This is one of the many delightful canoe routes in the Experimental Lakes Area of Northwest Ontario. We took the classic Winnange Lake loop and extended it with a side trip into Teggau Lake, which was well worth the extra kilometres. Waterfalls, soaring cliffs, long beaches, and pictographs can all be found on this route.
Starting Point: Lower Stewart (49.806940, -93.783939)
Ending Point: Lower Stewart
This route starts and ends at a small staging area on Experimental Lakes Road, south of the Trans-Canada Highway. The staging area is marked by a small bridge with parking available on the east side of the road before and after the bridge.
Total Distance: ~54 km
Duration: 5 days / 4 nights
Trip Completed: June 2020
The northern part of the route is largely within Winnange Lake Provincial Park.
Tradition Territory: This route is in Anishnaabe and Treaty No. 3 territory in the Experimental Lakes Area of Northwest Ontario.
Maps & Resources
Map: Topographical Maps 52 F/12, F/13
Campsite Reservations / Permits: No permits or reservations are needed for this trip.
Outfitters & Shuttles
Outfitter: Gear can be rented from Winnipeg or Kenora; we rented one of our canoes from Winnipeg Canoe Rentals.
Shuttle: This route is a loop so it does not require shuttle service.
Day 1: Lower Stewart Lake to Manomin Lake (8 km)
We left Winnipeg in the early afternoon and arrived at the put-in spot on Lower Stewart Lake by about 5:00 pm. The drive from Winnipeg to the put-in point is around three hours. Keep a close watch for the turnoff onto Experimental Lakes Road on the south side of the Trans-Canada Highway. You will see a sign for the Experimental Lakes Area marking the turnoff.
The paddle from Lower Stewart to Manomin is relatively short and straightforward. It is punctuated by two portages, one from Lower Stewart to Geejay and one from Geejay to Manomin. Each of these portages is about 200 metres and feature wide trails alongside rapids.
We chose to paddle until dusk to reach the northernmost campsite on Manomin (there are many to choose from on this lake), but if you decide to stop sooner there are also good campsites available on Lower Stewart and Geejay Lakes.
Campsite: Manomin Lake, the southern tip of the north island
Day 2: Manomin Lake to Teggau Lake (20 km)
This was a big day of paddling and portaging that took us about ten hours including breaks, side trips, and a navigational snafu. From our campsite at Manomin, we paddled the short distance across the lake and portaged into Winnange Lake. This portage is awesome – we spent some time exploring the boulder caves along the north side of the trail.
Winnange Lake is the most well-known lake in this area and is a popular destination for weekend paddlers. The lake is dotted with campsites. Most of the activity on the lake, however, is concentrated in its north basin. We skirted the southern shore and turned south into the channel adjacent to Jackfish Bay, which took us into the south basin of this massive lake. The route is less travelled from this point onward until you circle back into Winnange’s northern basin later in the trip.
Much of the forest in the south basin of Winnange was burned in a relatively recent forest fire, which makes for an interesting moonscape. We stopped to climb up to the top of a granite dome poking above the burned-out trees and saplings to get a better look. If you want to do the same, keep your eyes peeled for the dome on the eastern shore as you enter the south basin. It’s hard to miss.
The portage from Winnange to Eagle Lake is very short (about 80 metres), but plan to spend a bit of time here. Buzzard Falls, which runs alongside the portage trail, is spectacular and worth exploring.
Once in Eagle Lake, a short paddle south on Teggau Creek brought us to the portage trail into Teggau Lake. This is a pretty gruelling portage and unfortunately, you need to do it twice (once on the way in and once on the way out of Teggau). The portage trail is pretty easy to follow, but it is approximately 500 m long and, as of June 2020, is partially flooded by a beaver dam. We ended up wading through knee-deep water and mud.
The good news is that Teggau is spectacular. There are Indigenous pictographs on a massive rock wall on the west shore as you enter the lake, and the lake itself is the deepest in the area (rumoured to be about 600 feet deep) and exceptionally clear. There is lots to explore (we spent two nights on Teggau). The two main campsites can be found on two peninsulas that jut out from the east and west shores around the middle of the lake, although there are likely others if you do some exploring.
Campsite: West peninsula of Teggau
Day 3: Rest Day at Teggau Lake
We planned to explore Teggau on this day, but strong winds largely kept us at our campsite. Nonetheless, it was a lovely day. The swimming was excellent, the sun was shining, and fishing was enjoyable (if fruitless).
Campsite: West peninsula of Teggau
Day 4: Teggau Lake to Winnange Lake (16km)
This was another relatively full day of paddling and portaging. We started the day by navigating the tricky portage out of Teggau and back into Eagle Lake, but once that was done we had about 8 kilometres of uninterrupted paddling on Eagle. A short portage brought us into Crabclaw Lake.
Finding the portage from Crabclaw into Winnange is probably the trickiest part of the trip, so be prepared to do a bit of problem-solving here. Luckily, we had read about other folks having difficulty accessing this portage, so we had a pretty good idea of what to look for:
The portage is hidden behind a beaver pond at Crabclaw’s eastern end and not visible from the main body of the lake. We had to drag our canoe over a beaver dam to access the pond, then once in the pond, we had to pole and push ourselves through thick plant cover. The portage is faintly marked with trail ribbon on the eastern shore of the pond, but finding it required a bit of searching. Once you find it, it is a pretty straightforward 400 m hike into Winnange.
Winnange is an absolute gem. We spent our last night camped on the longest sand beach I have ever encountered in the Canadian Shield. This beach is a popular destination and will almost certainly have other campers on a summer weekend, but there are many great camping spots set back in the trees. The trees themselves are something to behold, including some massive, ancient-looking red pine.
Campsite: Beach on the northeast shore of Winnange Lake
Day 5: Winnange Lake to the Put-In Point at Lower Stewart Lake (10 km)
The last day of paddling was pretty short but included the “Devil’s Staircase”, the notorious portage from Winnange into Upper Stewart Lake. This portage is about 500 metres long and actually isn’t too bad, except for a steep, boulder-strewn stretch on the Winnange side of the trail. But once you are done with this portage, it is clear sailing until you hit the put-in point! Upper Stewart is connected to Lower Stewart by a small channel, and once you reach Lower Stewart it is a short paddle back to where you parked the car.
This is a classic boreal forest canoe route with countless beautiful lakes. If you are new to backcountry canoeing, try starting with the shorter Winnange Lake loop. If you have a bit more experience, you can extend and/or adapt the route in a bunch of different ways.
For us, five days was enough to travel this route at a leisurely pace and with one full day for rest. All in all, it was a pretty perfect trip, with a good balance of paddling and portaging, varied scenery, and lots to see. The bugs were non-existent during the day and ruthless in the evenings, but that comes with the territory.
Richard Farthing-Nichol lives in Winnipeg and spends most of his leisure time exploring the backcountry of Manitoba and Northwest Ontario with a paddle, on skis, or by foot.