Nopiming Provincial Park / Crown Land: Davidson Lake to Tulabi Lake (5 days / 65 km)

The Davidson to Tulabi route is perfect for those looking for a combination of lake and river canoeing. Located along the Manitoba/Ontario border, this is an epic trip along the Canadian shield. It starts by winding through a series of small, remote lakes and eventually makes its way back into Nopiming Provincial Park. Once on McGregor Lake, there are ample campsites available as this is a well-established route within the park. It is popular for weekend campers so plan accordingly, as campsites on Elbow Lake can fill up on long weekends! Excellent fishing is available on these remote lakes, just make sure you’ve got a fishing license for both Manitoba and Ontario! 

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Davidson Lake

Ending Point: Tulabi Lake

Total Distance: 65 km

Duration: 5 days + 2 rest days (could easily be done in 3-4 days)

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location

This route is located in both Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. The route passes through both crown land and Nopiming Provincial Park.

Maps and Resources

Maps: 52 L/6, 52 L/11 (and 52 L/10 if going to Trapline Lake)

Resources: Nature Manitoba’s “Bain Route Log” and Nopiming Provincial Park Water Route Guide

Campsite Reservations: No campsite reservations are required, all sites are first come, first serve.

Permits: No permits are required for this route

Outfitters and Shuttles

We had our own canoe for this trip but if you require rental boats, both Wilderness Supply and Winnipeg Canoe Rentals rent boats and other gear you may need.

There is limited cell reception on this route, Wilderness Supply also offers the rental of SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS devices.

You will be responsible for coordinating your own shuttle service from the launch at Davidson Lake to the ending point at Tulabi Lake. Tulabi Lake has a large canoe staging area and parking lot. The distance from the launch point to the ending point is about 8 km on Provincial Road 315.

Trip Report

Day 1: Launch from Davidson Lake to Trapline Lake (17 km)

We were fortunate to have friends with a cabin on Davidson Lake which is where we began our trip (assuming this will not be the case for most, there is a public boat launch just before the Manitoba/Ontario border). Departing from the cabin’s dock, we paddled east down Davidson Lake towards the portage into Reynar Lake. Davison Lake is an interprovincial lake so once you reach the portage you will be in Ontario. The portage (130 m) is found at the end of the northernmost bay at the east end of Davidson Lake and is marked with blaze tape. It’s a steep uphill climb to reach Werner Lake Road. Travel east down the road for a short distance and there is a small put-in on the other side of the road into Reynar Lake. 

Once on Reynar Lake we headed east to the next set of portages over some small pond-like lakes. The portage (50 m) out of Reynar Lake is found at the very end of the easternmost bay on a rock shelf. From there we crossed the first unnamed pond lake to the next portage (50 m) that parallels a tiny overflow into the next unnamed pond lake. Across that second pond lake is another portage (50 m) which finally brought us to Bain Lake. There are several campsites on this lake but our goal was to spend the night on Trapline Lake for some fishing and exploring the next day.

With that goal in mind, we trudged on. Taking a right out of the small bay from the portage we headed out across Bain Lake. The next portage (250 m) is difficult to locate (we encountered another group that had some difficulty finding it as well) but it’s in a small shallow and reedy bay on the north side of the lake and has a low rock shelf landing. Once our gear was unloaded, we found the actual portage trail located a bit northwest of the landing. The end of this portage brought us to Bell Lake. From here, we headed straight across where we found another “portage” (10 m) into Badgley Lake. I assume in higher water years this portage might not even exist. We managed to just lift our boat over the small bit of land into Badgley Lake. From there, we headed north to the next portage (150 m) into another small unnamed lake. Once across the unnamed lake, we reached the portage (120 m) into Wilson Lake. This portage crosses mostly rock but there are cairns to guide you. The landing on the Wilson side is a little steep going down.

To reach our final destination of Trapline Lake we headed for the most northeastern bay of Wilson. From there it is a short and rather buggy portage (60 m) into Trapline Lake. The landing on the Trapline side has many boulders so be mindful when coming down with a heavy load. Shortly after we pulled out onto the water of Trapline, the skies opened up and rain began to absolutely pour down on us. We were close enough to the campsite that we decided to keep going. This seemed like a good idea until the thunder and lightning started. We found a small area on the north shore where we were able to find some shelter from the storm. Luckily it didn’t last long and we made it to our campsite, fully drenched and ready for a nice steak dinner.

Campsite: Trapline Lake – on the east end of the largest island just before the collection of smaller islands. There is a rock ring fire pit and spots for 3-4 tents.

