From Pemmican Trails
Length: 24.4 km km
Effort: ~10 hrs (2 days)
The J.E.T.\ Packhorse trail starts beside an agricultural field and then climbs steadily for about 400 meters up onto the Manitoba Escarpment in Riding Mountain National Park. This two day loop can be formed by connecting the J.E.T. and Packhorse trails with a short segment of the North Escarpment trail. Highlights include backcountry camping, views over the surrounding landscape, stream crossings, and some great uphill and downhill sections that will get your thighs pumping.
There are no blazes or signs at frequent intervals along this trail; however, it would be very difficult to lose your way. The trail is wide and surrounded on both sides by thick bush, there are few side trails and all junctions are clearly marked by large green signs.
Both campsites along this trail are well equipped with a privy, fire-pit, food storage bins, and even an ample supply of dry firewood. Additionally, the Breezy Hill campsite has a corral for horses and hitching posts.
This trail can be used at anytime of the year. During the warmer months the trail is used by hikers, horseback riders, and bikers. During the winter, persons on snowshoes can travel along these trails which are often packed; however, keep in mind that the parking lot at trailhead on the eastern park boundary is not cleared of snow. If you are planning a winter excursion on this trail, consider parking at the North or South Escarpment trailheads instead, which are often plowed throughout the winter.
Dangers and Annoyances
The map at the trailhead and also the purchased, plasticized maps available at the Visitor Center have a slight inaccuracy. Both maps place the turnoff to Breezy Hill Campsite at a +-shaped junction with the JET trail; however, this is not the case. The turnoff to Breezy Hill Campsite is at a separate junction about 0.8 km north of the junction between the JET and North Escarpment trails.
There are two minor stream crossings on this trail, small – but enough to get your feet wet. Use proper technique when fording these streams and always wear protective footwear. Remember that heavy rain or snow melt can cause streams to swell, making them difficult or even impossible to cross.
Many wild animals live near or on this trail. Be sure to use the food storage bins provided at the campsites and don’t be overly alarmed if you hear or see animals dart off the trail ahead of you.
At the time of writing, entry into the park costs 7.80$ per day. Youths can get in for half that price. A backcountry camping permit is required for each night you stay on the trail and costs 9.80$ per night. For permits call (204) 848-7275. Cairn’s Cabin costs 24.50$ per person to rent for the night. Be sure to check with Riding Mountain National Park for the most recent price scheme.
- Both stream crossings are only a few kilometers from the trailhead, which means that it is well worth the effort of keeping your shoes dry -- at least on the hike in.
The trailhead is located on the eastern park boundary. There is a wooden, park sign marking the start of the trail and a tiny, grass parking lot with barely enough room for two cars – whether or not there is space for a second car depends on how well the first car is parked.
East Deep Lake Campsite
This pretty campsite is situated beside a small lake at the north end of the North Escarpment trail. There are a couple picnic tables, fire pits, a privy, food storage bins and stocked firewood. Note that at the time of writing one of the picnic tables and the larger of the fire pits were both buried beneath a large, fallen tree.
here is also a water pump here; however, a sign beside it indicates that the water from this well is not potable. Instead, water should be collected directly from the lake and boiled before drinking. This campsite has enough space for at least half a dozen tents.
Breezy Hill Campsite
This campsite is indeed breezy and as you may have guessed it is located on the side of a hill. This campsite is by far the more popular of the two on the North Escarpment trail, probably due to the fact that it has a corral for horses. Amenities include fire pits, stocked wood, picnic tables, a (woman’s only!) privy, hitching posts, and food storage bins. Water can be collected by following the blue, water sign to a nearby stream; this water should definitely be boiled or properly treated before drinking.
There is actually a lot of space at this site for tents, if fact there is even a whole secondary area for tents a little further up the hill behind the fire wood. This area is a little better sheltered than the lower area and may provide added protection from the winds, if they are particularly strong from the north.
A free visitors guide is available upon entering Riding Mountain National Park. This guide contains a small map of the park which is quite sufficient for hiking this trail. Larger water-resistant versions of this map are available from the Visitors Center (open Spring to Fall) in the town of Wasagaming.
The following is a print-quality image of the freely available park map. Click on the image below to view a larger version of the map and then click on "Full Resolution" to view the full-sized image. You can right-click the full-sized image and select "Save Image As" to save the map to your hard drive.
The following maps were taken off of the sign at the trailhead. Note the slight inaccuracy on the one map that has been corrected in red ink. The elevation maps are not very clear, but they show that the J.E.T. and Packhorse trails undergo about 400 meters in elevation change.
Getting to the trailhead from Winnipeg is straightforward and takes about 3 hours (~248 km). Follow the Trans-Canada Highway #1 West out of Winnipeg past Portage la Prairie. Turn north onto Highway #16 and take this road into the city of Neepawa. Continue straight down Highway #16 and then shortly after passing the McDonalds and Petro Canada in Neepawa, turn North onto Highway #5. Follow this road until you see the turn off for PR #462 (on your right) and then make a left turn onto the dirt road opposite it. (This turnoff is about 5 km past the junction with Highway #19 that leads to the park’s East Gate). Drive straight down this dirt road until it veers left. Shortly after this bend you will see a tiny parking lot for the trail on your right. This parking lot is about a hundred meters before the dirt road suddenly ends.
Please see Photos of the JET - Packhorse Trail for a gallery of images taken along this trail.
You can find up-to-date trail conditions online at the web site for Riding Mountain National Park.