! Your photos are fantastic!

  • Jackie Smith says:

    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!

  • jane canapini says:

    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! ;)

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!

    • @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.

  • atastefortravel says:

    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.

    • @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.

  • Johanna says:

    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 ;)

  • Shelley says:

    There’s something so appealing about a boardwalk to me. Great photos of Hecla Island!

  • Michelle says:

    This looks like my kind of place! I love nature and hiking. The frog and garden photo are beautiful!

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

  • 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.

  • 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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