Path of the Paddle – Iinoo Oowan Trail: Kenora to Big Whiteshell Park (9 days / 176 km)

This historic canoe route has been a travel route of the Anishinaabe people of Treaty #3 since time immemorial as well as a key travel corridor for voyageurs. It is now followed by adventurers paddling between Kenora and Whiteshell Provincial Park. It follows the Winnipeg River north to Boundary Island on the Ontario-Manitoba border then southwest through Whiteshell Provincial Park. 

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Keewatin Urban Portage (147 Path of the Paddle Map)

Ending Point: Big Whiteshell Park Campground

Total Distance: 176km

Duration: 9 days

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location

Kenora, ON and Whiteshell Provincial Park, MB

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: Lake Superior to Manitoba by Canoe – Hap Wilson

Map: Path of the Paddle Association

NTS Maps – 52E15 Keewatin, 52L02 Whitedog Lake, 52L03 Crowduck Lake (includes Wabaseemoong FN), 52L04 Jessica Lake

Camping Permits: There are no camping permits or campsite reservations, but doing a check online for water levels on the Winnipeg River, especially the Hydroelectric Dam near White Dog is recommended.

Outfitters & Shuttles

We did not sure outfitters or a shuttle for this route, however you will need to coordinate a shuttle or do a self-shuttle between Kenora and Big Whiteshell Campground. The drive between the two locations is 1 h 45 min.

Trip Report

Day 1: Keewatin to Fiddler’s Island (11.6 km)

We put into the Winnipeg River at the Path of the Paddle trailhead in Keewatin. This is the primary public access point for those wanting to travel on the Winnipeg River from Keewatin so is busy with boaters launching for both pleasure and business. Daily public parking is available here but for longer time periods, it is recommended to check with the City of Kenora about long-term parking. (In past years, long-term parking has been available at either of the municipal skating arenas).

We paddled along the northwest side of Wass’say’Gaa’Boo (Tunnel Island trails) before we headed north. Under the bridge of the Trans Canada Highway at Kimberly Rapids, there is some Class II water on this otherwise calm flatwater route. The conditions here will change depending on water levels. It would be possible to portage on the east side of the rapids if desired. A sunny afternoon paddle on a busy Winnipeg River led us past three occupied campsites before stopping at our first night on “Fiddler’s Island”. This campsite is marked on the Path of the Paddle map. There are two sites on this well-used island.

Campsite: space for 3 tents, table and a fire spot. Very flat site. (Be mindful of glass as this can be a popular party site for boaters)

Day 2: Fiddler’s Island to Gun Lake (26.8 km)

From Fiddler’s Island, we continued north with the current keeping on the route suggested on the Path of the Paddle map. Both Myrtle Rapids and Throat Rapids were uneventful Class I but watch for boat traffic as this portion of the river has many cabins and folks out fishing. The water levels on the Winnipeg River were very low during our trip and conditions through the rapids might differ with higher water levels. Throughout the day, we stopped off at a few different campsites either to get out of the rain or to explore. There are lots of interesting geological formations to explore in this part of the river.

Campsite: South of Minaki on the southeast side of Gun Lake, island campsite. Room for one tent with a large flat landing rock, a table that has been used to clean fish and a few choices for fire location.

Day 3: Gun Lake to Little Sand Lake (20.6 km)

A stop in Minaki allowed for replenishing a few supplies and stocking up on minnows. This is the only place to pick up supplies on the entire route. We also stopped to see the newly erected Path of the Paddle trailhead sign located southwest of the Minaki Marina. After leaving Minaki, we started to see the number of boats and cabins dwindle. Many of the lodges in this area did not open during 2020 which would have impacted the amount of boat traffic we saw on this trip. The weather was wet and we had to wait out some lightning along the shore before continuing. 

Campsite: Campsite NW corner of Little Sand Lake just past a reef marker in a channel. Room for 1 tent. Sites are scarce here but fishing is good.

Day 4: Little Sand Lake to Whitedog Dam (13.4 km)

It was a lazy day with some moving water (Class 2) and some more exploring and fishing. 

Campsite: Upstream from the Whitedog dam. The site is in a large clearing with room for one or two tents on flat areas, but several tents if you don’t mind a slope. The benches, table, fire pit, and quiet seclusion made this one of our favorite sites.

Day 5: Whitedog Dam to (21.5 km)

The day began with a short jaunt down the Winnipeg River to the portage at the hydroelectric dam. The portage is 800 m around the north side of the Dam and shown as Portage 148 on the Path of the Paddle map. Due to construction at the dam, the access point had to be moved farther upstream. Put in varies dramatically depending on water levels and we loaded the canoe after running it downstream past a rock garden in a natural back eddy. Water downstream from the dam can be Class III in a few spots, but it was Class II where we were (along the right-hand side when running downstream).

The trip this day involved a conversation with a local teen from the Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) Independent Nations who was canoeing over to where his community harvests wild rice. He was the only paddler we saw between Kenora and the Whiteshell. We paddled along the south part of the channel while passing Wabaseemoong.  Some exploring along the way led to several locations with lots of items washed up on the beaches. We found the variety of rock formations and cobble beaches interesting and unique to this portion of the trip. We also spotted a large pouch of pelicans in the channel past Wabaseemoong.

