Hiking the Mantario Trail in Whiteshell Provincial Park

A five-day hike allowed this family to disconnect from the world and connect with one another.

Family in Whiteshell Provincial ParkPhoto: Sandra Smith
Selfie of the family overlooking Two Lake.

Our family likes to hit pause, escape the everyday, connect with nature and explore our beautiful province of Manitoba. In the summer of 2020, it was even more important, due to the stress of the pandemic. Jared and I started taking our girls, Autumn and Nia—now 15 and 12 years old—into the backcountry from a very young age. We started with short trips, slowly increasing the length and difficulty over the years.

Last summer, as August drew to a close, we hiked the Mantario Trail in Whiteshell Provincial Park in eastern Manitoba. This 63-kilometre wilderness hiking trail is a test of endurance as it weaves through the Canadian Shield.

Whiteshell Provincial Park - Family hiking the Mantario TrailPhoto: Sandra Smith
Jared and the kids working their way down a steep rock face.

For a few days, we were alone in the backcountry, away from the chaos of everyday life. We find that when we disconnect with the everyday and connect with nature, we depend on team work and develop bonds as a family. Over five days we hiked 27 hours, as our family followed the trail through forest, over granite ridges, through marshes, over creeks and along lakes. Nia enjoyed the sections of the trail that meandered through the marshes and bogs, as you tend to dance along the trail, leaping from solid ground to fallen logs, trying not to miss and end up in the marsh. This trail challenged our endurance, climbing 30 metres down from a granite ridge to the valley forest, crossing a creek or marsh and then climbing up 50 metres to the granite ridge on the other side. We were rewarded along the trail with amazing views over granite ridges and across rocky lakes. Autumn enjoyed the parts of the trail that scrambled up or down rocky boulders that Mother Nature left for us like a natural staircase.

Mantario Trail rock staircase with ropePhoto: Sandra Smith
Sandra using a rope to climb down a steep rocky staircase.

There are three small lakes along the hiking trail called One Lake, Two Lake and Three Lake. This section is known to be one of the more challenging parts of the route as fresh water access is scarce. We had to carry an extra four litres of water that hot day, adding to the weight of our packs. But the selfie we took from the granite ridges around Two Lake was rewarding! We stopped each day for lunch at a lake and took a swim to cool off, as the weather turned warmer than expected. Each night we were thoroughly exhausted when we stopped for another swim and supper at the campsite. We fell into our sleeping bags in our tent at the end of each day, to listen to a few chapters of the paperback book we read as a family.

Whiteshell Provincial Park campsitePhoto: Sandra Smith
The family’s campsite at Peggy Lake.

One morning, a couple who shared the campsite requested that next time I read louder so they could enjoy it, too! My favourite campsite was on Peggy Lake, where we set up our tent a metre or two off the trail, on a sliver of land. The loons and crickets sang us to sleep that night, and the trumpeter swans were our alarm clock early the next morning.

Whiteshell Provincial Park - Bridge over Whiteshell riverPhoto: Sandra Smith
Autumn, Jared and Nia on the bridge over the Whiteshell River.

On the last day, as we neared the north end of the trail, the landscape changed as we climbed down from the rocky ridges into the ash and alder forest hugging the shores of Big Whiteshell Lake. Jared enjoyed following the maze-like trail around huge ash trees. This part of the trail felt magical, with the sun muted from the giant trees and the landscape covered in green moss—you could almost see the fairies peeking out from behind the trees. Taking time out as a family to slow down, connect with nature and recharge helps build strong bonds that will help us tackle challenges in everyday life. It takes sweat and tears, along with joy and laughter, to tackle a challenge and succeed. We are renewed as a family by our pause, to go back to the everyday and wade through the messy and busy parts of life. And to dream—where will our next adventure take us?

Next, check out 10 of Canada’s greatest hikes.

Originally Published in Our Canada