Mantario Trail: Caddy Lake to Big Whiteshell Lake (4 days / 63 km)

The Mantario Trail is located in Whiteshell Provincial Park in the eastern portion of the province. The trail extends 63 km south to north over granite ridges, grassy trails, wet bogs, and pristine lakes. The south trailhead is located at PR 312 just east of Caddy Lake and the north trailhead is located on the north shore of Big Whiteshell Lake. The best time of year to hike the trails is in the spring or fall. The exposed rock and rugged terrain can be extremely challenging in the Manitoba heat. After a few consistently dry years, our spring hike in May 2020 was surprisingly dry and the temperatures were perfect. This made our 

Trip Summary

Starting Point: South trailhead is located at PR 312 just east of Caddy Lake

Ending Point: North shore of Big Whiteshell Lake (near Big Whiteshell Lake Lodge)

Total Distance: 63 km

Elevation Gain: 711.4 metres (2,334 feet)

Duration: 4 days

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location

The Mantario Trail is located in Whiteshell Provincial Park in the eastern portion of the province. The trail traverses along the Manitoba/Ontario border, predominantly located in Manitoba there is one short section that dips into Ontario. The nearest town to the south trailhead is West Hawk Lake, Manitoba (the Night Hawk is a must for burgers post-hike). There are a number of small towns/amenities along PR 309 near the north trailhead. 

The south trailhead is located approximately 2 hours from Winnipeg. Travel on PTH 1 towards West Hawk Lake, turning on PTH 44 once you’re in town, and then turn east onto PR 312 towards Caddy Lake. Watch for a wooden sign marking the south trailhead parking lot.  

The north trailhead is located approximately 2.5 hours from Winnipeg. Travel on PTH 59 and then turn east on PTH 44 towards Beausejour. Turn north on PTH 11 and drive for 5km, then turn east onto PR 307 and then turning on PR 309 towards Big Whiteshell Lake.  Keep left at the fork and continue on until you reach a small store and the road ends. Big Whiteshell Lake Lodge is a good location to add to Google Maps! Behind the store is a parking lot – drive through the lot and along the winding gravel road to reach the North Trailhead.

Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of the Michif Piyii (Métis) and Anishinabewaki (source).

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: N/A

Map: The Mantario Hiking Trail – Whiteshell Provincial Park. This waterproof map is available for purchase at Wilderness Supply, MEC, and Canada Map Sales. 

Campsite Reservations: No campsite reservations are required. 

Permits: No backcountry permits are required. 

Outfitters & Shuttles

There are no outfitters or shuttles that offer services to the Mantario Trail. Hikers must arrange their own shuttle to ensure they have a car at either end of the trail. The drive between trailheads is approximately 1 hour. 

Trip Report

Day 1: South Trailhead to Caribou Lake East (12 km)

We started the trail on Friday afternoon of the long weekend to get a head start on the hikers completing the trail in three days/two nights. While I have completed the trail in that length of time, I personally enjoy taking the extra day to give you time at camp to enjoy the lakes, sunsets, and sunrises. It is much more enjoyable not having to rush from campsite to campsite and your body and feet will thank you. 

Day 1 covers 12.3 kilometres from the south trailhead to the first campsite on the trail at Caribou Lake East. This section of the trail is always a nice warm-up for the legs as you ascend rock ridges and descend into swampy low-lying areas. After hiking 7.2 km you will reach Caribou Junction (or the Airfield Tower) – this is a great place for a break and overlooks a large section of forest that was ravaged by wildfire in 2016. The trail then descends into a wooded area before opening up to Caribou Lake and taking you along the shore of the lake until you reach the campsite. This section of the trail took us 3 hours and 50 minutes to hike. 

Campsite: Caribou Lake East – this is a wide-open campsite with many flat spaces for multiple groups to set up camp.

Day 2: Caribou Lake East to Olive Lake (20 km)

We woke up Saturday morning eager to crush out the longest (distance) day of the trail. Day 2 covers 19.5 kilometres from Caribou Lake East to Olive Lake. However, there are a number of campsites between these two points at Marion Lake, Peggy Lake, and Alice Lake. These campsites are all great locations for a quick break or lunch. 

It is a fairly easy hike from Caribou Lake East to Marion Lake. The trail is well defined, with no risk of getting turned around or lost. After climbing over a set of railway tracks (the second on the trail) you descend into the shoreline of Marion Lake. This is sometimes buggy and we usually throw our bug nets on before this descent just in case. Take a snack and water break at Marion Lake – and make sure you fill up your water bottles here – the water is clear and delicious! 

