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Winnipeg's River Trail

Q+A: Winnipeg's River Trail

Winnipeggers who love the outdoors don't have to go far to enjoy some winter fun: the city's two rivers provide several kilometres of groomed trails right downtown for anyone willing to brave the weather.

CBC's Wendy Sawatzky headed down to check out the trails, then talked to Justin Dyck, supervisor of operations at The Forks, about what's up on the ice – and what's underneath.

When is it open?

The trail is usually open between mid-January and mid-February, as long as ice conditions permit. Contact The Forks or the Winnipeg Police River Patrol for the latest ice conditions.

What is there to do?

A warming shelter at the Hugo Street Dock entrance to the trail
A warming shelter at the Hugo Street Dock entrance to the trail

There are two paths on the river: an ice path, which is cleared and groomed for skating, and a footpath.

The footpath is also open to skiers, snowshoers and cyclists. Leashed dogs are allowed. Snowmobiles and other motorized equipment is not permitted.

Warming shacks are provided at several points along the trail. A snow maze and curling rink are also available on the river near The Forks.

Special programming, such as sleigh rides, face painting, and winter games, is offered from noon to 4 p.m. on weekends. Most programming is free of charge.

The river trail connects with the skating trails and footpaths "on shore" at The Forks; many more indoor and outdoor activities are also available around the Forks historical site.

How thick is the ice?

An ice-grooming machine clears the ice for skaters on the Assiniboine River
An ice-grooming machine clears the ice for skaters on the Assiniboine River

When the ice reaches 25 centimetres (10 inches) thick, the city's harbourmaster gives the Forks approval to put equipment weighing almost 3,000 kilograms (6,500 lbs) onto the ice.

Heavier equipment is allowed as the weather gets colder and the ice gets even thicker.

When the ice is at its thickest, the Forks sends very heavy equipment - such as tractors, water tanks, trucks, and ice-clearing Zambonis - onto the river, sometimes several times per day.

What if the weather warms up?

A single day or series of days with temperatures slightly above zero will not affect the stability of the ice. When

weather warms up in the spring, the harbourmaster begins checking the ice daily.

Why are there "thin ice" signs near the trail?

Thin ice sign near a sewer outflow
Thin ice sign near a sewer outflow

Thin ice signs are posted in many areas around the city where the ice may be dangerous to walk on.

Near the river trail, they are posted near areas where sewer outlets empty into the river. While the ice may be hazardous in those areas, the stability of the trail itself is not affected.

I stepped off the trail and my feet got wet!

Heavy snow conditions on the river can put pressure on the ice, says Dyck.

As a result, some water and slush rests on top of the ice, but under the snow.

Slushy footprints near the path
Slushy footprints near the path

While the slush or water might fill your boots with water, Dyck says there is no need to worry about plunging through the ice if you step off the trail.

However, to avoid wet feet, he suggests staying on the cleared paths and trails, or sticking to areas already tramped down by other people.

Last Updated: February 1, 2005
Text and photos by CBC online journalist Wendy Sawatzky
Telephone: (204) 788-3646
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Related Links

FESTIVAL DU VOYAGEUR: More about activites on the Assiniboine Credit Union River Trail

THE FORKS: More on winter activities at The Forks

CITY OF WINNIPEG: More on winter activities around the city

CBC INDEPTH: Wind chill


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The best place to get on the river trail is at one of seven established access points, which offer staircases and snow ramps.

Most access points also offer warming shelters or benches where people can sit to tie on skates, skis or snowshoes.

Access points are usually located at:

  • Hugo Street Dock
  • Osborne Street Dock
  • Legislative grounds
  • The Forks Marina
  • Norwood Grove Dock
  • Exchange District
  • Tache St. Dock
  • Skate rentals are usually available at The Forks Market.

It's also possible to join the trail at other spots along the river. Of course, avoid any area near a "thin ice" sign. It's easier to get down by walking on paths already tramped by others.

Parking is available in lots at The Forks. Some parking is also available on the streets around the other access points.

Public restrooms are available at The Forks.