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A Hike on the Gorge Creek Trail in Riding Mountain National Park

The Gorge Creek Trail, a 12.8 kilometer return hike in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park takes you to another world, more akin, at least when I was there, to a rainforest in Costa Rica. The landscape is a total surprise and not one I expected in a prairie province.

Considered to be one of the best hikes in the park, the hike takes you up and down the Manitoba Escarpment through a range of eco-systems. The gorge itself, formed after thousands of years of erosion, moves through vegetation types beginning with aspen and hazel forests and descending through old oak forests to finish at the Birch Picnic Area in a leafy setting of white birch and Manitoba maple.

As an out and back hike, there is no way to avoid going both up and down the escarpment. Choosing to descend first, we started at the western trailhead, located directly across from the South Escarpment Trail. For the first kilometer as we hiked through dense forest, with the occasional clump of bright yellow wildflowers, I wondered why we were here. Big trees and no views do not make a great hike in my opinion, but with the start of the descent everything changed. 

"The Gorge Creek Trail, Riding Mountain National Park"

The Gorge Creek Trail starts off in dense woods

"the woods in Riding Mountain National Park"

Looking up

Emerging from the dense forest, the trail suddenly offered views out to the plains – as far away as the town of McCleary. Looking across the gorge itself, is the scene I think is so reminiscent of Costa Rica.

It’s a 300 meter descent in total and very steep in places. But it’s always doable with the help of stairs built into the escarpment and well-constructed bridges for stream crossings.

"Immersed in a world of green"

Immersed in a world of green

"There's a descent of about 300 m on the Gorge Creek Trail"

There’s a descent of about 300 m on the Gorge Creek Trail

"You feel like you're in a Costa Rican rainforest - but you're in Manitoba"

You feel like you’re in a Costa Rican rainforest – but you’re in Manitoba

Poison ivy is everywhere and is unavoidable for several kilometers. Long pants are a must on this trail. When you’re finished with the hike, don’t forget to wash your hands well with soap and water to remove any oil from the poison ivy – and change into a clean set of clothes. With these precautions, John and I never got a case of poison ivy.

"Don't sit here unless you like poison ivy"

Don’t sit here unless you like poison ivy

"A beautiful stand of birch trees at the bottom of the hike"

A beautiful stand of birch trees at the bottom of the hike

"Looking out to the prairie from the Gorge Creek Trail"

Looking out to the prairie

"Another prairie view"

Another prairie view

There’s a chance you might see a black bear, a moose or a wolf as there is certainly scat around to announce their presence. Make noise and consider carrying a can of bear spray. Towards the bottom of the trail, listen for bird song. Birds were plentiful but difficult to see.

"Bear tracks in Riding Mountain National Park"

Bear tracks

"forest in Riding Mountain National Park"

Truly a magnificent forest

The Gorge Creek Trail is really a delight – despite the shaky start. When you finish the hike, drive out of the park through the East Gate and admire the Manitoba Escarpment from afar. It’s a beautiful sight.

Useful information regarding Riding Mountain National Park

  • The Visitor Center is in Wasagaming, approximately 265 kilometers northwest of Winnipeg and 95 kilometers north of Brandon.
  • Entrance fees are $7.80 per adult per day and $3.90 per child per day.
  • There are lots of hikes to choose from in Riding Mountain National Park, ranging in length from 1.2 to 23.9 kilometers one way.

A Hike on the Gorge Creek Trail in Riding Mountain National Park

Thank you to Travel Manitoba with help and advice on this trip.

Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure – & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project – a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Cindy says:

    Love the photo of the bear track, but glad you managed to avoid both the bears and the poison ivy. I don’t know. . . it looks nice, but doesn’t really look much like Costa Rica to me!

    • @Cindy When I was traipsing in the rainforests last year in Costa Rica I often felt like I was in a scene that you see in Manitoba. I found it surprising and the only thing missing in my eyes was the monkeys.

  • Nancie (@Ladyexpat) says:

    Hi Leigh! What a gorgeous hike. Everything is so beautifully green. that one shot reminds me of Nova Scotia’s New Minas Basin.

  • Michelle says:

    I will hike a any forest trail over a walk through a city any day! There is something about being out in nature that I find soothing and settling. I think I might find he bear tracks a little scary though :-)

  • Mette says:

    I know a lot of people who would freak out to see fresh bear tracks, but you sound rather relaxed about it. Does it come with the territory?

    • @Mette I hiked continuously in bear country this past summer and saw two in total, both while driving. I think I’m always bear aware and I try not to think too much about them – but I don’t let their presence stop me. I always carry a can of bear spray too.

  • Matt says:

    Hi, long time reader, first time poster.

    I enjoy reading the articles and have come up with a few trip ideas based on your reviews. I do, however, have to agree with another comment a reader left on a different article where they suggested you tone down the saturation on some of the pictures. I didn’t reply in agreement at that time because it was a review of a place I hadn’t been before so I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt, but after seeing the photos of Gorge Creek I had to say something. I have done this hike at least six times at various times of the year and can say without a doubt it is not this green – ever. I am an amateur landscape photographer myself and I think when it comes to saturation there is a fine line between enhancing the picture/making it unrealistic. Another possibility is that you are using an auto-HDR feature on your camera in which case I would de-saturate when editing the photos afterwards. Anyways, sorry if it sounds harsh but I had to say something since it involved something so close to home.

    On to more constructive things – a few extra bits of info about the trail.

    A lot of people, if they are in a group with two vehicles, choose to leave one vehicle at the Eastern trailhead and then drive back and start the trail from the West which turns this into a 6.4km “mostly downhill” trail.

    The Park offers a guided hike of this trail with a lunch included for most of the summer and it is actually quite informative. When they do this they leave vehicles at the bottom and start at the top.

    Also another hike in the area with comparable scenery is the new Reeve’s Ravine trail. Being so new (in the last two years), it is very well maintained, not overgrown at all, excellent creek crossings. It offers a lot of the ‘Costa Rica’ type views you pictured here.

    • Matt, I think when it comes to photography, it’s personal preference. Sometimes I do add a bit – but not much and in fact I went back and compared photos and except for the downhill photo, the rest were pretty darned close. And the ones with yellow flowers weren’t touched at all. And it’s not auto HDR.
      I would agree that a car shuttle is possible – but I would also say it’s more likely to happen if a couple of locals get together to plan it. It would be a good alternative for families. I didn’t find the ascent arduous in the least so if people have the time I think it’s a moderate hike to do there and back.

      When we were at the park in August they didn’t open the park office until probably 10 am – which is late when you want to get moving. We ended up at the administration office where someone was quite helpful and confirmed that the Gorge Creek Trail was one of the best in the park. Interesting that they offer a guided tour because prior to my visit, I was in touch with Parks Canada people asking for their suggestions that was never mentioned – nor the newer trail. Good to know.

  • Mike says:

    Yikes on the poison ivy but sweet pic on that bear track photo! I’m with you on wanting a view while a hike. Is it always that green there, Leigh??

  • I live in Manitoba and have been hiking in Riding Mountain numerous times this summer, but have yet to complete this trail. From your review, it sounds amazing. I am actually planning on going back to Riding Mountain next weekend to conquer this one. After having just spent 11 days hiking in the Rocky Mountains, I am pretty sure that my legs can handle this one!

    Thanks for the recommendation!

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