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The Trail to Grey Owl’s Cabin in Riding Mountain

I had never heard of Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park until I was designing our American Safari itinerary. All I knew about Manitoba was that you could see polar bears in Churchill and you could swim with beluga whales.

While researching Riding Mountain I came across a page about the wildlife found in the park. My eyes stopped at one word in particular: wolves. Wolves! Digging more I found a research paper with the location of the wolf pack territories within the park. And it was while doing that research that I found a map with all the hiking trails and points of interest. I could not believe my eyes when I read Grey Owl’s Cabin Trail. I didn’t even know that Grey Owl ever lived in Manitoba.

Grey Owl's cabin
Grey Owl’s cabin

Who was Grey Owl?

I have always admired Grey Owl since as long as I can remember, yet sometimes it seems that I am the only person who has ever heard of him. Trapper turned conservationist, Grey Owl was born Archibald Stansfeld Belany in England. Seduced by the outdoors and longing to live in the wilderness he moved to Canada and posed as a native American where people knew him as “Archie” Grey Owl.  Known internationally for his work as a speaker, author, and conservationist, Grey Owl was hired by Canada Parks as the “caretaker of park animals at Riding Mountain National Park” in 1931, when he was 42. His specific goal was to re-introduce the long-persecuted beaver back into the Canadian wilderness.

Grey Owl moved to Riding Mountain with his companion Anahareo and their two pet beavers (Jelly Roll and Rawhide). The summer of 1931 was an extraordinarily dry one and the land proved to be unsuitable for both the beavers and for Grey Owl (he wanted to be able to travel by canoe). They relocated to the Prince Albert NP in Saskatchewan where Grey Owl was able to use his canoe and to reintroduce his beavers, who soon built lodges and spread throughout the park. This is why I was so excited to hike to his cabin. It was a rare chance to catch a glimpse into the life of a great naturalist and conservationist.

Grey Owl photos at his cabin
Grey Owl photos (with beaver and a deer fawn) at his cabin

Want to learn about Grey Owl the easy way? His life was made into a film (titled Grey Owl) by Richard Attenborough and starring Pierce Brosnan.

On The Trail

Truth to be told, I am not a hiker. I like to wander around the woods and sit and listen to the forest, but that does not give me “true hiker” status.  The round trip to the cabin was a daunting 11 miles and it sounded like a lot of work for a hot sweaty summer day.

But when would I have this opportunity again?

So armed with bug spray and water we set off early in the morning to avoid the midday sun.

Scenery along the trail
Scenery along the trail

We moved faster than expected, hopping carefully over the tiny frogs that crossed the trail and always trying to stay one step ahead of the cloud of mosquitoes. In no time we had reached the warming shelter, and we decided to step in to momentarily avoid the blood-sucking hordes. It proved to be a pleasant, mosquito-free retreat. Two benches, a stove, a guest book, and a broom decorated the dark room. Outside, a bunch of firewood sat ready to welcome the white winter and the people who might need shelter during their cross-country ski and snowshoe outings.

Having recovered from our mosquito attack we decided to carry on and get to the cabin, just over 3miles away. It would be perfect for a lunch break.

The trail is not great for wildlife spotting. It is walled in by tall bushes and trees which made me a bit nervous. If we encountered any wildlife, there was no place to go. No escape route, for us or them. After all, we were hiking in mountain lion, bear and moose habitat. I am not concerned about wolves, they’ll see us before we see them and they’ll vanish like ghosts.  We started talking loudly to warn any large creatures that we were approaching.

Bear track showing claws
Bear track showing claws
Wolf scat on the trail to Grey Owl's cabin
Wolf scat on the trail to Grey Owl’s cabin

Along the trail we constantly saw animal signs, reminding us of what a wild place we were in. The most impressive was the claw marks of a large black bear high up on a tree, where you could see each claw perfectly. That is always an impressive sight to me. We also saw our first moose track.  The animal had been evading us throughout Manitoba and had been walking right here along Grey Owl’s cabin trail this very morning. But yet, we did not see it.

Moose track of a big individual
Huge moose track!
Bear claw marks on a tree
Bear claw marks on a tree

Arriving at Grey Owl’s cabin gave us a feeling of achievement and I was surprised to discover how well-kept it was. It was a sturdy and solid log cabin, bigger than our house in North Carolina (our house is very small). It sits on top of a little hill surrounded by trees. Somehow I imagined it sitting by a little lake. No views of glorious mountains either, just dense weeds and trees. But we did find a little lake behind the trees. I then imagined Rawhide and Jelly Roll carrying twigs along the waters and playing together as beavers do.

Remains of the beaver pond where Rawhide and Jelly Roll played
Remains of the beaver pond where Rawhide and Jelly Roll played

We entered the cabin and I smiled. “It’s so cute!” I wanted to move in right then. The cabin had two rooms. The main room had a desk, an oven and what appeared to be raised beds, like the second floor in a loft. The other room was smaller with some shelves. The toilet was an outhouse in the back of the cabin. A new outhouse had been built for hikers to use. It looked like a mouse rave party had recently taken place with finely shredded toilet paper scattered all about.

Inside Grey Owl's cabin
Inside Grey Owl’s cabin

Back in the cabin, Hal wrote on the guest book. “So cool to be here!” Next to the guest book, another book sits filled with newspaper clippings, official documents, and correspondence from the 30’s documenting Grey Owl’s short stay in the park. It is a fascinating read.