Campsite: One tent in a very unique site and one site high up on a point: Popular for shore lunches, there were several fire pits with heavy grates. We camped on an isthmus (a narrowing of land) that goes out to the point and separated the channel from a beach in the bay that we landed in. 

Day 6: Eaglenest Lake (20.4 km)

After waiting out some morning rain, we got going three hours later. This is the beautiful topography that I expect when canoeing north of 50 degrees. We passed several beautiful sites to camp, but just could not take the time to camp at more than one. Eagles seemed to follow along with us as we explored some old campsites. A few of these sites could tell you stories as I’m sure they have been used for hundreds of years of trade. Once we arrived at the north side of Boundary Island, we realized there was no portage near the fast dangerous water and we decided to go for a hike to explore the overviews of the current below. We went back to the canoe and south. South Boundary Island and falls was a stark contrast and can be lined and if there was more water, it might have been paddled in safety. Low water levels exposed flat bedrock of polished granite. Past the south boundary falls, we camped on a beach along the south shore of Eaglenest Lake still on the Ontario side of the border that divides the lake.

Campsite: Room for 3 tents. A big beach with flat sand/silt near the tree line. No furniture, We created a small fire pit from gathered beach stones but used a backpacker’s “firebox” to prepare our meal. After a long day of paddling, exploring sites and hiking Boundary Island, we had the best sleep.

Day 7: Eaglenest Lake to Crowduck Lake (21.4 km)

Calm as glass and scorching heat isn’t a bad thing when on open water. We left the beach at 11 am because it was so nice to have a good breakfast. The creek to Crowduck Lake flows out into a swampy bay where there was almost enough water to enter the creek.  We pushed the canoe while using it as a walker to make sure we didn’t sink in the silty outwash. After less than 20 meters, we were in the carved channel of a pretty creek leading to Crowduck Falls. A highlight of the day (and trip) were two curious otters at the bottom of the falls. The portage at Crowduck Falls was a series of detours around washed-out stretches and fallen trees but it has been well used by folks going to the bottom of the falls to fish. Up the 100 m trail, the landing into Crowduck Lake has a dock and nice flat rock areas for landing. You can camp here but expect to have visitors show up by boat if you do. 

Campsite: Manitoba Parks maintains sites on Crowduck lake. Our campsite had room for 5 tents and a fire pit enclosed in a metal ring. No reservation required.

Day 8: Windbound on Crowduck Lake (0 km)

From other paddlers, we had heard tales of being windbound on Crowduck. True. Our paddle on Day 7 was across an incredibly calm lake but the winds picked up overnight. Day 8 was spent exploring our island and keeping our fire going in the strong wind.

Day 9: Crowduck Lake to Big Whiteshell Lake (15 km)

The Final Push!

The portage between Crowduck and Big Whiteshell Lake crosses the Mantario Trail. This well-used portage has nice landing spots on either side full of boat caches and with it some grass and debris. If you plan your trip right, the wild plum trees along the portage will be heavy with ripe fruit. We talked to at least three parties of either hikers or paddlers here before landing into the busy Big Whiteshell Lake. We had intended to paddle to the trailhead at Jessica Lake but due to the wind conditions, we changed our plans for takeout to the Big Whiteshell campground dock. It was time to get a good hot meal at Nighthawk restaurant in West Hawk before the drive to Kenora. 

Reflections

This trip was a new experience for us paddling on a long river system. Once past Wabaseemoong Independent Nations and until you reach Crowduck, you are well aware of how remote this section of Path of the Paddle is. There are fly-in fishing camps in this area but as most or all of them remained closed in 2020, we don’t know how much more activity this would add to the area. Surprisingly we had cell service every day on the route but caution against depending on this for your safety plans. (Cell service in the Whiteshell was more spotty). 

  • Add a few days for the weather especially on the larger bodies of water.
  • The campsites can be hard to find in the section between Minaki and Manitoba. On the section between Keewatin and Minaki, campsites can be occupied by boaters. 
  • Expect to clean debris from camping areas where there is boat access and watch out for glass.
  • Rocks are slippery when they have a film of river silt on them.
  • You are paddling in two provinces so look into extra medical insurance to cover emergencies. As well you will need fishing licenses from both provinces if you intend to fish. 

Gallery


Author Bio

Garth Gillis – author of “The Dryden and Area Canoe Guide”. Digital versions of the 15 canoe routes are sold online at CanoeHead CanoeRoutes at Etsy. Growing up on the lake in Dryden and then returning after going away to school gave him an appreciation for backcountry canoeing that most locals take for granted. As a volunteer with TransCanada Trail, he set the original location of a rough water route connecting Thunder Bay to Kenora as well as making the initial suggestion of Path of the Paddle for the route’s name. Through much work of dedicated paddlers and volunteers, the original route has evolved into a fully operational water trail. 

Gail Row – Shares in Garth’s paddling adventures, manages the CanoeHead CanoeRoutes online store and has been on a quest to refine her canoe trip menus to include a balance of dehydrated homemade meals, and any avocados she can sneak in. Gail is on the board of directors for Path of the Paddle (POPA) as well as the chair of POPA’s Regional Trail Committee (RTC) based in Kenora. Kenora’s RTC is responsible for Iinoo Oowan and part of Migizi Trail. 

Website: Digital canoe routes in northwestern Ontario and Path of the Paddle 

Facebook: Path of the Paddle

InstagramCanoeHead CanoeRoutes and Path of the Paddle

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