From Pemmican Trails
Length: 66 km
Effort: ~30 hrs (4 days)
The Mantario Hiking Trail is a rugged footpath located within the Whiteshell Provincial Park in eastern Manitoba. It measures 66 kilometers in length from the northern trailhead at Big Whiteshell Lake down to the southern trailhead near Caddy Lake. It is by far the most challenging backpacking trail in Manitoba. Surprisingly, it is only used by a few hundred hikers each year.
Highlights along this trail include pristine landscapes, beaver-dam crossings, lakeside campsites, and plenty of scrambling over exposed granite ridges. Wildlife sightings are quite common. The trail was built by the Manitoba Naturalists Society and is maintained by Friends of the Mantario Trail.
The majority of the trail is marked by square signs displaying a white arrow on a blue background.
However, a whole myriad of other signs can also be seen along the trail, including the older triangular signs of brown and beige. Look out for surveyors’ tape indicating a detour or a tricky section to navigate.
Open granite areas are marked by cairns.
All campsites are primitive, some with a fire-pit, picnic table, and bear-proof box for your food and cooking utensils. If you wander around a bit, you may find an old privy in the surrounding bush, but don’t count on it. There is ample room at most campsites for three or four tents and plenty of exposed rock nearby if you are in a pinch.
Fall is the best time to hike this trail, when the mosquitoes have mostly died down and the autumn colors break out. The north end of the trail along the shoreline of Big Whiteshell Lake is wet at the best of times, so during spring you can almost bet on a 4 or 5 kilometer section of slippery, wet mud to tromp through.
In winter it is possible to complete this trail by snowshoe, however it tends to be extremely difficult to navigate as the blazes and cairns along the way are often plastered with snow or buried altogether. It is more common to use the frozen lakes (once the ice is thick enough) and the portage trails instead of the hiking trail. Additionally, the parking lots at both trailheads and the gravel road leading to the north lot are not plowed (although snowmobilers sometimes compact the lot at the southern trailhead enough to enter).
Dangers and Annoyances
The first four or five kilometers along Big Whiteshell Lake are prone to flooding during spring when the lakes are high. This floodwater usually washes away with it a very useful little bridge about 500 m from the trailhead. You can check the water levels online at Manitoba’s Water Stewardship.
Parts of this trail pass through boggy areas that tend to breed mosquitoes. If there is currently a problem with the mosquitoes in Winnipeg, they will almost certainly be worse here. Seriously consider bringing a head-net and bug-spray if you suspect an onslaught, or go later in the season once the mosquitoes have subsided-- it may just save you your sanity.
Many of the open granite areas look very similar after a few hours of walking and it is surprisingly easy to lose the trail or get turned around. Be sure to carry a compass with you and do stick to the path. If you lose the trail (and you probably will), backtrack to the last blaze or cairn you saw and then carefully explore the surrounding areas for signs of the correct path. Many times the marking you are looking for will be on a tree that fell over in high winds. Also, there is a loop near olive lake and several portage-trails along the way to avoid, so be sure to bring a map.
Black Bears inhabit the area and have been known to enter campsites and confront hikers. Maintaining a clean campsite which will reduce the chances of an unwelcome bear encounter. Carrying bear deterrents such as a noise maker and bear spray is advised.
As of May 1st 2013 entry into Provincial Parks requires a vehicle permit.
At the time of writing, a three-day provincial park pass costs $12 for a single vehicle and an annual pass costs $40. Be sure to check with Manitoba Conservation for the most recent pricing scheme.
Backcountry campsites along this trail are free and do not require any reservations.
- Cell phones occasionally work on exposed ridges or in other open areas along this trail.
- Carry a minimum of one liter of water (per-person) between sources
This trailhead has a small parking lot for vehicles and no other amenities. The trail begins behind a map of the Mantario and follows an ATV trail to the lake; you must turn left at the water and follow the shoreline until you see signs of the trail. A wooden sign is usually found near the trailhead indicating high waters and difficult conditions along the trail.
Island View Campsite
Directly east of the northern tip of Post Island (in Big Whiteshell Lake) the trail passes through a little campsite with a steel fire-pit used occasionally by boaters. There is enough room for several tents and a decent view of Big Whiteshell Lake.
Hemenway Lake Campsite
This campsite is surrounded by granite and overlooks a pretty, little lake. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little room for tents unless you are willing to pitch your tent on the granite. There is a picnic table and a fire-pit at this site.
Ritchey Lake Campsite
Located about 400 m off of the trail on a rock outcropping, this is a very pretty campsite. There is a picnic table, fire-pit, food storage box, and even a privy at the end of a short trail into the woods.
