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Woman skating The Forks with dogs

Skating at The Forks in Winnipeg, Manitoba

John and I braved cold and wind in Winnipeg. Why? So we could go skating at The Forks – the world’s longest natural outdoor rink – and that’s a Guinness World Record’s fact. The Forks are located at the junction of the Red & Assiniboine Rivers,  just a 2 minute drive from Main and Portage.

Winnipeg, called Winterpeg by many, is famous for its long, brutally cold winters. Getting outside is the key to surviving them. Fortunately someone got the great idea back in the nineties to open the Red and Assiniboine Rivers to skating. And what a difference skating at The Forks makes to enjoying winter.

Skating at the Forks on a pretty section of the Assiniboine River
Skating a pretty section of the Assiniboine River

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Skating at the Forks is one of the must do activities if you’re in Winnipeg in the winter.

When we visited in late January there were seven kilometres open – a combination of the more sheltered Assiniboine River and the larger Red River. According to a fellow who works at Iceland Skate Rentals plans were in the works to open a total of eleven kilometres that year. Every year is a bit different.

Over the weekend we visited the temperature in Winnipeg was -21°C, make that -31°C with the wind chill – not the sort of temperatures that beckon the locals, let alone out of town visitors.  However, it’s a dry cold and not quite as awful as it sounds. 

Clare MacKay, the VP for marketing and communications at The Forks, tells me that if the wind disappears and the temperatures stay above -20°C, the Forks can see up to 30,000 people over a single weekend. In some ways we were lucky as I’d say we saw no more than two dozen people out skating.

For information about The Forks visit their website.

Skating on another visit to The Forks at dusk
Skating on another visit to The Forks at dusk
A fellow biking the frozen Red River
A fellow biking the frozen Red River

You don’t even have to skate The Forks

The beauty of The Forks is you don’t even have to be a skater. There’s a snow covered trail alongside the skating trail so everyone can get out and enjoy the fresh air. And in this part of the world there is usually sunshine too.

I had brought warm clothes but not skates with me. Fortunately skates are easy to rent. Inside the Forks Market look for Iceland Skate Rentals. They have over 500 pairs of skates.

Rentals are very reasonably priced – $6.00 a pair for adults and $4.00 for kids and seniors. They also provide onsite locker rentals and skate sharpening for $6.00.

I am fully bundled up - and very warm 90% of the time
I am fully bundled up – and very warm 90% of the time while skating at The Forks
At times I have the whole Assiniboine River to myself
At times I have the whole Assiniboine River to myself (I’ve told John to go ahead)
Look out for cracks in the ice that can send you flying
Look out for cracks in the ice that can send you flying
John enjoying the fact he can go fast without running into anyone
John enjoying the fact he can go fast without running into anyone

John and I skate for the better part of 90 minutes. He does the whole 14 kilometres, I do about twelve kilometres. The only part of me that gets cold is my face. A mask would have come in handy.

But when we finish I feel a warm glow and a profound sense of being alive.

Warming Huts along The Forks

The only thing I’m sorry to have missed is the warming hutsWithin a week of our visit there will be approximately fourteen warming huts at various points along the river. These aren’t just any old warming huts but ones that have been designed by architects.

A warming hut under construction
A warming hut under construction you can use while skating at The Forks
The Smokehouse warming house - designed by aamodt/plumb architects from Cambridge, MA (this is not in its finished form)
The Smokehouse warming house – designed by aamodt/plumb architects from Cambridge, MA (this is not in its finished form)

Here’s a description of The Smokehouse – one of the winning entries – from the Warming Huts website.

The elemental, pure form of the hut, almost the very symbol of home, rendered in the stark black of charred wood, is nestled in soft white snow.

Inside, layers of thick ivory felt line the walls and seating, creating a nest-like interior reminiscent of ancient gathering places strewn with animal pelts. On closer inspection, one discovers the felt layers embossed with delicate patterns and textures, a subtle sanctification of intimate space. The room has a unique sound, or absence thereof: it is silent, like the sound of new snow on the street.

One enters and leaves through the same door, stooping to duck under the felt draftstop, bending to join temporary community within. The communal nature of the experience is revealed only upon entering as you join the visitors gathered in the quiet warm space. It is this unfolding of subtle surprises that lie behind the formal quietude of the hut.

Catch one of the many activities at The Forks

If you’re in the Winnipeg area between early January and the end of February make it a point to see these warming huts (which change yearly) and go for a skate.

You may luck out too and catch one of the multitude of activities planned at The Forks in the winter – including a curling Bonspiel, a bike race and shinny.

On a final note – I would like to mention that the famous Rideau Canal in Ottawa – which is also used for skating, is the biggest natural outdoor rink – just not the longest. It also has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Where to stay close to The Forks

Book a room at the Inn at the Forks. as the skating trail is just a minute’s walk away – as is The Forks market. The hotel itself  offers beautifully appointed rooms with views to the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in one direction. Look the other way and you can see the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

Further reading on things to do in Manitoba

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Skating the world's longest natural ice rink in Winnipeg



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 18 Comments

  1. I would have guessed Rideau Canal in Ottawa. I didn’t realize that The Forks area was cleared for skating. Sounds like fun though – anything to not have to skate around and around and around and around!

    1. @Gillian I think there is a battle between the two cities. I think it’s great they both have long rinks. I grew up skating on the Rideau Canal and loved the recreational opportunities it provided especially to a group of teenagers.

  2. I guess I’d be on the side trail hiking as I’ve never been a skater; however I can see that it might be a fun activity if for some reason I found myself in Winnipeg in the dead of winter…hmmm, can’t really see that happening either, but you never know, right?

  3. -21 C?!! good lord.. i can’t even manage -2! haha. Well, i like the pink laces but that’s not enough reason to get me on the rink in that blistering cold.. unless u have a giant facemask for me that is heated inside! LOL

    1. @Mette Can you skate on the lakes in Denmark? I realize it’s a function of temperature but I never associate the Danish people with skates – only the Dutch though there is plenty of hockey happening in Europe too. Rivers are way more fun to skate on than indoor arenas or small local rinks.

  4. I can’t even begin to comprehend how cold it must be at those temperatures! I pile all the winter jumpers on at once on the rare occasions when the temperature drops to under 10degrees celcius! The skating looks fun and what a great idea to be able to skate on the rivers. Weren’t you lucky that there were not too many people around the day you went!

    1. @Jenny It’s all what you get used to. I have a very low tolerance for too much heat and find the ideal temperature to be between 20-25C. Unfortunately we don’t get enough months like that. And the skating was great fun. I wish we had a long rink like that in Calgary.

  5. Sounds like fun! I like anything that is the world’s largest/longest/tallest, etc. Great idea about the warming huts as well!

  6. Interesting post, you cover this longest rink beautifully. I think fourteen to twelve kms of skating is too long. My maximum score is 5 km but I was not the only skater like you at that place. This place is really good option for skating.

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