Cross the Minnesota border into Manitoba and you’ll find open prairie and farmland until you reach the outskirts of Winnipeg, the provincial capital. In Ontario you’re in lake country, lightly populated and a hit with nature lovers and fishermen. Lake Superior, shared by the United States and Canada, adds another dimension to the adventure. Sometimes in this remote landscape it’s hard to tell which country you’re standing in. Then again, before the invention of maps, North America’s first people didn’t worry about such things.
Minnesota’s border with Canada stretches for 547 miles and has eight border crossings stretching from Grand Portage into Pigeon River in the east to Lancaster crossing into Tostoi on the western end. The busiest portals tend to be Grand Portage, as well as International Falls to Fort Francis, Baudette into Rainy River, and Warroud, which borders with Sprague. Another well-traveled option is the Pembina to Emerson border crossing shared with North Dakota. Interstate 29 is a straight shot into downtown Winnipeg, roughly 70 miles from Emerson. Busier border crossings are subject to more truck and trailer traffic and are accompanied by longer wait times.
Winnipeg, Manitoba, is the home of Winnie the Pooh. A bear cub named Winnipeg was adopted by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade before they headed for Europe to fight in World War I. A statue of the bear that inspired the well-loved children’s story sits in Assiniboine Park, along with the image of Captain Harry Colebourn who rescued her. Other points of interest include the Royal Canadian Mint, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Exchange District, an artsy area noted for its architecture as well as its antique shops. Take the Bison Safari tour at Fort Whyte Live, a 640-acre eco-friendly park that’s home to a small herd of these temperamental beasts. Open year-round, the park offers hiking and canoeing during the warmer months and cross-country skiing, skating and tobogganing during the winter.
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Thunder Bay, Ontario, is the closest large city to the Minnesota border. It sits roughly 28 miles north of the Grand Portage to Pigeon River crossing via Highway 61. Take to the waters of Lake Superior during the summer months for a bit of canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing or fishing. For scuba divers, excursions to explore shipwrecks that dot the lake’s bottom await. In winter skiers and snowboarders take to the runs at nearby Loch Lomond and Mount Baldy Ski areas. Chippewa Park, bordering Lake Superior, is a combination amusement park and zoo that offers camping on-site. History buffs head for the Thunder Bay Military Museum, the Thunder Bay Historical Museum or the founders Museum and Pioneer Village. Visit Fort William Historical Park, a recreation of a Thunder Bay trading post and settlement from 1815.
A number of Canada’s provincial parks are within easy reach of the Minnesota border. On the eastern end near Thunder Bay is Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, sitting on its own peninsula in Lake Superior. Moose are often found munching along the shoreline, sometimes standing chest-deep while grazing for water plants on the lake bottom. Camp in the Mary Louise Lake Campground or head to the back-country for a more secluded wilderness experience. Quetico Provincial Park, west of Thunder Bay via the Trans Canada Highway, is made up of a number of islands and is known as a wilderness canoeing area. The Dawson Trail Campground offers tent and RV camping at French Lake, but the main draw is the backwoods campsites that are only accessible by water. To keep the area pristine, camping permits are limited. Lake of the Woods Provincial Park is a wilderness area known as a nesting ground for pelicans. It is a day use area, roughly 25 miles north of Rainey River via Highway 621.