Day 2: Explore Trapline Lake and Fishing

After a nice sleep-in, we decided to spend the day exploring Trapline Lake. There are 2 fishing lodges on this lake yet we didn’t catch a single fish! We ventured down to the stream at the east end of the lake and followed it for a while. There are several beaver dams on this stream to conquer. The wind began to pick up so we decided to head back towards Wilson Lake where we planned to spend the night. However, the wind derailed those plans and we decided to spend a second night on Trapline. Throughout our exploration, we discovered a second, even better, site on the island directly south of where we had stayed. This would be our home for the evening.

Campsite: Trapline Lake – on the southernmost large island (2nd largest on the lake), just before the collection of smaller islands. There is a rock ring fire pit, stone benches and spots for 3 tents.

Day 3: Trapline Lake to Unnamed Lake (9 km)

This day, we didn’t have far to go today so took our time enjoying breakfast. We set off back towards the short portage to return to Wilson Lake. From there we headed northwest towards the portage into another unnamed lake. The portage (400 m) is found in the most northwestern bay of the lake. It has a rock landing and meanders through an area of tall grass turning into forest. The landing at the unnamed lake is kind of swampy.

We planned to camp on this lake for the evening as we knew the next day heading into Snowshoe Lake would be a long one. Unfortunately, there is only one campsite on this lake and it was occupied by another group. It is a really nice island campsite on the north end of the lake. The sun was still up so we decided to portage into the next unnamed lake and try our luck with finding a campsite there. (According to our maps there were no sites listed on that lake) This required one more short portage (90 m) which is found directly across from the island campsite. It is downhill and runs alongside a small creek that empties into the next lake.

Once out on the lake, we began our quest to find a nice campsite for the evening. There is one large island on this lake, as we passed by the eastern peninsula we saw another group camped out at a site there. It looked to be a gorgeous site with benches and a large fire pit. This made us optimistic and we continued on along the north side of the island until we found a suitable spot to set up for the night. 

Campsite: Second unnamed lake before Snowshoe lake. We made our own site in a small bay on the north side on the largest island. There is a nice rock landing and a mossy flat spot for one tent. We made a rock fire ring and built a cairn to mark the site for future use.

Day 4: Unnamed Lake to Snowshoe Lake (15 km)

This was our longest, most tiring day of the whole trip. As previously mentioned it is best to stay on one of the unnamed lakes or Wilson Lake the night before heading into Snowshoe to give yourself enough time. 

We set off nice and early towards the first portage on the way to Snowshoe Lake. It is found in a short rocky channel on the north end of the unnamed lake. This portage is 50 m long and goes along some rapids on the creek. After this portage, you will wind up in a beaver dam created pond. A short paddle down this pond brings you to the large beaver dam along with a waterfall. From here it’s another portage (150 m) that is a steep downhill drop to the creek below. This portage can be quite slick so be mindful of your footing. It can also take some manoeuvring to get the canoe down the steep rock face. With it being a low water year, there wasn’t much water in the creek at the bottom. This resulted in some creek walking for a bit which was a muddy experience. Eventually, we were able to paddle down the creek towards the next portage. However, there were a number of beaver dams in this creek to haul the boat over.

The next portage of the day follows another set of rapids between 2 pond lakes. On the east side of the rapids is where you will find a 150 m portage. The trail of the portage is covered in boulders with lots of opportunities to twist an ankle. After it’s complete there is a small lake to cross before you finally arrive at Snowshoe Lake! The portage (50 m) is found at the north end of the lake. Where it begins depends on water levels but it will be on the east side of the creek. From there, the creek drains into Snowshoe Lake.

Just as we got on to the lake the wind picked up and rain began to fall. Snowshoe is a huge lake with not a lot of shelter. We found refuge on an island due north of the mouth of the creek. Thankfully, the rain didn’t last long and we continued our journey to our campsite. There are many sites available on Snowshoe Lake, as you head west towards the channel leading to McGregor Lake you will pass about 4 sites. A large island in the channel has a sign labelling it “Wilson’s Island”. We didn’t camp here but decided to come back and check it out the next day. Eventually, we made it to our campsite for the night at the top of the beautiful Snowshoe Falls. At this point, you are back in Manitoba and Nopiming Provincial Park.

Campsite: Snowshoe Lake (Site 19 according to Nopiming Bird River route map) – Located at the top of Snowshoe falls, this site has a firebox, picnic table and pit privy toilet. There is not much in the way of shade, other than a few little trees where it is nice to read a book during the day. This is also at the end of a portage so there is potential to have some people passing through.

Day 5: Explore Snowshoe Lake and Fishing

We had planned a layover day on Snowshoe to explore and fish. There are 2 fishing lodges on this lake so we knew there had to be something! We headed back up the channel further into Snowshoe Lake and caught some pike and pickerel. We stopped off at “Wilson’s Island” to check it out. There’s a nice big fire pit with some benches, spots for about 6 tents, lots of trails to explore through the island, and one resident grouse who wasn’t super happy to see us. On our way back to our site we heard a loud crash behind us as a tree fell into the lake and a water spout developed out of nowhere! It was wild and one of the craziest things we’ve ever seen! We finished off the day with a nice fish fry overlooking the rapids leading down to the falls.

