If you live in Manitoba, there is a good chance you have heard of or visited Riding Mountain National Park. It definitely IS something to write home about and there is good reason why it is a popular spot year-round.
Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP) sits atop the Manitoba Escarpment and houses lakes, trails, buffalo, and even secretive wolf packs (says the Government of Manitoba website!). It is a family favourite location in the summer offering camping (yurts or regular sites) and a variety of outdoor activities. Stay tuned for a more detailed post about RMNP and all its wonder in the weeks to come, as K and I have a yurt excursion planned near the end of August.
In the meantime, a little drive never killed nobody…
So into the car and onto HWY 1 we went! I live in Gimli, MB so RMNP is approximately 3 and a half hours from me (you can thank the big body of water called Lake Manitoba situated between Gimli and RMNP for the slight detour). K lives in St. Francois-Xavier and therefore saves over an hour of travel time in order to get to Riding Mountain. But the drive does not kill our vibe. The price you pay in vehicle time pays dividends once you reach the trailhead.
We reached the East Gate of RMNP around 6pm on Saturday night and wasted no time. We parked our car near the Burls & Bittersweet trailhead, and headed back toward the gate entrance via foot to start the Gorge Creek Trail.
Our plan: hike as much of Gorge Creek as possible then turn around and hike back up to Bald Hill to catch the sunset.
Gorge Creek Trail is an out and back trail 6.4kms one way. Because it is situated on the escarpment, it begins with a fairly steep incline almost immediately. From there, it will continue to rise and fall in elevation giving your glutes and calves intermittent breaks along the way. The trail itself is gorgeous. This time of the year provides lush greenery and immense beauty. Several times throughout the hike I mentioned to K that “it feels like we are in a jungle!” As you climb in elevation, there are moments when the trees “break”, and the sites of what’s below combined with the sky offer rewarding views. We made it to the lookout point before we decided to turn around and head back, giving us enough time to trek to Bald Hill for the sunset.
Once we returned to the trailhead where we parked the car, we began our just-over-5k journey to Bald Hill. Although we treated this trail as an out and back, it doesn't have to be. You could loop back to include Reeve's Ravine (click here to read more!), which would add another kilometre to your hike.
This trail looks significantly different than Gorge Creek. Designed for hikers and bikers, the trail is slightly wider and every so often wooden ramps are provided to support those who (are crazy enough to choose to) bike. PS: we totally idolize you bikers because it seems like quite the challenge!
Luckily, we only encountered 5 humans (2 on foot, 3 on bike), 3 dogs, and 0 bears. Just the way we like it. The top of Bald Hill is the closest you will get to “mountain views” in Manitoba, but it is nothing to be sad about! The views are incandescently worth it. Forest fires loomed east of RMNP on this day, but the air remained clear for us. At the top the hill, however, you could see a wall of smoke in the distance, creating an appealing visual effect.
During the duration of the hike it almost looked like we wouldn’t be receiving what we came there to get: a sunset. But as 9:45pm inched closer, the clouds began to part and colour filled the sky. It was truly remarkable. We got lucky. We hung out on the top of Bald Hill for quite some time, sipping on cans of Prosecco and taking in the views. Just after 10pm we started our 5k trek back, headlamps neatly secured to our foreheads (however, the light from the sky proved to be sufficient enough until we were back in the thick of the forest). We hiked approximately 17 kilometres and trekked from 6pm-ish until just after 11pm, with lots of breaks for pictures and snacks.
On our journey back home, we stopped at the 24-hour McDonald's in Neepawa for breakfast (it was near midnight after all) and we loaded up on sausage breakfast sandwiches (double meat, double egg, no cheese) and a black coffee for me; it was going to be a long drive back home. We got back to my car in St. Francois-Xavier around 2am and I fell fast asleep in my bed close to 3:30am. Worth it.
We would 1000% recommend this hike. It may just be our favourite hike in Manitoba.