The greatest feature of the cabin can be found in the back wall. We discovered an opening slightly larger than a cat door that allowed the beavers to come in and out. I peeked in and imagined the beavers bringing in twigs to make their lodge beneath Gray Owl’s bed.

I was surprised that Riding Mountain displayed so little information about Grey Owl.  Their visitor center does not offer any kind of information about his work or his time in the park. The gift shop has some Grey Owl postcards, but when I asked if they had any of the books he had written, I was told to drive to another town to find them. Sadly, he is often only remembered for impersonating a native American and later being uncovered as an English man. But his work and his message still stand tall. And I was honored to have visited a place where he and his lovable beavers once roamed.

Remember you belong to nature, not it to you

– Grey Owl

Cristina Garcia

Zoologist and wildlife photographer. She has worked in the field with jackals, wolves, cheetahs, & leopards. She serves on the Board of Directors of SEE Turtles, a non-profit sea turtle conservation organization.

Read her posts at Travel For Wildlife and see more of her work at Truly Wild, & Our Wild Yard.


Monday 21st of May 2018

Hi, thanks for this post - because of a disability I am unable to get there but wanted too years ago, sorry I didn't go but thanks to adventurers like yourself we can get see or visualize the possibilities and your realities thanks again, Mike

Rick Niwa

Sunday 15th of January 2017

I made the hike to Grey Owls cabin on Aug 25, 2013, I thought I would share my story. The trip was pretty much as you described with the temperature in the high 90’s. Traveling solo, I was on high alert for bears but dismissed the canine scat and tracks as belonging to dogs without a second look. I had never considered wolves. On the way out, fatigue started to set in amplified by the heat. I stopped at the shelter to rest a few minutes before the final few miles. Not long after I resumed my hike I looked up and there, on a knoll, in the middle of the trail not more than 60 yards ahead, stood a wolf broadside. It seems we surprised each other, about the time I realized what I was looking at he bolted into the trees on the right hand side of the trail. Thrilled I quickly grabbed my cell phone from my left shirt pocket and got the camera ready as I continued down the trail. When I got to the knoll where the wolf had stood, my eyes scanned the forest to my right. After a few seconds, smiling at my naivety for thinking that the wolf would still be there, I turned my head to the left to put the phone back in my pocket. There, standing parallel to the trail facing the direction I had just come, was the wolf, so close I could almost touch it! Startled, I yelled and the wolf vanished into the trees. This time I searched for a heavy limb. The rest of the trip out was uneventful but I will never forget those few minutes. On a side note, I have also completed the trip to Grey Owls Cabin in Prince Albert National Park, where he spent the last years of his life. While I do not want to take anything away from the trip at Riding Mountain, there really is no comparison. The trip to Lake Ajawaan and his cabin there far exceeds all expectations, the trip itself if well worth it. I encourage anyone with an interest in Grey Owl to go. Rick.

cristina garcia

Monday 6th of February 2017

Oh wow! what an amazing experience!

I would definitely love to visit Lake Ajawaan and his cabin there, it is already on my list - Cristina :)

Patrick McDermott

Friday 6th of September 2013

Hi Cristina - I work in the visitor centre in Riding Mountain. We do, in fact, have handouts on the subject of Grey Owl. They are available to anyone who asks. We also have a team of guides and interpreters there, all of whom are well versed on the story of Grey Owl. Had you asked, one of our friendly staff would also have pointed out that, in our administration building's lobby, there is an album with copies of all his written correspondence during his time at RIding Mountain. We also have some old footage of him at his cabin. Our library has books he has written, available for short-term checkout. Some of the books he has written are found in another town (it is a 15 min bike ride to the south).. but these are actually AUTOGRAPHED by Grey Owl himself. Poor MIchael's Bookshop (as it is now known), that houses these rare editions, is also an old haunt of Grey Owl's - making the short trip very worthwhile.

Thanks for the positive feedback on Riding Mountain! Looks like you really enjoyed your time here. However I feel like you may have missed a few vital pieces of the Grey Owl puzzle by not addressing the staff at the visitor centre.

Yours - Patrick McDermott (Interpreter - RMNP)

Cristina Garcia

Friday 6th of September 2013

Hello Patrick, Thanks so much for your thorough response. It's good to know there is Grey Owl information if you know where to look! We did have some excellent help from Riding Mountain staff when inquiring about wildlife in the park, as described in our post about our amazing Lynx sighting in Riding Mountain Keep up the great work!

Mary @ Green Global Travel

Thursday 5th of September 2013

Thank you for sharing Grey Owl's story! It's really quite fascinating! I will look into the film and do some research to satiate my curiosity about this extraordinary and unusual figure and his relationship with Raw Hide and Jelly Roll!

Cristina Garcia

Thursday 5th of September 2013

It is fascinating! If you like baby beavers you will love the film! (they are so cute)

Traveling Ted

Thursday 5th of September 2013

Never heard of Grey Owl or this park for that matter. Sounds like he lived a fascinating life. Great to hear about conservationists back in the day as they were true pioneers.

Cristina Garcia

Thursday 5th of September 2013

Riding Mountain is pretty cool. You should visit sometime!