From Pemmican Trails
Length: 32.8 km (one-way)
Difficulty: Easy - Moderate
Effort: ~9 hrs (2 days)
The South Escarpment Trail is multi-use trail located in Riding Mountain National Park. It begins at a parking lot and picnic-area off Highway # 19 and runs down to a pickup point near Kerr Lake at the southern boundary of the park. This trail passes over rolling terrain and virgin forest before dipping through the McFadden valley on the southern half of the trail.
Highlights include great camping at Muskrat Lake, scenic viewpoints along the trail, and the option of doing a day hike from camp along the Robson Loop.
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 bush, there are no side trails and all junctions are clearly marked by large green signs.
There are two campsites along this trail both with picnic tables, fire pits, water-pumps for horses, outhouses, food storage bins, and a good supply of dry firewood. There is water available nearby at both sites and grills for cooking . The Muskrat Lake campsite also has hitching rails and two corrals for horses.
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 the northern section can be done by snowshoe or ski; the trail is usually packed by snowmobile later in the season and the parking lot at the north trail head is often cleared of snow. The best time to hike this trail would be during the fall, when the mosquitoes have mostly died down and the track is liable to be at its driest.
Dangers and Annoyances
No Parking at the Southern Pick-up Point
The southern pick-up point really is just for pick-ups, there is a nasty drop off leading down to the trailhead that would probably bottom out any car or truck with less than two feet of clearance. It may be possible to park on the shoulder about 100m south on the road, but do so at your own discretion.
Horses, deer, and moose haved ripped up some sections of the trail, making it a bit muddy in parts. This has mostly occured towards the center of the trail. Most of the time it is possible to get around these sections without even getting your feet wet.
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.
- Muskrat Lake is by far the nicer of the two campsite.
The north end of the trail begins at a gravel parking lot directly off of Highway #19. Along side this parking lot is a picnic area with a few picnic tables, a fancy stone outhouse, and a raised fire-pit. There is more than enough room to park half a dozen cars here and even a few trailers. The path begins directly behind a wooden sign emblazoned with a map of the trail and other useful information. There is a hitching rail a few meters up the trail for horse owners.
Campbell Lake Campsite
This campsite is situated more or less directly on a wide section of trail. To the west, obscured by a layer of thin trees, stretches Campbell Lake; to the east lays a marshy sort of depression filled with grass and dead tress. There are two picnic tables here, two fire pits, some split firewood, a privy, and even a hand-pumped well for watering your horses. This definately isn't my favorite campsite in the park.
Muskrat Lake Campsite
This site is large and actually very nice (as are most of the “horse” camps in Riding Mountain National Park). To get to this site you must first cross a wooden bridge that passes over a thin creek and then mount a small hill. The camp site is slightly higher than the surrounding area and provides a nice view of Muskrat Lake. There are a number of picnic tables here along with fire pits, split firewood, a privy, a hand-pumped well for watering your horses, and two corrals. There is enough open space at this site to camp an entire Boy Scout troupe.
Note: The creek water was so infested with mosquito larvae when I was there that the horse’s water well seemed the more attractive option. Do heed the signs and be sure to boil the well water if you intend to drink it.
Southern Pickup Point
This pickup point is just that: a pickup point. At one time it may have been possible to park a vehicle here, but by now the slope down to the trail head is too steep for any vehicle without a good two feet of clearance. There are relatively flat ditches a few hundred meters to the south (near the road-side shrine), but there is no way to say for certain whether parking here would be permissible or not.
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: you should probably enter through the South Entrance instead, if you intend on picking up a back-country pass from Wasagaming.
Getting to the North Trailhead from Winnipeg is quite simple and takes about 3 hours. Take the Trans-Canada Highway #1 out of Winnipeg and then turn north on the Yellowhead #16 a little ways past Portage la Prarie. Continue down this road; in Neepawa turn north onto highway #5. Follow this road for about 50 km and then make a left turn (west) onto Highway #19. Follow this gravel road into the park for about 11 km and look out for a sign marking the South Escarpment Trail. The parking area is clearly marked and nearly impossible to miss.
Southern Pickup Point
Note: there is no parking lot at this pickup point.
Getting to the South Pickup Point from Winnipeg is not too hard and takes about 3 hours. Take the Trans-Canada Highway #1 out of Winnipeg and then turn north on the Yellowhead #16 a little ways past Portage la Prarie. Continue down this road; in Neepawa, turn north onto highway #5. Follow this road for about 23 km and then make a left turn (west) onto PR 357 (Mountain Road). After about 17 km, you will need to make a right turn (north) on a gravel road called W97, follow this road for about 6.6 km until it intersects with Kerr Lake Rd. There will be a small shrine on your left, continue north down the road slowly for about 50 meters and look out for the pickup point on your right.
Please see Photos of the South Escarpment 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.