Campsite: Same as previous night (Site 19 according to Nopiming Bird River route map)

Day 6: Snowshoe Lake to Elbow Lake (11 km)

Our next day of paddling took us to Elbow Lake. We started by completing the portage (175 m) from our campsite down to McGregor Lake. There is a small campsite on the McGregor side of the falls, we saw a spot for one small tent and there is a firebox, picnic table and privy. The site is very shaded and the falls being right next to it are quite loud. Once you’re on the lake there is an excellent view of Snowshoe Falls which is a good place to cast a line for some fishing and take a couple of photos.

On McGregor, we paddled west towards our next portage. The portage is found on the right side of McGregor Falls. There is an excellent campsite at the top of the falls to the left which is usually quite popular. You have 2 options for this next set of portages. The original route winds through the forest for 84m then back down to the Bird River. From there is a short paddle to a quick 12 m portage over a small island. Alternatively, you can continue down the forested path of the first portage for a total of ~400 m. However, there is a steep hill at the end which can be quite slick, especially if it has recently rained. There is a rope tied to some trees to assist you. We chose to follow the original trail to avoid carrying heavy loads for too long and managed to lift our canoe over the small island.

From there you follow the Bird River downstream towards Elbow Lake. Elbow can be difficult to cross on windy days but thankfully the wind was in our favour. We had a tailwind to take us to our site. Elbow is also a popular destination for weekend campers so it can fill up quickly. There were a few other groups on the lake when we arrived. We ended up finding a nice spot towards the end of the lake that was nice and secluded.

Campsite: Elbow Lake (Site 2 according to Nopiming Bird River route map) – There are spots for 2-3 tents, pit privy toilet, picnic table and firebox. Nice rock landing but a little reedy for swimming.

Day 7: Elbow Lake to Tulabi Lake (13 km)

Our final day started off clouded over with the promise of rain later on. It was also quite windy but for the most part, we would be paddling on the Bird River sheltered by trees. We started off southwest towards Tulabi Lake. The first portage (30 m) of the day was quick and we carried the canoe over a small trail around some rapids. After another hour of paddling down the winding river, we made it to the 386 m portage. It was mostly flat and had a single fallen tree over the trail. Towards the end, there is a steep drop towards the river but a wooden staircase makes things easier. 

Once we loaded back up in the boat we saw the sign marking the next portage which is always frustrating! The landing of this portage is quite muddy and was very slippery considering the rain we had gotten. The trail itself is a quick 155m that ends at a nice rock landing on the other side. With that, the portages of the trip were complete and we were on our way to Tulabi Lake, our ending point. Just as we finished loading up the boat, the rain began to fall. Thankfully it was a light mist for the most part that tapered off as we turned the corner onto Tulabi Lake. The canoe staging area at Tulabi is to the left of the falls in the southernmost bay. It’s a nice beach area with a short gravel path up to the parking lot. After loading up our gear and canoe into the car the took a short walk down to the boardwalk that overlooks Tulabi Falls. It was a nice way to end a fun trip!

Reflections

This route is one of my favourites, with a combination of lake and river paddling it allows for a rewarding experience. This trip could easily be done in 3-4 days depending on the experience of the group. I am thankful we took a week to really take our time and explore. There are so many unexplored portions of this route and I would love to go back to do it again! This route also offers options to continue on into the Whiteshell Provincial Park or Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.

The portages on this route are fairly well travelled and not overly difficult to navigate with the proper maps and resources. We found Nature Manitoba’s Bain Route Log to be the most helpful in navigating this route. The remote lakes found in the middle of the route provide a true feeling of being “in the middle of nowhere” while the more developed area in Nopiming Provincial Park gives you the luxury of picnic tables and privy toilets. 

It is important to note that on the larger lakes (Snowshoe, Elbow, Wilson, etc) it is very possible to become windbound. It is always a good idea to plan for an extra day and pack some emergency meals just in case! Bears are also becoming increasingly more of a nuisance in this area so be sure to stay bear smart and bring some bear spray or bangers.

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Author Bio

Hey, i’m Lauren! Growing up I took lots of camping trips with my family and have been super fortunate to see a lot of Canada’s wild spaces and parks. It wasn’t until I spent a few years working at a summer camp that I developed a love for canoeing. Thankfully Manitoba is home to some amazing water routes as well as northwestern Ontario which is close by. I spent about half of summer 2020 in the seat of a canoe exploring as many different routes as I could. When i’m not on the water you can find me working at an outdoors store helping people gear up for their next adventure! I’ve got a long list of trips on my bucket list that I can’t wait to explore!

Instagram: @laurenhamilt0n

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