Trip to Mantario

Anyone who says they like portaging is either a liar or crazy

Bill Mason

This page provides an interactive map and some interesting botanical side notes about the trip to Mantario and the day hike that is often taken. The day hike is usually done on the Wednesday of the summer program and follows part of the Mantario trail. The information provided here is supporting material for the 'Botanical' week run as part of the Mantario summer program. More complete information about the summer program and the trip to Mantario should be obtained from Nature Manitoba.


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Download GPX or KML file of Mantario Points.


Trail Marker

Trip to Manitario:

  1. Start the trip to Mantario from the dock at the south campground, Big Whiteshell. While paddling across this lake take note of the amount of algae in the lake then try to count the cabins. If you come with your own canoes you can start further along your route from the boat launch at Block 9.

  2. Carefully check out the colony of Brittle Prickly-pear cacti the island just south of Post Island. Please do not disturb or take portions of this plant off of the island. This patch was mentioned in a 2003 article by Ernie Boyd for the Ottawa Valley Rock Garden and Horticultural Society, there was some concern that this colony would suffer from the campers and other day-time users of the island. In 2010 it looked like the patch was suffering, by 2012 it was doing very well. The Canadian Field Naturalist has two articles that include the distribution of Opuntia fragilis in southeastern Manitoba (Frego and Staniforth, CFN 100(2): 229-236, 1986 and Staniforth, Cody, and Frego, CFN 116(4): 547-550, 2002)

  3. On the way to Mantario, or back, stop near Castle Rock to climb the caves. Here you will be able to cool off and look at liverworts (Marchantia polymorpha). On the beach in 2003 there was an abundance of Physostegia virginiana var formosior or False Dragonhead.

  4. There is a significant amount of poison ivy at the start of the primary portage from Big Whiteshell into Crowduck. Stay out of the bush until the top of the portage, where it crosses the Mantario trail. This route has not been used in a number of years now, the alternative portage also has poison ivy but less and it is more off the trail.

  5. The end of the primary portage has some interesting plants, along with more poison ivy. Look for wild ginger in the low wet area beside where the boardwalk was removed. There is also plenty of jewel weed found along the boardwalk. This is convenient since it can be used as a remedy for poison ivy rash. Right on the shore, growing in a crack in the rocks, there has been a giant hyssop plant growing for a number of years. This licorice smelling plant makes a very pleasant tea.

    After several years of decay and dis-repair the boardwalk on the Crowduck side of the portage was removed early in the summer of 2004 and had not been replaced by 2010 (I now think this might never happen). This made the original path almost impassable. Typical of many wet portages, and the people that use them, the trail was made wider by every passage because the users did not want to get their feet wet or muddy. In 2005 multiple new trails were cut out of the bush, each of these becoming muddy and treacherous very quickly. Unfortunately this has caused a significant amount of damage to this beautiful moist/wet forest. Many logs have been dropped erratically along this trail apparently to walk on but I find them more likely to be ankle breakers than helpful.

    In 2010, after several years of the primary portage getting worse, a new canoe (and Kayak?) only route was made that is dryer, and not as steep (at the start) or as high - but it is longer. There is still some poison ivy on the Big Whiteshell end of the portage so don't stray too far.

    To provide an idea of the portage I made a video in 2016.

  6. When you cross the 600meter portage from Crowduck into Ritchie lake you are entering the Mantario Wilderness area. This area is restricted to non-moterized traffic. Hunting, resource extraction (e.g. logging), and development are all highly restricted.

    This video provides an idea of the portage condition into Ritchie Lake (2016). This portage for many years was very deep sticky mud but over the last couple of years the cut made by the portage has drained the water from the start of the portage so it is much drier (usually).

    There is an alternative, but longer, portage from Big Whiteshell into Ritchie Lake. Unfortunately the Big Whiteshell side of this portage is often ankle deep in water, humus, and mud. If possible remember to keep to the trail!

    In 2016 I made this video to provide an idea of the portage conditions.

  7. Lunch time on Ritchie! Time for a swim and a break. While you are wandering around check out the pin cherries. This is one of the common camp sites between between the Mantario canoeing and hiking trial. Look for the bear box for food and the big green 'throne' in the woods.

    The next portage, after lunch, into One Lake is the shortest of the whole lot.