As you leave Marion and head towards Peggy Lake you will continue to climb over rock ridges. The trail soon opens up to a power line corridor – this is another good place for a break, although it can be very hot in the blazing sun. From here, it is a short hike to Peggy Lake, which can be buggy but is a good place for another snack break. The trail from Peggy Lake is somewhat boggy in sections but really picturesque. Alice Lake is only 1.5 km from Peggy so we usually cruise on by without stopping. You will have to climb down and rock ridge and cross a bridge to reach the Olive Lake campsite. The campsite sits right beside a beaver dam so the animals are quite active in this area. This campsite has a beautiful view of the sunset and sunrise in the morning – this has to be one of my favourite sites along the trail. This section of the trail took us 5 hours 40 minutes to hike.

Campsite: Olive Lake – this is a small campsite with room for only a couple of groups. 

Day 3: Olive Lake to Ritchey Lake (16 km)

We woke up Sunday morning easing our minds for the day ahead of us, which is the longest (hiking time) day of the trail. Day 3 covers 16.1 kilometres from Olive Lake to Ritchey Lake but requires a lot of climbing up and down huge granite ridges.

After departing Olive Lake you will reach Moosehead Lake relatively quickly as it is only a 1 km hike away. This is a popular campsite, with many areas to set up your tent. Make sure you have a full water bottle as the next stretch before Mantario Lake can be a be gruelling up and down climb. The climb is worth it though, as you are given expansive views at the top of each granite ridge.

Fill up your water bottles again at Mantario Lake and take a moment to break for lunch. Once again the trail takes you up and down over granite ridges. A roped wall allows you to rappel cautiously onto a beaver dam below. Soon you will enter a mossy forest – a sign that you’re close to Ritchey Lake! This section of the trail took us 6 hours 45 minutes to hike and deserved a welcomed jump in Ritchey Lake at the end – the freezing cold water didn’t phase us after a hot and challenging day! 

Campsite: Ritchey Lake – this is a really popular campsite on the trail as it leaves a nice length of the trail for the last hiking day. There are quite a few areas within the forest where groups can set up so we’ve never had a problem with capacity.

Day 4: Ritchey Lake to North Trailhead (15 km)

The final day is a nice and easy hike to the end of the trail and covers 15.1 kilometres from Ritchey to the North Trailhead. There is an initial steep climb out of Ritchey Lake but after that, you’re generally coasting for most of the way. This section does climb over some gradual rock ridges but swampy sections are almost non-existent.

It’s a quick hike to Hemenway Lake, which is a great place for a quick snack break before powering through the “less-desirable” (aka boring) section of the trail. As you leave Hemenway Lake you drop down into a forested section along Big Whiteshell Lake. The trail here is pretty lacklustre but you’re high tailing it to get back to the car anyways if you’re hiking northwards. After weaving in and out of the beach ridges, you will jump over to an old abandoned road. This is usually a very mentally draining section of the trail and can be very wet if it has recently rained. Then it is the home stretch to the North Trailhead! This section of the trail took us 2 hours to hike – which is indicative that we were racing to get off the trail. 

Reflections

The Mantario Trail, while incredibly rugged, is fairly well marked with large blue directional arrows, flapping tape, or rock cairns.

Please ensure that you are practising Leave No Trace principles while hiking on the trails. Most campsites have a bear box and pit toilet but be prepared with a rope for a bear hand and an understanding of proper techniques to dispose of waste (catholes, y’all). And while bear boxes are available at most campsites it’s not uncommon to find garbage left over – bears are not uncommon on the trail so please for the sake of others, pack out anything you pack in.

Cell service is unreliable along the trail and fellow hikers are not always nearby. Please pack appropriate communication devices (SPOT, satellite phone, etc.) based on your level of comfort. 

This trail is a Manitoba gem – and one of the only long-distance trails in the province so it has become very popular. 

Gallery

Author Bio

Growing up beside the Assiniboine and Red Rivers and spending summers on the shores of Lake of the Woods. Steph fostered a connection with diverse water landscapes, which has largely influenced her academic career paths, as well as her interest in photography. She is passionate about living adventurously in the backcountry, seeking calm moments on the water, and telling inspiring stories through photography from the heart of Canada. She loves to share images and videos of her adventures in the hopes of encouraging others to get outdoors. Not surprisingly, all of her favourite trails here in Manitoba follow along with one of our many rivers or have a rewarding view of a lake at the end. She started hiking more challenging trails in 2017 and became instantly addicted. Now vacation is not complete without a multi-day hike added on top – with some of her most memorable moments happening on trail. 

Website: Steph Explores

Instagram: @steph.explores

YouTube: @Steph Explores