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