  8. River Otters and a walk in the marsh. River Otters have been spotted on Lake One near where it narrows to the south. During the trip out in August 2006 a number of otters popped up to snort at us as if to say 'what are you doing here?' when we paddled by. The portage was on the east side of the marsh when I first starting leading trips to Mantario. It is a little longer now and on the west but at least it is no longer hip deep in the marsh mush. Even though it is often a little wet and muddy on the Lake One side this is really a nice portage with some neat plants to see. In July I usually find a few dewberries along the trail - it is hard to hide the fact I am picking berries with 16 (17) feet of canoe and a pack of plant identification guides.

    Photo Credit: Helen Leeds

  9. RUN!! Carnivorous Plants!! Two of Manitoba's carnivorous plants are found in the small bog at the end of the portage between One Lake and Two Lake. Look for the small round leaf sundew and the pitcherplant. Over the last several years this bog has seen a slow change in the flora - less bog like and more fen/marsh like. The most noticeable change is the decline in the number of pitcher plants. Another very common aquatic carnivorous plant (Utricularia vulgaris or Common bladderwort) can be easily seen in mid-July around the marshy sections throughout the whole region. The trees in the bog are mostly tamarack - the only Manitoba coniferous tree that looses its leaves. The needles fall after turning a beautiful gold every autumn.

  10. The up-and-over. This portage goes over a height of land that is quite steep at both ends and reasonably level across the top. Just over half way across the portage into Lake Three there is a canoe rest setup. Take advantage of the pole between two trees to hold the canoe, take break and look around. During the summer of 2003 a much safer cut-off was made near the middle of the steep section at the south end of the portage - it is now the route that everyone (pretty much) takes. This portage, in my opinion, should be renamed to 'onion' portage because of the abundance of onions on the south facing section overlooking Three Lake. On the steep section look for wild onions and smooth sumac.

    I didn't video this portage in 2016 so I returned in 2017 to complete the set. There is no running commentary this time, but you should have an idea of the nature of the portage. Unfortunately the camera doesn't do the climb (up or down) justice.

  11. The longest, and usually wettest portage. The portage has moved several times over the last few years because of beaver dam flooding. Three to Mantario Portage Look at the changes in the shrubs and trees where the portage has been in the past. Over the summers of 2005/6 beavers had enlarged a dam at the Mantario end of the portage making even the high trails wet. There was actually benefit to this 'beaver work' since the winter trail could be paddled.

    I took this video in 2016 to provide an idea of the portage - but you really can't count on what you are going to find. Every year it is a new adventure. In 2017 the water level was too low to paddle, but it was still very muddy - the high path was in use.

    I made another video in 2021 because the beaver pond had pretty much dried up.

  12. At last — the Nature Manitoba Cabin. Enjoy a nice hot sauna and swim. On the last leg across the lake look at the level of algae in this lake, count the cabins. Think back to Big Whiteshell and the impact that we have had.

Mantario Island

Elevation Change
This figure is based on the Active Track of a Garmin GPS60, 2008.
Elevation Change
This figure is based on the Active Track of a Garmin Dakota 20, 2021 using the barometric altimeter
There are errors and variation associated with elevations due to the inherent limitations of a GPSr to determine altitude (see:

Overview of Mantario Lake

Day Trip and Local Points of Interest:

The full length of the day hike is over just over 10km. Since I very rarely hike the whole circuit I have only listed items normally seen (by me). The map above shows the day hike with a purple line with a red line where at the cut off between Spider and Moosehead.

  1. Across the beaver dam and up the hill. Look at the changes the beaver has made. In this area you will find Joe Pie Weed, Jewel Weed, Cattails. While climbing the hill note the change from moist lowland Mountain Maples to upland rock outcrops and Jack Pine. Look at and enjoy the wide variety of lichens and mosses, special interests of mine, throughout the area.

  2. Near spider lake you are walking in Ontario - at the border marker there are a number of species that are more typical of the prairies, not the boreal forest. Look for Big Bluestem and Cut-leaved Anemone. In the pine stand just before the marker there is a lot of checker berry. Try some for a refreshing wintergreen taste.

  3. Spider lake is a nice stop for a rest and a swim. This location marks the typical cut off (short cut) that is usually taken during the botanical week. On the hill near here and on the trees look at the wide variety of lichens. In the bottom of the ravines near spider lake, around the feet of the aspens, look for Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora L.) and Striped Coralroot (Corallorhiza striata) in June and early July.