Mantario Lake Campsite
This site looks down on the largest lake on the trail other than Big Whiteshell. It is somewhat exposed and can get quite windy at times. There is a picnic table, fire-pit, and a food storage box. The water here is usually the clearest on the trail and there is room enough for four or five tents.
Moosehead Lake Campsite
Hands down, this is the prettiest site on the trail, and also the largest. There are three picnic tables, a few fire-pits, and two food storage boxes. There is even a privy located past the food storage boxes and plenty of room for tents.
Olive Lake Campsite
While this site is very decent, you are probably better off staying at Moosehead Lake, which is not very far away and a little nicer. There is a picnic table here and plenty of room for four or five tents. The water here actually tastes better than it looks.
Alice Lake Campsite
This site overlooks a “lake” that is very pond-like (it even has lily pads). The water here is much better than at Peggy Lake, but still tastes a tad swampy. There is a picnic table, fire-pit, and a food storage box.
Peggy Lake Campsite
Nestled beside a swampy lake, this campsite is actually quite quaint; however, the water source leaves something to be desired. There is a picnic table, two fire-pits, a food storage box, and a privy in the woods.
Marion Lake Campsite
This campsite is situated beside one of the larger lakes on the trail. The view is quite nice and there is a fire-pit, picnic table, and a food storage bin.
Caribou Lake Campsite
This is one of the best campsites, located beside a pristine lake and across from granite cliffs. There are a few fire-pits, a picnic table, and a food storage bin. It is located a short ways off the trail on a peninsula. Firewood can be pretty scarce at this site as it is quite popular.
There is a large parking lot here, a water pump with very good water (many cottagers stop here to fill up tanks of water), and a “long-drop” toilet. The trail begins behind a map of the Mantario and follows an ATV trail for about half-a-kilometer, you will see a wooden sign indicating that you must turn right to stay on the trail.
A waterproof trail map is available for $10 from the Manitoba Naturalists Society (ph. 943-9029) or through Canada Map Sales. The map can also be found in outdoor stores in Winnipeg like Wilderness Supply and MEC.
The following are print-quality images of a Mantario trail map. Click on each image 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 maps to your hard drive.
Additionally, there is a useful map of the Whiteshell Provincial Park with a rough sketch of the trail available online from Manitoba Conservation.
Getting to the southern trail-head from Winnipeg is relatively straightforward and takes about 2 hours. Take the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) out of Winnipeg and past Falcon Lake. Turn north onto Highway #44 for about 7.5 km and then turn east (right) onto PR #312. Follow this road for about 3 km and keep your eyes peeled for a wooden sign revealing the parking lot at the South Trail-head.
Getting to the northern trail head from Winnipeg is a bit trickier and takes about 2h 30m. Take Highway #59 out of Winnipeg and then turn east onto Highway #44, towards Beausejour. There is a slight jog along Highway #12 south, which #44 follows for a few kilometers. At Highway #11 turn north (left) and drive for about 5 km. Turn east onto PR #307, drive through the town of Seven Sisters Falls, and follow this road for about 55km. Veer off left onto #309 towards Big Whiteshell Lake. When you reach a fork in this road keep left and continue driving until the road leads to to a small store near the lake and ends. Behind this store is a parking lot; drive straight through the lot and follow a winding, gravel road to the North Trail-head.
Most groups take two cars, drop one off at a trailhead, and then drive to the other trailhead. This allows them to hike the whole trail and still have transportation at the other end. If you are hiking alone, it may not be possible to hike the entire trail.
To drive from the southern trail-head to the northern one, take PR #312 back to highway #44 and make a right to head north on it. After about 25 kilometers and before the town of Rennie, turn right and head north on PR #307. Follow this road for another 23 km and then turn right onto PR #309. Keep driving until the road ends at a small store near the lake. Behind this store is a parking lot; drive straight through the lot and follow the winding, gravel road to the North Trail-head.
Currently there are no affordable shuttle services offered to, from, or between the two trail-heads. One tour company, called The ‘Toban Experience, will take you to and from the trail if you purchase one of their tours, but it will set you back around 150$.
Please see Photos of the Mantario Hiking Trail for a gallery of images taken along this trail.
For current trail conditions, you can call Manitoba Conservation at their West Hawk Lake Station (ph. 204-349-2245) or Rennie Station (ph. 204-369-3153).
- Official Sites
- Government Sites
- Other Sites
- Plant List - List of plants found along the trail.