  4. Moosehead Lake is great for a quick dip. Just down from the swimming hole there is a small marsh. Look for stinging nettles and sour dock. While walking the Mantario trail near Moosehead look at the [trail] rush growing along the trail. This rush is often abundant on moderately used trails. There is also an abundance of wild strawberries along this section of trail.

  5. Near the end of the trail down to Mantario look for large tooth aspen. This tree looks similar to regular Aspen Poplar but it has very large leaves with large distinct teeth on the leaves. Through out the under-story bunchberry and twinflower (Linnaea borealis) can be seen.

  6. On Hop Lake, in the bog to the right of the portage from Mantario, you will find bog cranberry and Labrador tea. While you are at it look for Kalanski's old cabin (NAD 83, 15U 343405 5541258, N50°00'10.97" W095°11'06.96") and see how nature reclaims what we leave behind. On your way back take a quick look at the plants and micro-habitats around the waterfall near the portage.

  7. Vier lake is a great place to see wild rice at the end of the summer. Getting into the lake can be tricky if you cross near the creek over the floating mat of vegetation. A better alternative is to land on the narrow sandy beach just west of the creek and walk in over a height of land - there is no trail but in 2007 it was quite open. While not uncommon I remember seeing Arnica lonchophylla (Spear-Leaved Arnica) in abundance near the creek. Over the summer of 2003 the water levels were quite low and everywhere mud flats were exposed this plant came up in profusion.

  8. Look for blue berries on the island near the end of the portage from Hop Lake. There are not very many, just enough for a pie, but even in dry years they are quite plump and juicy. There are blueberries everywhere along the day hike so you don't have to count on a trip into Hop Lake.

  9. Near the portage into Spider lake there is a large marsh/bog area. You can, with some work, follow the creek into Skull lake. This is a neat area to paddle and observe the aquatic and emergent vegetation. Mid summer there are a number of small white and yellow flowers that grow out of the water along with the water lilies and other aquatic flowers. These two aquatic plants (Ranunculus aquatilis L. (Water Buttercup) and Bidens beckii Torr. (water beggar's-ticks)) are uncommon in Manitoba. Durning mid-July in 2005 the Water Buttercup created a blanket of flowers across the west side of Skull lake. Bidens beckii is also known as Megalondonta beckii or water marigold. Another aquatic carnivorous plant can also be found with yellow snapdragon looking flowers (Utricularia vulgaris L. (Bladderwort)).

  10. Sunset hill is a great place to climb in the evening and watch the sunset over the lakes. Look for small patches of peat moss growing on the way up. This is also the first place I remember seeing Aralia hispida Vent. This is a close relative of Aralia nudicaulis or Wild Sarsaparilla. Canoe to a point before the narrows (south east of the point) and look for a wide rock slope. Follow the markers across the the top of the hill. Although it is best to canoe to the point it is possible to walk. If you are walking follow the Mantario trail to a clearing about 200m short of Hop Lake (15U 0343901N 5540922E) and then cross a small valley and up the hill (toward 15U 0344022N 5541111E) going almost directly north.

Some Thoughts from 2016 Participants

Top 10 in 2005:

Heather Cullen sent me the following top 10 list of things I did that made a HUGE difference to her on the 2005 trip. I have copied them out here because they reflect some of the things that happened on the trip and the atmosphere of the Mantario experience.

  1. The padding primer on Big Whiteshell in the driving wind + rain (thank you, thank you).
  2. Expressing the need for duffers on the trip
  3. Timing botanical observations perfectly to keep participants motivated + engaged + positive (vs. focused on the mud!)
  4. Providing the books for keying + discussion (carrying them in + out)
  5. Getting us yummy stuff to eat
  6. Demonstrating canoe rescue and paddling techniques + GPS info
  7. Not snoring + accepting wood ticks
  8. Picking dewberries w/canoe on head
  9. Demonstrating the bog bunny hop with near sacrifice of important body parts (as I helpfully laughed?!)
  10. Threatening to toss me in the lake (giving me a swimming opportunity)

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Horse Tails - Picture by Mikaila Hardy hardycoghill at
Photo Credit: Mikaila Hardy, 2005

Last modified: Sun Jul 22 06:49:41 2017